I get asked all the time – “Which laptop should I get to replace my old [insert invective here]?”
I always start by asking what the laptop is to be used for. More and more, people use their computers to get and do everything online. With virtually every service and app imaginable available in an online form, it is no longer necessary to install and maintain applications on your own computer. There is also little reason to store files on your own computer with services like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and many more.
If you are someone who uses your computer like the above description, then, yes, a Chromebook would be a great option for you. If, however, you run specific applications that must be installed locally or you are not always connected to the internet, then a Chromebook is not for you.
What is a Chromebook?
Physically, a Chromebook is like any other computer. It has all the same parts. The big difference is in the operating system. Instead of Windows, Mac OS, or Linux it runs the Chrome OS from Google. This operating system is designed to run while connected to the internet. While there is some functionality when not online, the use of a Chromebook is limited while offline for a number of different reasons – chief among these is that almost all of the applications used on a Chromebook run in the Chrome browser.
If you want a demo of what it would be like to own a Chromebook, open the Chrome browser on your own computer and pretend that it is the only application available. Try doing everything you need to do within Chrome. How do you do this? Some of the most used applications for most users – besides browsing the internet and checking email and Facebook – are word processing and spreadsheets. Google provides these applications for free to anyone with a gmail account. Simply click on the Google Apps link in the upper right hand corner of your gmail window to see some of the apps available. In there you will see Docs, Sheets, and many more. These are only a few of the thousands of available apps available to you in Chrome. Many of the apps are free. Some charge a small fee for more features.
- Cost – a quality built Chromebook can be purchased for far less than a comparable Windows based computer. One reason for this include the much smaller hard drive since Chromebook users store very little on the actual machine. Another is the operating system – there is no license from Microsoft. The added benefit is that Google constantly upgrades the software on the Chromebook automatically.
- Security – there is very little chance of getting a virus on a Chromebook (this also represents a cost savings). Chrome OS actually runs on a tiny version of Linux, which most Chromebook users will never see. Linux is notoriously more secure than Microsoft and represents a much less attractive target to hackers. That said, no computer is completely immune to cyber-mischief. Anyone surfing the internet should be on the alert to unusual websites and email as these are the most common methods hackers use to gather information or plant malicious code.
- Battery Life – Chromebooks almost always have batteries that last an average of well over 9 hours, some much more than that.
- Internet – Chrome OS and all of the apps that run in it (with very few exceptions) need to be connected to the internet to work. If you don’t have reliable internet connectivity or live in a remote area without internet at all, you will not be able to use the Chromebook.
- Traditional Applications – Applications that are designed to work in Windows – Office programs like Word, Excel, and Outlook; Quickbooks (not including QB Online); Adobe Acrobat, etc – will not run on Chrome OS. There are online versions of many of these applications – Office 365 for instance – that will work great on a Chromebook. The test is to try running the online version of the application you want to run in Chrome. If it works great. If not, no Chromebook for you or you need an alternative application.
Depending on your needs, the idea of having everything in the cloud can be good or bad. Any documents you create with your Chromebook will be stored online – either in Google Docs or whichever other service you prefer. The good news on this, is that those items are available from any internet connected device. Which means you can access them from your phone, your tablet, a computer at a friend’s house, or an internet cafe in Singapore. Additionally, if the computer is lost, stolen, or damaged, you simply get another computer, log in, and all of your stuff is still there, safely backed up in the cloud.
Chromebooks are very affordable and very capable machines. They aren’t for everybody but, every day they gain more and more abilities. Take one for a spin. If you spend most of your time in a browser, you will be pleasantly surprised.