Filling In The Gap
If much of your work is on the web or through browser interfaces a Chromebook may be a good fit for you. If you need serious apps like Photoshop, Illustrator or gaming don’t give up your PC just yet. But, if for the most part, Internet applications are all you need, then Chromebooks simplify things quite a bit. In this series of posts we’ll see the strengths and weaknesses of Chromebooks and how to make the best use of them.
Simple Cloud Computing
Chromebooks fit the bill for their simplicity: you don’t have to be a system administrator; you don’t need to worry about backups, security, software updates, or file portability. The Chromebook doesn’t completely replace PCs or tablets. It’s somewhere in the middle.
With a Chromebook you always need a good Internet connection you’re pretty well dead in the water. But even with a PC that’s pretty much the case anyways.
On the media side, Chromebooks are a bit challenged. Watching movies and playing music is not as simple as on tablets. It can be done but not as easily as you might like.
The 320GB SSD drive it came with would be ideal for media files. While Chromebook can play some types of media they don’t come with a media player. The Chromebook’s answer to music playing is to use Google Music: that’s a logical extension of the Internet computing concept. But there are two problems with that: Google Music isn’t available everywhere (like Canada) and, that while this works for music, Google Music won’t work for video. If you want video you’ll have to use a streaming service like NetFlix.
If you want to watch videos on a NAS it needs to be set up for FTP. Using a browser and a URL like ftp://192.168.0.10/Public you can navigate through directories. Then clicking on the video file you want will get it to play in your browser. The Chromebook doesn’t support many codecs: it plays AVI files without any problem and MP4 as long as the audio encoding is MP3. (The same FTP trick can be used for music files but you can just play one song at a time which makes it somewhat impractical.)
Google lists the following as supported media formats on the Chromebook:
.3gp, .avi, .mov, .mp4, .m4v, .m4a, .mp3, .mkv, .ogv, .ogm, .ogg, .oga, .webm, .wav
I’ve had no luck with MKV and limited luck with MP4.
It would be nice if the Chromebook came with a native DLNA client app to let you stream files from a media server. There are some media player apps available for download but none of them could find either of my DLNA servers -though they did find a Windows media sharing PC.
With a Chromebook you use cloud storage and Google Drive for everything. My Chromebook came with a 320GB SSD drive. I’ll be darned if I can figure out what to do with it. The Chromebook won’t connect to anything on the LAN making it hard to copy files or a media collection. It won’t connect to Windows PCs. Nor will it connect to a NAS file share. Even when the NAS is configured for WebDav the Chromebook won’t connect to it. The FTP trick works for browsing but you can’t move files around. So there’s no easy way to move files to a Chromebook disk drive without first moving them up to Google Drive.
I guess you could load up the disk drive with documents but that kinda defeats the whole point of Internet computing and cloud storage where you should have access to all your files all the time and the ability to share and not worry about backups.
Don’t get me wrong, cloud computing has serious advantages in some areas: You don’t have to worry about backups or viruses. Google Apps even keep previous versions of documents available so that you can roll-back if you’ve made some bad edits. It also makes it easy to share your files with other people.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
Before moving over to a Chromebook you need to drink the Kool-Aid and buy in to Google’s vision of Internet computing based on thin clients and heavy reliance on cloud computing and storage for everything.
Overall the Kool-Aid isn’t that bad. Most of my everyday tasks can be done with web interfaces and switching to Google Apps was actually a nice change over MS Office. They are simple straightforward and get the the job done: no muss, no fuss. I don’t have to wrestle with three levels of menus to do something simple. The Apps interface may not be that pretty but it gets the job done.