A few weeks back, I got a Google Chromebook. I got the machine so that I could have an easier time writing while away from my home office. I had previously been doing my writing on my iPad 2, using an external BlueTooth keyboard, and that worked out fine, but the screen size was a little too small for my needs. I needed something more comfortable, and the price of a Chromebook made it worth checking out. I’ve had my Chromebook for a few weeks now, so here are some of my initial thoughts on it. These are by no means comprehensive. I ended up getting the Samsung $249 model:
This model is extremely lightweight. And it boots up faster than any computer I’ve ever had, from cold shutdown to fully ready to go in well under 20 seconds. It also fits nicely in my messenger bag without adding a whole lot of weight, which is convenient.
The basic OS takes a little getting used to because it is essentially all browser-based. The upshot of this is that the browser in question is Chrome, which is what I used on all of my other devices and platforms anyway. There is plenty of local storage for my needs, but the idea is that this is mostly a thin client. Google Docs is ready to use and available offline, which is convenient, and one of the “goodies” that comes with the Chromebook is an additional 200 GB of storage on Google Drive, so I have plenty of space for documents.
But I generally don’t use Google Docs for my writing. I was looking for something cleaner and simpler, something akin to iaWriter on my Mac and iPad. The best product I’ve found is called WordFlow made by AwesomeSource and available through the Chrome Extension store. This gives me a full-screen editor that can handle markdown files (.md) just like iaWriter can. The files are available offline, and I can save them to my Google Drive so that I can work on them on other devices when I’m not using my Chromebook. The features are minimal, but the distractions are almost nil and the layout is perfect for the screen size. Here is a screen capture of WordFlow on my Chromebook, which should give a sense of how clean and simple it is:
As far as web browser, email, social network and blogging goes, there is absolutely no difference between the Chromebook and my iMac, since I do all of these from within the Chrome browser. That’s a nice little benefit to have. I try to avoid it on the Chromebook, because my whole purpose in getting it was not to distract myself with social media, but to focus on writing when I’m away from my desk1.
One of the most unexpected, and coolest features I’ve uncovered is the “Chrome Remote Desktop” application. With a little configuration, this allows you to access any machine over the Internet for which you have setup remote access. It has proven useful on several occasions so far, to be able to access my iMac while I am at work, or in another room of the house. You are prompted for which machine you want to connect to, and a special password to authenticate:
Once you’ve selected the machine and entered the password, you can see your screen and work as you would work if you were sitting in front of the computer. Below, you can see the screen of my 27″ iMac as it looks from my Chromebook with Chrome Remote Desktop. The screen is shrunk down but you have an option to view it at normal zoom:
This has already come in handy twice:
First, I can’t run Scrivener natively on my Chromebook. My first drafts tend to be done outside of Scrivener these days, but the second drafts on are done within Scrivener and the manuscripts are always compiled from within Scrivener. I needed to put together a manuscript the other day. I was not home, but I was able to make a remote desktop connection from my Chromebook to my iMac, open Scrivener, compile the manuscript and send it off.
Second, I can’t run Mathematica on my Chromebook, but I can run it on my iMac and when I need to access Mathematica from my Chromebook, I can do it through the remote desktop connection. Ditto any application I need on my iMac that doesn’t run on my Chromebook.
NetFlix streaming doesn’t yet work on the Chromebook2 but Amazon Instant Video streaming (for Amazon Prime accounts) works just fine. Again, this device really isn’t for multimedia, it’s for writing, but I figured I’d at least give it a shot.
Overall, I’m very happy so far with my experience with the Chromebook, especially for my writing. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it as my experience progresses, but so far, it is well worth the money.