Life on a Chromebook

by Dave Michels

I use a desktop at the office, but on the road I have always used a Windows laptop. I avoided the Mac vortex, and stayed mostly within a single Microsoft Ecosystem. Though, my adoption of Google products and services has been increasing over the years.

I distinctly recall every version of Windows. My favorites were Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, XP, Windows 7, and of course Windows 10. I can even remember when Windows was itself a program/environment that started from DOS.

Most of what I do today, I do in Chrome. As I write this post, in the browser, I can see that I have about 80 tabs open. That’s a lot even for me, it’s time for a purge (about every 2 weeks).

I only use my laptop when I travel. This means it sometimes gets behind in its upgrades. I usually open it up a few hours before I travel so it can sync, but then there’s trouble when it’s time to leave. “Do Not Power Off Your Computer,” I’ve often had to keep my laptop running while driving to the airport.

I started 2019 with a bold Chromebook experiment. I use Windows at my World Head-Quarters location, so it’s just for travel. While there are several things I had to relearn, it wasn’t as disruptive as I expected. The Google Pixelbook is an impressive machine. I got mine for about $700. It usually sells for about $1k.

I’ve heard many times that it doesn’t make sense to spend that much on a Chromebook because it’s so limited. After all, a decent PC can be had for $700 or so. But, I think that logic is misleading. The Chromebook really isn’t that limited and it is fit for purpose.

There’s an argument that a Chromebook can do more than a PC. That’s because it runs Android apps. Most people have more apps on their smartphones than they have on their PCs. Where the Chromebook really shines is it’s always ready. The upgrades occur in the background. It’s more secure than a PC (viruses are not a concern), and the battery lasts all day. Not to mention it’s small, light, elegant, and very responsive.

The only “limitations” I’ve run into on the Chromebook involves Microsoft apps. Word, for example, both the Android client and the Office 365 app, don’t fully support revision marks. I’m also not able to run Teams or join either a Teams or SfB video conference from the browser. Though every other video service that I’ve tried does work, including Webex, Zoom, and Highfive. MS conferencing will likely work better in the future they move to support a Chromium-powered Edge browser.

The transition to Chrome hasn’t been seamless, I’ve had to adapt a few processes. For example, I was using Windows apps to film, edit, and post videos on my trips. I had to purchase new video editing software for the Chromebook. I selected the Android app PowerDirector for $35/year ( I paid over $100 for Camtasia Windows, and it’s no longer current).

Android apps are more intuitive than Windows, that’s not the same as seamless. For example, to edit video you often need to adjust the view from frames to filmstrip. In Camtasia there’s a handle/slide that adjusts with the mouse. I could not find it in PowerDirector. Doh! It was right in front of me the whole time with pinch-to-zoom.

My Chromebook challenge remains mostly MS Word and revision marks. At Google Next, it was announced that G Suite apps would be able to edit MS Office docs in their native format. That should solve my problem since G Docs supports revision marks (O365 Word has only limited support of revision marks), but the feature was “temporarily” suspended. Hopefully, Google re-releases the feature soon.

Otherwise, I see two viable workarounds: Either RDP back to my desktop PC (free) or set up a WorkDocs account on Amazon. Both have their pros and cons. The Amazon solution will work on my Android tablet too. There is a native Chrome plugin for remote control, but it doesn’t work well if the desktop has multiple displays.

The other strategy is to reduce my reliance on Microsoft. It’s an odd strategy as I’ve been a Windows and Office loyalist for so long. On the other hand, the majority of my writing is now in G Suite. Since I rely heavily on Android, Chrome, and G Suite, the Chromebook is a logical, more integrated solution. For example, I can use the fingerprint sensor on my phone to unlock the Chromebook, and it fails-over to my smartphone’s Internet connection if there’s no Wi-Fi.

I think the Chromebook deserve a closer look. A good chunk of what I talk about these days is the cloud, so why not a built-for-cloud device? Yes, it has it’s quirks, but I’ve mostly been pretty pleased with its performance, both online and offline.