Chrome Alone?

Right after Google’s I/O conference in May I took a second to discuss the new “Chromebook” personal computing device. If you still have not seen one, here is a quick video introducing it to you. I ended that post with “stay-tuned” because there wasn’t much information available at the time.

Following the June launch of the first ChromeBooks Walt Mossberg of WSJ did his review. There is a text version and a painfully-long video version. In both instances he offers that cloud computing is going to be a key component of personal productivity in the future, but that today’s ChromeBooks are just too limited to be worth even the small investment.

That wasn’t enough to deter me, however, so I created an experiment for myself to see if I could live “Chrome Alone”. I swore off every other program on my computer and went solo with my browser – just as if I owned the new ChromeBook I have been considering. What I learned at the end of the day was that, sadly, Mossberg may be right.

The first “oops” moment came early in the experiment when the .docx attachment sent to my Gmail opened in my resident copy of Microsoft Word. My ChromeBook wouldn’t have that (because it won’t have “software” on the machine), but of course it would have access to Google Docs and would have just defaulted there to open the file. That’s why I can’t call that one a fail…just an oops.

Things got worse when I went to open my Instant Messenger. I have been with Trillian.im for a while now because I like how their desktop app launches from the taskbar, stays open and floats over the other work I am doing during the day. In my Chrome-only world it seems I don’t have that luxury – the Trillian “app” available from the Chrome store just takes me to the Trillian web based chat and opens it in another tab. Not a major inconvenience, but having to watch the tab to see if someone is trying to engage you in conversation is a bit cumbersome when I am managing a few other applications at once (although I did start to rely on the audio cues more than I do on the desktop version).

Later I went to do my online banking. That experiment did not go as well but I’ll take most of the blame. I am embarrassed to admit that I still use Microsoft Money – and of course since MS quit supporting the product two years ago there is definitely not a cloud-based version. While the interaction with my bank went smoothly, when it came time to download and reconcile my statement I knew (although I did it anyway) that my ChromeBook would not be able to play along. That said, I know there are great cloud based programs out there now – Quickbooks and Mint.com just to name two – that would have allowed me to work it out online although I would have had to save the download file from the bank to a USB drive instead of the desktop.

Printing wasn’t so bad because I had done the work ahead of time to configure Google Cloud Print on some of the office computers. Had I not done that work beforehand, however, I would have found my ChromeBook unable to put anything to paper. Certainly something to be considered if you are generating a large quantity of paper.

There were other software run-ins that caused me angst, but many of them are industry-specific so I won’t spend a lot of time with them here. One important word of caution for the Realtor community though…ZipForms does not currently run in Google Chrome.

Alas, the thing that ended my quest for a ChromeBook was the one thing I totally took for granted….wireless internet. I have a cellular modem in my notebook so I rarely worry about wifi – and for this experiment I decided not to worry too much about it either because I knew I could easily team my ChromeBook up with a cellular signal when I needed to get online. But then I went to write this post….and couldn’t get to Google Docs because I didn’t have a cellular signal. So because I am already past deadline I am writing it in Microsoft Word….the one housed on my hard drive….on the computer with no access to the cloud. So much for that “Chrome Alone” pledge. Hopefully if I stand out in the driveway I’ll be able to get this posted online.

So I am still debating whether ChromeBook is for me. I think there is a blogging rule somewhere that says you can’t end two posts with the same “stay tuned” cliché, so I will open it up to all of you to offer your thoughts – and I’ll decide from there.

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