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chill's Journal: Six Months with a Chromebook

About six months ago my main PC died and I needed a new one. Not having a lot of cash, and not really having a lot of free time to spend on the computer, I decided to get an Acer C7 Chromebook to hold me over.

Refurbished units are available on Acer's official refurb store, over on E-Bay. I paid $149 at the time. Now the base 2 Gb unit with a 320 Gb HD is available for $139.

These are Intel Celeron-based systems with 2 SO-DIMM RAM sockets and a mini-PCIe slot that holds the a/b/g/n/Bluetooth adapter. With only one RAM socket populated, it was easy to pop in a 4 Gb module for a total of 6 Gb of RAM. Adding more RAM allows the system to operate better with multiple tabs open. Other than that, you won't notice much of a difference.

Now that I've been using this as my primary machine for the last 6 months I can render an informed opinion.

I'm amazed at how much of what I do now is thru a web browser. After adding an SSH app, there is very little I couldn't do with the Chromebook. Still, there are some critical limitations that have driven me to get a "real" computer.

One of the big ones is the lack of network file system support. There is no way to access SMB/CIFS or NFS shares on the Chromebook. It also doesn't have FTP support, though there is a commercial app available for FTP. It is only $1.99, but needs to phone home to make sure you've paid, so requires connectivity to function.

If you can live with accessing files only through Google Drive, everything is fine. But, if you have -- like me -- a few terabytes of data on local shares, you're stuck. No, uploading every movie, television show, educational video and audio file I've every ripped to Google Drive is not an option.

Speaking of uploading music, that is another limitation. If you use Google Music, you can play everything fine, but will need a "real" computer to upload any files.

Printing, too. There is no direct printing support. The system only supports "Google Cloud Print", which means you either buy a new printer that supports GCP or leave a PC running with the printer driver configured, and logged in to Chrome (browser). You also have to be comfortable with everything you print going up to Google and back down. Meh.

It is impressive what can be accomplished through the Chrome browser, an SSH app and an FTP app. There are numerous web IDEs such as Shift Edit that are actually very good for development of HTML, CSS, Javascript and other script-based languages.

Of course, Chrome doesn't do Java. There are still some things on the web that require Java.

The lack of network file system support is a show stopper for me. I'm also taking some online classes including a couple in Java development, which means I can't use the Chromebook.

Not that I'm getting rid of it. I have given it to my wife. My young son also has one.

For $139 plus $20 or so for extra RAM it makes a wonderful backup system. Or one to grab and take with if you aren't going to be doing heavy development.

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Six Months with a Chromebook

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