Chromebooks have been around for a few years now, but with the release of Samsung’s $249 Chromebook, the lightweight OS is starting to catch on with more than just trendsetters and schools. The release of the $1299 Chromebook Pixel shows Google’s commitment to their web-centric OS. That’s great, but the question remains, can you get by with using just a Chromebook as your only computer?
Web Apps vs. Native Apps
You bound to have plenty of apps installed on your desktop computer. The only question here is whether the web apps are sufficient (or capable enough) to replace the desktop apps fully. The Chrome Web Store is filled with web apps replicating functionality previously performed by native applications. Artists can turn to CanvasDraw, deviantART muro, and Vector Paint, to name but a few. Amateur photographers can check out BeFunky Photo Editor, iPiccy Photo Editor, and PicMonkey. Video editors can use Magisto, Pixorial Video, and WeVideo, which all allow you to access video files directly from Google Drive.
Web apps in general are not as snappy and responsive as native apps. On the other hand, web apps rely on servers with more computing power than the average computer. Thus you can use web apps to perform tasks that your computer may not be powerful enough to do on its own. Servers may be able to cut and render video files faster than the weak hardware that comes with most Chromebooks.
The catch is that bandwidth is always an issue when working with a web application. Lets say you recorded an impressive clip of your niece sliding across home plate during a softball game. You must first upload this video before you can even begin the process of editing it. Depending on your connection speeds or monthly data allowances, this may be a problem. After you’ve edited the video, you must then download it back to your computer if you are hoping to burn it to a DVD. For that matter, burning DVDs is not something you can do from a Chromebook. You’ll need another computer for that.
Limitations of a Chromebook
The majority of Chromebooks come with very little local storage space. Since Chromebooks usually come with either 100 GB or 1TB of Google Drive storage, the idea is that you will save the majority of your data in the cloud. This actually works very well. Yet if you do not wish to rely on the Google Drive storage available through the file manager, you’re left with a computer with a cripplingly low amount of space.
Chromebooks also have very limited support for native apps. Google will soon introduce an “Apps” section to the Chrome Web Store filled with so-called “Packaged Apps.” These apps will be built with the same technology as web apps, but they are stored and executed locally. While these meet the definition of a native app, they’re a far cry from the heavy software found on traditional desktop operating systems. This means if you’re using a Chromebook, you will either have to rely on cloud storage or external hard drives if you want to save a large amount of files. I personally use SD cards and flash drives to supplement my Google Drive storage.
You also have to accept that you won’t be able to use software sold on store shelves. And unless you’re looking at keyboards and mice, you probably won’t be able to use most additional hardware either. Thankfully finding a compatible printer isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Just look for those that are Google Cloud Print capable. Cameras and camcorders are fine as long as you can pop out the SD cards inside them. If they require the installation of specialized software, you’re out of luck.
Who Would Benefit From Using a Chromebook?
The Chromebook is tied to your Google account and if you are using Chrome, it will sync all your extensions and settings as well. Therefore, it is obvious that the Chromebook is really suitable for a true blue Google user. All your settings will be there the moment you login to the device.
And since Chromebook is an Internet-only device, it is best for people who already spend most of their time on a web browser. This does not mean that Chromebooks are only good for casual use. Tech savvy users who have already embraced various cloud services to store their data and get work done may actually find that they are more productive using a computer that remains consistently fast and doesn’t require extensive maintenance. I used to do most of my computing from various Linux distributions, and while Chrome OS is by no means as versatile as a traditional Linux distribution, the kind of work I do on my computer remains largely the same. I am a tech enthusiast, and I transitioned to Chrome OS just fine.
Computing solely from a Chromebook is possible, but it comes with sacrifices. You won’t be able to install games from Steam or continue using that USB-powered rocket launcher. Oddly enough, you won’t even be able to upload music to Google Music without first borrowing someone else’s machine. But if you’re interested in switching and are willing to change your mindset, you’ll find that transitioning to Chrome OS really isn’t that hard. And at the rate that Chrome OS is evolving, many of the operating system’s holes will have been filled a year from now.
What do you think? Can you survive with Chromebook as your only computer?
Image credit: Chromebook Pixel