Chromebook Thoughts

This isn’t my first foray into the world of Google Chromebooks, but I am looking at them through a new lens after seeing some interesting things at the Gartner Expo last week. I will have lots to say about these things as I spend my time using it more and more. I am not yet committing to a 30 Day CB Challenge or anything, but I am considering it. I like the ease of use of the devices and I really like that they promote the use of Drive and the overall Google Apps for Edu suite we have in use here at Stony Brook.


If I did do a challenge, I would want to invite an handful of participants to spend 30 days living on a CB as their primary machine. I’d love to have a few students, some faculty, and some staff to put these things through the paces and report on our collective experiences.

The overriding question is, can something as simple (and yet powerful) as a machine that runs really only a browser be competent as a work class machine. That is a worthy experiment that has been answered in other contexts, but not quite ours.

Until then I’ll be bouncing back and forth between this little device and my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. The immediate limitation I have discovered is that so far I haven’t gotten 1Password to work, but I am guessing a simple google result will help that. If you are interested in exploring this territory with me, leave a comment or come find me.

29 thoughts on “Chromebook Thoughts

  1. I could imagine “inviting” a group of faculty and staff (5, 10, 20?) to participate in a sort of make-it-or-break-it project, comprised of folks who fall everywhere from innovators to late majority adopters. Their “invitation” could be to use the CB and participate in workshops on using different features (GApps, Drive, Connect, etc.). They would encouraged to use it in a substantial way–developing new curriculum, research, collaboration, multimedia–and encouraged to either “make it” or “break it.” Their experiences, and any user/learner data that might be generated could be used to publish our results of the great experiment…

    • I really like the idea of tying the experiment to a program of collaborative professional development. Building a community where we all learn something is a great approach. Each time we attempt to make something happen collectively we record our results — what a killer resource for people. And yes, inviting a core group with a diverse skill set would be great … can imagine how much fun the regular meetings would be?

  2. I live in Google Apps for Education, email, docs, drive, hangouts, +, etc. I use it all. I do need to use MS Word for performance programs and evaluations, and excel/power point for the seldom attachment … reminds me of this -> 🙂

    I love the challenge and I have no doubt I could live with a Chromebook, giving up desktops, laptops, tablets, and land phone, for a month. Battery life is great, display, hmmm, needs improvement.

    So, “I I I I I I’m willing and able”, who else is in!? How about a Yammer group or SBYou site to log the experience?


    • I see you with the CB in most instances … you’ve no doubt mostly adopted the approach. I think a lot of people could learn from what you are doing in this space. I was thinking that we’d create a new SB You site where all those participating would be given author status. Each week, or whenever we wanted, we could post our thoughts on the 30 Day Challenge. Let’s keep pushing for more participants and get this thing going.

  3. While I admittedly don’t have much personal experience with Chromebooks, I’ve always felt that it falls into the same realm as tablets for me: while not strictly necessary they’re a nice addition if you can afford it. With that in mind I often wonder what a CB offers that can’t be achieved with a carefully chosen tablet (although the keyboard and price point come to mind…). Do you find that the Chrome OS provides a more fully-functional and fluid work environment than a strictly mobile OS?

    With the increased support for running Android apps I can see CBs gaining traction in the future, enticing converts from both the laptop and the tablet sides. I think the 30 day challenge would be a good way for participants to discover their true device needs, making some of their day to day tasks much easier while potentially hindering others.

    • I do find Chrome OS a little more capable than a tablet in some instances. I am wondering if a combination of my iPad/iPhone with a CB is a good step? I like the enterprise management options with the CB … if it gets left in an airport or stolen it makes me feel better knowing it is very easy to wipe it clean remotely. I often take my laptop on trips for those just in case moments when I need to get “real stuff” done that is difficult on my iPad. Often my laptop ends up in my bag at the hotel while the iPad is walking around with me. It is a nice option to know there is a workable laptop with you that can be easily managed and has very little institutional data residing on it.

      • I do find myself carting a laptop many places for those “just in case” moments which often just leads to extra weight on my shoulder, but as far as traveling, have you ever found it difficult to “get to” the cloud? While I’ve never really had a problem finding Wi-Fi on campus and in airports, etc. it’s always nice to have my phone as a back-up hotspot, plus with VPN it offers a more secure experience, especially when concerning institutional data and resources.

  4. Chromebooks are ideal for executives, managers and others who usually do not have to do non-web based and can do most other stuff through in a VDI environment.

    Chromebooks still are not a good replacement for phones and for applications that do not virtualize well or are not available in a virtual environment (e.g. Adobe apps)

    • I agree. I think there are a couple types of workers to consider in this conversation — there are knowledge workers that are more likely to be able to manage living in a partial cloud environment and then there are task workers that require specialized software tools to do their jobs well. A lot of times those software tools do not *yet* perform well in a browser or virtualized environment. I say yet because I have recently seen some interesting moves to bring even tools like Photoshop into a browser environments and 3D rendering into virtualized spaces … with some high degree of success.

  5. I can see myself living in the Chromebook world with the comfort of knowing that I have access to a VDI environment for certain tools. The desktop apps I use regularly are Microsoft Excel (mainly due to performance issues on Google Sheets for larger data sets), Word (when folks at the RF send me these docs to collaborate on), dev tools like SQL Management Studio/Navigator and Acquia Cloud.

    As Sanjay said, for pure managers it would work really well. Adobe and others need to wake up and browserize all their tools. Google and Microsoft are all moving along rather well in that space.

    • I get it. You work in a transitional role — manager and someone who can get things done. I think it’s one of the things I love about our team, most of us can manage and do. We are working knowledge workers — if that makes sense. Can our type of workers live mostly in a CB world?

    • These are great. I’m not sure people really realize how much you can really do with chromebookd. if we did a 30 day challenge I could see us having a multi author blog where people could share stories like the things that you just posted Nicole.

  6. With Chrome Remote Desktop, many of these software issues are already resolved–you can establish connections to your main desktop. “Chromoting” introduces potential security concerns, but it is certainly a feature you can’t ignore. Additionally, the CTRL+ALT+T Crosh tab is a great terminal app to connect to Linux/Unix/Mac OS X systems and it brings that functionality to the Chromebook, as well. I recently discovered as a Paint.NET/Photoshop alternative when I needed to edit a picture and only had my Chromebook. The features of Pixlr were exactly what I needed.

    My first Chromebook was the CR-48 beta model, and I have discovered that as the Chrome OS has evolved, it does start to tax the older systems. I upgraded to an Acer 720C with 4 GB of RAM last year and I love it. I routinely have 24 tabs open in two browser windows and the system really doesn’t blink. Two complaints I have are the terrible webcam and the cheap keyboard, but the price point is perfect.

    Cole, what model Chromebook are you using?

    • We might be at the point where w need to get some interested people together to have a serious conversation. Mark, your experience in this area could be very helpful to us as we think about the viability of CBs.

  7. I’d be up for that. We’re talking a lot about downsizing and virtualizing so it’s important to walk the walk, too.

    • It leaves me with the question, what is the right mix of machines for people? I know some people absolutely need and love a big display for doing things at a desk — I admit to having a 27″ iMac in my office for “serious” work. But with that said, a CB as a companion device might be an ideal mix. Thoughts?

      • If indeed a CB is able to accommodate a user’s needs, then a docking station could be an elegant solution. At work they enable us to have larger displays and full keyboards/mice while in the office, then seamlessly transition to a mobile device for meetings, travel, etc.

        To my knowledge there’s no native docking station for CBs, but with HDMI and USB 3.0 it’s quite possible to create the same environment.

      • I think Google’s expectation is you use a Chromebox as a desktop device with its own large screen.

        Funny…technically this is a thin client with origins in Oracle where it started out as the NC or Network Computer.

  8. I know faculty who use their iPads for meetings and do much of their “real” computing work at home–these are some of the folks for whom a CB might be a viable alternative to a desktop computer in their offices that they rarely use for anything other than email and file sharing.

    • I have tried an iPad and a Galaxy Note in the past. None had a full browser, therefore, I was not getting the full experience of GAfE. I did not like having to use an app for email, another one for calendar, and so on. On top of that, I wasn’t getting the full experience, it was hard to find Free/Busy, to search groups, to search contacts, to search mail with advanced features, and many other.

      I haven’t found a laptop that has the battery life of a CB. Macbooks will only last their rated battery life while in minimum display light, and with low cpu/memory consumption, and PC’s are even worse.

      With a Chromebook, you have a fully functional Chrome browser, your email, calendar, hangouts, chat, drive, docs, are what you would expect in a PC or MAC. I found tables to be great for taking notes with their respective pens (no so much for iPad with the thick stylus tips) however, that feature, which is lacking on CBs, did not make it worth sacrificing the full browser experience. As I heard Edward Tufte say in one of his lectures, the device with the highest detail and resolution to date is …. pen and paper.

      • I do like the browser on my iPad, but I always use apps on my iOS devices to send and receive email, look at my calendar, do hangouts, use Evernote, etc. I’m curious what you use on your Galaxy to do gmail? Do you use the browser or the gmail app?

        I never use a stylus to take notes — I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work for me. I use an old fashioned Moleskin that I take snaps of into Evernote.

      • Hi Cole, I have used the chrome browser on my galaxy to connect to email so I have the full functionality like Shady said. I do like what Mark mentioned about the remote desktop approach, maybe not the most secure, but as a developer we would be able to get to most software and resources needed.

  9. Chris, the lack of a docking station can be a little annoying, but dual USB ports can provide some functionality. I would probably utilize dual monitors if given the opportunity rather than closing the Chromebook. Additionally, there is a slight expense with an HDMI to VGA/DVI adapter to connect to an existing monitor as most displays aren’t HDMI.

    Sanjay, a Chromebox is definitely an interesting prospect, particularly for applications like the Virtual SINC Site or VDI scenarios. Any walk-up kiosk could be a Chromebox.

    The battery life, weight and ease of connectivity, along with the price point make the Chromebook too awesome to resist 🙂

    Cole, please keep me in mind for any larger discussions

    • @Mark, you will know as soon as I do! I am interested in various scenarios where a ChromeBook or Box would be very useful. I like the idea of walk ups being CBoxes … we’ve been discussing how we (primarily as IT staff) could exist on a device like a CB, but what about other staff, faculty, administration, or students? That is where we could make the greatest impact.

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