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Heaven help me, I’m taking the Chromebook challenge

A while ago, I wrote a column for Tap on the differences between Apple and Google’s vision of “the cloud”, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) came down hard on the side of Apple’s. iCloud, as I saw it, was very much the more user-centred version.

The iPad and Chromebook represent two different views of the future of cloud computing. In one – the Chromebook – the applications as well as the data live in the cloud. In the other – the iPad – applications remain firmly on the desktop (or mobile), while the data floats wherever it needs to go.

Each approach has its advantages. Apple’s keeps native applications, which are still way ahead of the web in terms of richness and usability, while bolting on what amounts to a seamless, invisible storage and syncing system.

The Google approach has some big advantages too. Lose your computer, and you’ve lost nothing: your applications, your data, and everything else aren’t lost, and you can pick up where you were from any machine with a browser. ChromeOS itself has a remarkable level of security, and any files that you store on the Chromebook’s SSD are heavily encrypted. And web applications allow a level of collaboration which is rarely seen on native apps.

I’m fascinated by how this will play out, and which vision of the future of computing will be more popular over the coming years. And I feel like I ought to know more about how the other half lives.

So, as an experiment, I’m going to try living The Google Way for a month. Starting today, and finishing at the end of November, I’m going to only use applications native on the web, rather than the rich apps which I love. The Chromebook will become my main mobile machine, with Chrome (or Safari – let’s be a little platform agnostic!) on my MacBook Pro and work desktop. Google Docs will be my business apps, Gmail’s web interface will be my email client, and so on.

The biggest challenge, I think, will be managing my to do list. I’m a huge, huge fan of OmniFocus, which organises my life on Mac, iPhone and iPad – and unfortunately, it doesn’t have a web client. Instead, I’ll be using doit.im, which I’ve played around with in the past and is probably the best web-based system for GTD that I’ve found. It’s not as powerful as OmniFocus, but it’s pretty good.

Upfront, I should say that there’s going to be a handful of exceptions. Our workflow at Redwood means that I’ll almost certainly have to use InDesign and a few other applications as part of my job. I’ll need to use some native apps when reviewing them for the publications I write for, although the reviews themselves will be written online. And at home, games will stay native: you can prise World of Warcraft from my cold, dead fingers. But where there’s a web-based alternative, that’s what I’ll be using.

I think this is going to be more of challenge for me than for my blog buddy Louis Gray (a man who loved Google so much, he bought joined the company), but I’m very much going to approach it with an open mind. If I was a betting man, I would probably bet that I won’t be staying web-only after the month is over, but I’m prepared to be surprised.

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  • http://www.joewilcox.com Joe Wilcox

    Good luck, Ian. I did the same experiment and it turned into two months (July and August). The first week or so is the hardest. I can post links to the BetaNews posts, if you haven’t seen them.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Thanks Joe – I read them and was interested that you went back to Windows. I think you have to try these things sometimes, just for fun :)

  • http://twitter.com/jeremyet jeremyet

    I spent a while using a CR-48 chromebook at home and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Even though this prototype chromebook has its flaws (!) I resented having to return it to its rightful owner. 

    My problem was that not enough of my stuff is already in the could – if I wanted to add a picture to a blog it had to be one of the small proportion of pics that are on flickr and not stored on a hard drive somewhere. If I wanted to listen to some music it had to be something available on soundcloud (no spotify app for chrome as far as I can tell).

    So, good luck – I’ll be interested in the results of your experiment.


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  • RichardL

    I’ve been happily using my Chromebook since July. I have an iMac in my office for serious creative and editing tasks such as HD video and photo work. I have another older laptop, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I now use the other laptop just like a Chromebook (i.e. I only use Chrome and I don’t need to use other applications.) 

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Interestingly, one of the things which made me think it would be a fun thing to try (as opposed to a nest of zombie-horror) was that I found myself using Safari a lot in full screen in Lion, swiping between full-screened web apps. I will probably switch to Chrome on my Mac for the duration, because of the syncing convenience, but I actually have found myself liking full screen web apps quite a bit. 

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    The file manager they bundle these days makes thinks a lot easier. It’s not really a file system in the traditional sense – more a place to park things as you upload and download them, which is a nod to the fact that web apps don’t really communicate with each other very well.

  • http://www.oxebridge.com Chris Paris

    Good luck, will watch this with interest. As someone who spends life on two continents (USA where internet is almost ubiquitous, and South America where it’s…um.. decidedly NOT) I have serious doubts about cloud computing given the current state of connectivity. I love reading this stuff, and will definitely want to hear your view in particular.

  • http://ag4it.myopenid.com/ Adam

    I applaud you for taking the plunge and actually trying a Chromebook instead of just reflexively bashing it like many analysts.

    Actually, you don’t have to give up Windows or enterprise apps when using a Chromebook.  Ericom AccessNow is a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    Ericom‘s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices – an HTML5 browser is all that is required.

    You can choose to run a full Windows desktop or just a specific Windows app, and that desktop or Windows app will appear within a browser tab.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:

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  • Cyman/Jarvis System

    Great stuff! I have just come across this, but I have undertaken essentially exactly the same challenge, but for a week.  I’m documenting each day and suggesting useful offline and online apps (http://musingtechnophile.blogspot.com)  Do take a look!