musings > technology

On starting a business with a Chromebook

03 Oct, 2015 | 5 min read

So, its probably not a surprise to many of you that I own a Chromebook. Whether you know me in real life, or just through my social media, it turns out I happen to talk about it quite a lot. I try not to be too evangelical about it, but in the last couple of months I’ve gone through the process of starting a company, and given that the Chromebook is currently my only laptop, I did think this was worthy of a post.

When I had to give back my work Macbook at the end of my last job, I dutifully returned to my old Windows machine. Having not had to use it much for nearly 2 years, you can imagine my despair at seeing how poorly it had aged. Not wanting to spend a fortune replacing it, I did a quick inventory of the things that I would actually use a laptop for (emailing, social media, writing) I decided to invest in a new Chromebook.

It wasn’t a scary decision for me — I had actually bought the original Asus Chromebook when it first came out, and loved it. But I also had the aforementioned Windows laptop, which at the time was a very powerful machine, so there wasn’t really much I had to think about. With this new purchase to be my only computer, I did wonder whether or not it (and more importantly, I) would cope.

What’s the verdict?

6 months on I can honestly say that, for the most part, I don’t even notice. The vast majority of the stuff I do is either via email or other cloud-based services. If I have to edit a Word document and it isn’t appropriate to convert it into Google Docs, Office online is good enough for me.

There are a couple of caveats though. Anything that was made with an Apple program — I’m talking Pages, Keynote, etc — won’t work. It’s annoying, but then this would also be an issue if I was rocking Windows 10, so I don’t think this is a particularly strong mark against the Chromebook.

The other main caveat is in the more ‘creative’ range of applications — I’m talking photo and video editing. You aren’t going to be able to edit feature-length films on your Chromebook — partly because the hardware just isn’t up to it, and partly because there aren’t that many good Premier Pro alternatives.

Photo editing can be done, and there are some passable Photoshop alternatives, such as the web-based Pixlr (which I think is fantastic). There is also Canva, which is great for generating quick social media friendly images.

I’ll level with you though. While the Chromebook is fine for 90% of the things I do, I have gone a little bit rogue. Using a tool called Crouton, and the Developer Mode of your Chromebook, you can actually install a Linux operating system on a partition of your hard drive. This isn’t necessarily for everyone, and it almost certainly voids all manner of warranties, but it does give you access to the Linux ecosystem and the delights therein.

I’ve opted for XFCE as my distro of choice. Its basically Xubuntu, thus giving you the reliability and usability of Ubuntu, but with some of the bells and whistles stripped out to improve performance on the admittedly slightly underpowered hardware.

What this means is that I can install things like GIMP, Inkscape, and Filezilla — all tools that I think are vital to the discerning individual looking to get the look of their website just right. I won’t spend time reviewing them — a quick Google should sort you out in that regard. Sufficed to say that GIMP and Inkscape do for me everything I would need from Photoshop and Illustrator, and that when it comes to managing your own website Filezilla rules the roost as an FTP client. Also, great news, all three of those run on both Windows and OSX, so you can try them out before making the jump.

Running Linux also means I can install Skype — something I naively thought I wouldn’t miss, especially given that I have an iPad and Web Skype is now a thing. Neither option though gives you the same usability as the desktop client, and I noticed yesterday that Microsoft has actually disabled the video element for the Chrome browser.

A quick note about the hard drive. Most of the Chromebook’s superpowers — long battery life, lightweight, quick speeds, ability to be dropped from mediocre heights — it has by virtue of its SSD, which is only 16Gb. This is fine for 90% of users, as most of the things you’ll use a Chromebook for will be online. If you’re working on a lot of locally stored content though, or if you’ve decided to install a whole other operating system on the machine, you’re going to run out. I’ve opted to permanently leave a 32Gb Sandisk Cruzer plugged into the USB3 port to get around this.

So there you have it. There are a few things that an ‘out of the box’ Chromebook still can’t quite manage. But by and large, I am very happy with my choice of laptop. It weighs next to nothing, 6 months in of heavy usage and I’m still getting a little over 10 hours of battery life, and it cost me less than £200.

Nice work, Google.

My Chromebook is the Toshiba CB30; spec: 1.4Ghz, 16Gb SSD, 2Gb RAM

tags: business chromebook entrepreneurship tech

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