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Chromebooks - the Computer Appliance

I really like Chromebooks. That said, I do not own one. Many people want a computer to work like an appliance. Just plug it in, turn it on and it works. It should be easy. A chromebook will do that. They are fast, safe, secure and easy. But this safety and security comes at a price; your freedom. You can't just download and install anything you like. Like an Ipad, you can only install curated programs from their store. They have been checked for safety.

If you only do some writing and email, web browsing and a few simple games this is probably the perfect machine for you. If you are running your business from the computer and want to download and test many programs, then this isn't the right computer for you.

Chromebooks are not Windows, Android or iOS computers. They use their own Chrome operating system which is really a lot like just the Chrome browser with some enhancements. You cannot run Windows apps or iOS apps. However, there are thousands of programs in their store and many services are available online, so in a connected world this often works just fine. You can write off-line and save your work.

Three Styles

Chromebooks look like laptop computers. They are a clamshell design and have a screen, keyboard, touchpad and computer for $200-$350. They include USB ports to plug in external drives or usb flash drives. They do support USB hubs, so you can access more than just 2 or 3 USB devices.

ChromeBoxes are chromebooks but instead of laptop clamshell designs they are small boxes that are about the size of 2 packs of playing cards. You plug in your own keyboard, mouse and monitor into them. These are great if you aren't going to travel with them and already have a larger monitor.

For example Asus makes a Chromebox which is 4.9" square and 1.65" high. It has:
  • dual monitor support (hdmi and displayport)
  • 4 x usb 3
  • dual band Wireless N WiFi
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • card reader
  • audio jack

ChromeBase: Acer and LG have even put the Chromebox inside a monitor, so you get a nice sized monitor, full keyboard and mouse as well as USB ports, ethernet, WiFi etc. for $350-$430. This is a complete full sized computer system.

The big advantages

Chromebooks are fast, simple, easy, cheap, and secure. Perfectly good systems can be purchased for $250-$430 and they don't require lots of expensive software or antivirus, or maintenance. All updates come from Google automatically.

But can I ...

Here's how you handle various other tasks in addition to browsing, writing, simple spreadsheets and simple or online games or streaming video.

  • Printing: is done using a cloud enabled printer. Make sure yours is compatible here: https://www.google.com/cloudprint/learn/printers.html
  • Browse with Firefox? - No. You have to use the Chrome browser.
  • Do Flash video? Yes
  • Do Java or Silverlight? No
  • Run Microsoft Office? No, but you can use Google Docs which is sufficient for most purposes. You can use the Online version of MS Office which is a subsetof the full office. There is also an Office editing chrome extension. So, you can do most things most people do with Office outside of serious business applications.
  • Skype? No, but you can use Google Hangouts App which is similar and can provide comparable functionality.
  • Play my Itunes music? Not directly, but your Itunes music can be moved to Google Play Music and played from there. Also Spotify and Deezer have Chrome OS apps for playing music.
  • Can I rent and play DVD movies? Not generally. Google hasn't paid for the Digital Rights management extensions. You can stream video from any website that offers it and Netflix, Youtube, Crackle and Google Play all offer Chrome Apps. You can play most video formats which are not copy protected.
  • Use USB devices? Usually yes. Keyboards, mice, USB Hubs, and flash drives are all supported. There seem to be problems burning DVDs.

The Bottom Line

If your needs are limited these are fine little inexpensive secure systems. There are thousands of apps available and you can write, surf, do presentations, edit photos, stream movies and TV, do email and all your online activity. Nice systems cost 1/2 to 1/4 what a Windows system would cost and are easier to use and more secure and require less user maintenance.

Date: August 2016

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