Unwrapping My Chromebook

 

Ah, that’s a relief. My Chromebook has arrived and we’ve gotten to know each other. I’ve been eager for a new laptop since I became anxious about my old one. My MacBook has been worked hard for years as the main conduit for my business.  A backup was prudent, but conventional machines cost too much. Ah, but Chromebooks are a different animal with a different price – affordable. An interesting experience to have on the 30th anniversary of the original Macintosh. Did they give up too much? Relative to what? I was willing to take a risk to find out how far we’ve come and whether we’ve backslid.

I am a self-proclaimed extreme independent moderate politically, and technologically. My preference has been for Macs even before the first one went for sale. I wish I still had my Mac 512k; alas, I let someone try to fix it. Bad idea. A $3,000 machine (and those were 1984 dollars) that became worthless, ah but the memories linger and it did help me get my Masters. But I’ve also owned Windows machines; and used PDPs, CDCs, mainframes, and supercomputers. Oh yeah, and slide rules too. They are all tools. Prepare yourself for a techie’s and trucker’s sacrilegious comment: I think the difference between a Mac and a PC is the same as the difference between a Ford and a Chevy. They both get the job done, and the rest is preference and details.

My MacBook has been a necessity. My business would barely exist otherwise; so, having a backup is a good idea. Unfortunately, the market did a job on my portfolio; and my business has been cash-constrained. Thanks to my clients I am busy every day, which means my computer is busy every day. That partly explains the cracked case, the lost fasteners, and the sluggish performance. It also explains my worry that my business and my income could be halted with one misplaced bit.

One day while sharing an office, my Mac’s screen went white. It looked less severe than the Windows’ blue screen of death, but a friend glanced over, tsked, and said, “Well, that certainly isn’t a good sign.” Luckily, it rebooted. And I started to shop.

Apple (AAPL) products would have been a great continuance, but they cost too much. More important, Apple seems to have changed their software philosophy a few years ago. Without getting into the details, I had to move my blog from iWeb (here are the 200 orphaned posts) to wordpress after an Apple mandated upgrade, started managing Rock Garden In Green Water my photos outside iPhoto after a few files were corrupted, and moved one of my major clients to Google Drive in hopes of finding compatible file access and storage. My recent experience with iOS 7 on my iPad shook much of the confidence that remained.

Windows (MSFT) continues to change. None of the new versions of the operating system impressed me, except with cautions. I enjoy consulting about program plans and strategies, but much of my clients’ time is charged to making new software handle simple, old tasks. Every time I launch into a Windows consult I begin with lots of caveats and conditions, and am prepared to discount my work if we can’t figure out how to make the (expletives deleted) thing work. It is a pity because the machines tend to be cheaper than Apple products, though the cost of Office et al keeps the overall price high.

Google (GOOG) caught on. More work is transferring to the Internet. Why add complexity to simple tasks? To me, a Chromebook is not much more than a screen, a keyboard, and a fancy version of a modem. But I remember that old Mac512. This is far superior at one-tenth the price. I knew they didn’t try to do everything, and maybe it could do enough.

Technology aside, I am somewhat nomadic. My computer must move with me, and I work from a variety of environments. My house Home For Sale is possibly in foreclosure, so working from there has some weird disruptions; which is why I have an office in a co-work space. The commute to the co-work space and to various clients means my computer gets bumped, jostled, and regularly shoved into a deteriorating briefcase. A lot of those problems are eased by driving everywhere, but using 4,000 pounds of vehicle to move about 200 pounds of me and equipment is an inefficient solution. The planet and my health would appreciate a bit more use of bicycle and bus. Trusting my sole computer to the vagaries of commuting is a scary thought. Clients’ locations are variable and I have to be ready to accommodate various levels of technology. The consequence: simple but not too simple, robust but not too expensive.

Welcome to Chromebook. That was simple enough. But which one? Simplicity evaporates.

Chromebooks are cheap, except when they are not. The cheap ones do everything – almost; and each drops its price by dropping some other feature or two or three. Fortunately, I know what I need: a good keyboard, for my prolific writing; a good camera and microphone, for video conferencing; and an Ethernet port, because many health minded people avoid wi-fi and its possible influence on sleep, heart irregularities, and a list I’ll let you investigate.

Three weeks of searching (and a much-appreciated Christmas gift certificate) and I’d finally found a Chromebook that did it all. Why so long? Shopping online for a Chromebook is easy if the main determinants are price, color, and size. Technical details like Ethernet ports are harder. I only succeeded because I finally called someone in an OfficeMax store that would walk over to his display and look at one.

Thank you OfficeMax. Thank you person whose name I can’t remember. He even suggested I buy it online and then bring it into the store if there was a problem. One nice thing about island people is that they understand that returns can work a bit differently when a ferry is involved.

Log on. Click, “add to cart”. Read, “Not available.” Wait. Click again. Wait a few days. Click again. Repeat for a week, or two. Finally, I called the OfficeMax phone support line, got a real person, and asked her about one of the other Chromebooks that looked identical. Did it have the Ethernet port? Please wait on hold while she checks with the technical staff. Yes it does. Yeah! Is it in stock? Yes. Excellent. Double check the item ID. Hang up. Log in. Order up. Order confirmed. Relief.

Email arrives. Product backlogged. Patience. Delayed gratification leads to good things, right? The order is shipped – after only a three day delay.

I purposely worked from home the day it was supposed to arrive. Ah, a FedEx Ground truck (with a Harley Davidson license plate holder) backs into my driveway and the driver smiles and hands me an enormous box.

Get inside where it’s warm, open the box, and notice that it doesn’t have an Ethernet port. Not a happy camper.

After a few moments of internal venting, I called the number for “if you have any questions about your order”. The quick story: The pleasant support person confirmed that the particular Chromebook I ordered doesn’t have an Ethernet port, and that I hadn’t simply overlooked it. After being placed on hold for a while and simultaneously doing some research, I asked them to ship me an Ethernet-to-USB adapter for free. When I made the order I’d asked for a product with a specific feature, they accepted my payment, and delivered something that didn’t have that feature. The adapter would effectively meet the requirement, though at a reduced performance that I was willing to accept. They said no, but offered a $10 credit. I said no, because driving to the nearest OfficeMax would cost me about $16 if I wanted to return it in person. We left the call with a quietly emphasized message that OfficeMax’s trustworthiness dropped a notch in my estimation. For all I could tell, returning it would only result in the next one missing something else. I will adapt.

For those that want the specifics of the unboxing, look below.
For the rest, here’s my summary and conclusion.

After a few days of use, the Chromebook is an impressive machine. It doesn’t do everything I want, but it does enough that I can easily envision it as the next evolutionary step in computers. Comparing to a full-featured laptop will be a losing battle. If you started with a Chromebook, it would seem to do everything. As an investor, I compare it to a Windows tablet and an Apple iPad. The Windows tablet seems to have shuffled off only about 20% of the complexity of full Windows. An Apple iPad maintains its character by using software to constrain the capability of the hardware. A Google Chromebook suggests it won’t do as much, while also suggesting it may do enough. Of the three main companies involved, Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), I think Google displays the greatest understanding of where computers and users are going. Stock evaluations are all for market capitalizations of hundreds of billions, and therefore outside my comfort zone; but, as an example of managerial strategy, GOOG looks best to me. As a user, a Chromebook is impressive for the price, and may eventually take over all of the capabilities of a laptop, but in a different way.
DSCN4948
Now, if I can only figure out how to save this document to the archive on my Mac. Details, details. (Post finished on my old MacBook because it is late and I don’t feel like porting around the pictures. But, eventually . . . )
____________________________________________________________

Unwrapping My Chromebook – the details

January 21, 2014

  • Eagerly awaiting my Chromebook. It means my cracked Mac won’t have to commute. Besides, helping a client get ready for a trip included configuring their Windows tablet and phone. They say “It’s easy>” Sure. They made it so easy that before I got there the keyboard was set to Arabic and there was no obvious way to Undo.
  • Work from home so I can be here when it is delivered.
  • 12:55 FedEx Ground
  • Harley Davidson
  • Big box in a bigger box
  • DSCN4945
  • No Ethernet!
  • Hey OfficeMax, how about a freebie adapter? No.
  • Hey Thomas, how about $10 off? No.
  • The gas to get me there and back is about $16 and hours of my time.
  • Radio Shack is on the way and that’s good enough for me.
  • Nap to cleanse the palete.
  • Supposedly Chromebooks are easy to set up and run, but after the first two disappointments (including an ordering experience) I’m putting it aside to get some work done. Gotta bill hours to pay for the machine.
  • But first commiserate with an other geezer geek.
  • Okay, let’s plug it in and see what happens.
  • 16:50
  • Elegant looking machine, even for $300. Ugly power cord, not travel friendly.
  • Turned on without me doing anything. Must have been because I had it open to remove the protective keyboard cover.
  • language keyboard network (Where’s that password?)
  • Usage stats? No.
  • Sign into GMail.
  • 16:58
  • Which photo for the background? One of mine? Not yet, but I can use my G+ profile shot. Or not. Must investigate later. If I’m selling photos it should display one of mine.
  • Take the Tour? Not yet. I skip ahead to the browser – which already knows my Chrome bookmarks.
  • 17:00
  • Transfer this file to a USB drive to continue the note taking on the new machine.
  • 17:15
  • Interesting. I could drop the file in via a USB drive and upload it to Google Drive, but I couldn’t edit it until I converted it from .txt to .doc, which necessitated going back to the Mac.
  • But hey, I’m editing from the Chromebook now.
  • Hmm, trivial little difference. The MacBook keyboard letters are all in CAPS. Take a look at your keyboard. The Chromebook’s keyboard is all lower case.
  • Turn off the Tour. I get their message; every thing should go through the Chrome Store because they probably want to emulate Apple’s success.
  • Looks encouraging. Only other optimization I want to do now is to change the background photo.
  • Heading over to Google+ for the photos I have there, and find that G+ isn’t even in Chromebook’s toolbar. Do they think so little of G+ too?
  • Maddeningly small photo icons. Oh how spoiled I’ve become.
  • There’s more work to do, and I’ll have to do it offsite, which means working offline, but it should be able to handle that. Not. (Comment added afterwards, obviously.)

 

  • January 22, 2014
  • I’d prefer to thoroughly explore this nice bit of hardware, but I have work to do and will dive in via my client that does almost everything in the cloud. We’ve been using Google Drive / Docs / whatever they’ll call it next, for over a year.
  • Hmm, bookmarks in place, but must log into everything again. Where are those userIDs and passwords? Ah, yes, over on my Mac.
  • Not much adjustment to make for the new keyboard.
  • HCLE works – well except for the sites that don’t load under Chrome, and a Chromebook won’t support Firefox, so I have to find a workaround. Anyone got one?
  • On my Mac I used different browsers for different clients. It was a convenient way to separate browsing traffic, usernames, passwords, and email systems. Fitting them all into Chrome is possible, but I might have to sign up for Hootsuite or some such aggregator to manage the accounts.
  • Wish I could switch the ctrl and alt keys. Switching between my machines will be like switching between cars. The same motion that hits the lights in one vehicle turns on the windshield wipers if I’m in the other one.
  • Our introduction isn’t over yet, but I suspect you’ve read enough.

Will my Chromebook do everything I need a computer for? A short introduction suggests no; but, for $300 it will do so much that, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh, I can be amazed at what is available.

About Tom Trimbath

consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: https://trimbathcreative.wordpress.com/about/ and at my amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035XVXAA
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One Response to Unwrapping My Chromebook

  1. Curt Olson says:

    Hi Tom, I’ve been curious about chromebooks too, but right now get by on an aging android tablet. Last year I stumbled on a fascinating little USB/ethernet device that goes for about $35: ASUS WL-330NUL. It’s a dual/triple purpose device which makes it a little hard to explain, but it has USB on one end and ethernet on the other and does wifi internally.
    So if you want to add an ethernet port to your laptop/chromebook/android tablet that works. If you have an ethernet cable and want to create a local hotspot for non-ethernet devices, it can do that too. And it can even add wifi capability to a non-wifi device. It offers a web based configuration page so you can set it up to do whatever you want, but most of the time it figures it out based on how it’s connected. Anyway, thanks for the post on the chromebook.

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