I recently picked up my second Chromebook, an HP Chromebook 11. I can’t help it. I love these things. Yes, they have sleek designs and a lightning quick OS, but they interest me the most because I’m a web developer. To see a browser do so much is amazing, and really confirms that I made the right decision when I was choosing a direction in computer science. Most everything we use computers for can be done in a web browser, and anything that you can’t might be possible soon.
Since receiving it, I’ve made my Chromebook my full time development machine, and it costs less than $300. If I can do everything I want on it then it can definitely do everything a college student on a budget needs a laptop to do. I would have killed to have one of these in college. I still have nightmares of my giant Compaq laptop’s fan sounding like a jet about to take flight in the middle of my classes (cue comments about having to write on paper). This one doesn’t even have a fan. That’s right, the processor in it is the same as the one in some of your phones, which also means it can charge with the same cable you charge your phone with. No more dragging around a charging brick in your backpack. Kids these days.
There’s one serious misconception though. Not with Chromebooks, but with how people use their computers. A very good chunk of our time is spent in a browser, for casual users moreso (that’s a word?). I’ve run into many people that say “It’s just a browser! What about all the other programs I need?”. Meanwhile, they spend the next 2 hours on Reddit and then watch something on Netflix. Outside of video games and 3D design or serious photo editing, a browser is all we need. And we wouldn’t normally be doing those other things on a laptop anyway.
I know what you may be asking, “We know Chromebooks are great for students or casual users on a budget, but you said you, a professional web developer, do all of your work on one?”. First of all, thanks for the friendly title. Second, I think that’s a run-on sentence. Anyway, yes, I do all of my programming on my Chromebook. With my first one (the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550, oh Samsung and your product names), I kept it simple. I have a VPS hosted with Linode.com (the one that this site is hosted from!), and I used an online IDE like Cloud9 to do my coding. Since then I’ve feared a few things, like Cloud9 going out of business because I end up being it’s only user, or my power/internet going out, and having to sit there for a few hours not coding! Horrifying! So, I’ve looked for an alternative. Lately ChromeOS has advanced a lot in the offline department. It was the source of a lot of complaints about the OS early on. What happens when you don’t have an internet connection? Now we have things like the GMail Offline extension, and a bunch of Chrome apps like Caret and Crosh Window that can be used without an internet connection. For programming, though, it still wasn’t enough. I needed a Linux environment to install Python/Ruby/Nginx/etc on. Crouton to the rescue! No, not the things that turn a salad into real food. Crouton is chroot environment for ChromeOS. What the hell is that?! Well, to put it simply it installs Ubuntu alongside ChromeOS. It’s not dual booting, though, and it allows you to switch between ChromeOS and Ubuntu easily and quickly, without a restart. It can be installed with a GUI or without. Thus, the perfect development environment (in my opinion, at least!) was born, the beauty and simplicity of ChromeOS with access to everything Ubuntu right inside a terminal. I installed Nginx and bam, I had a locally hosted website I could access in ChromeOS, and edit the files for it in Caret. And it can all be done without any internet connection.
Some great features were announced at Google I/O 2014. Soon ChromeOS will be able to run Android apps. One app I’ve always been fascinated with is AIDE. Depending on how exactly the feature will work, this could make Chromebooks a great way to develop for Android (or I could lose all productivity and it just becomes another way to play Clash of Clans). The future is bright for these cheap, little devices!