So, I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while:  the fact that an ever-increasing amount of my work and leisure time spent on computers is spent in the cloud. As an example, this is a WordPress site, so again…..cloud. The possibility of getting a $249 device that would allow you to do so much of what you need to do on computers was just fascinating to me.

Options

Tablets with added keyboards (required to do any amount of productive work) have proven to be too bulky and one would be much better off carrying an ultrabook. The cost of tablets (plus the keyboard) is still generally too high. Tablets are still best as consumption devices.

Though I haven’t used one for any amount of time, the Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface RT are both potentially effective productive devices. The cost of the Surface Pro is much too high and the future of RT and the availability of apps seems a little uncertain to me. The small, attachable keyboards for the Surface tablets is definitely a step in the right direction as far as portability goes.

Considerations

Part of what got me thinking seriously about the Chromebooks is that I have been part of a pilot here at the university for Virtual Computing Labs.  We are using VMWare’s Horizon View virtualization products on the servers and Windows laptops for the client platforms. It was just really interesting to me to see if I could run applications on the virtual lab servers from a Chromebook. The short answer is “No, I can’t”, because it takes a very special server setup in order to do this on VMWare View, namely, you must enable HTTP clients and that is far outside the scope of this project. However, once Google released the Chrome Remote Desktop app and I started playing with that to access my desktop in my office from other machines, I realized I can then run anything on my desktop from the Chromebook.

Printing is only via Google Cloud Print, which I’ve used a little on Android devices, so that’s not going to be the perfect solution, but it is definitely workable.

The size and portability of the Chromebook is fantastic: 2.4lbs. It also boots extremely fast. Chances of malware and viruses is virtually nil. The battery life is listed as 6.5 hours and many reviewers say they get even better than that. The screen size is 11.6″ and the resolution is 1366×768, which is the same as the 11.6″ Macbook Air. The keyboard is very comfortable (similar to the Macbook Air 11.6″). Also, as with the Macbook Air, it is without a delete key. It’s also missing a caps lock key, but there are keyboard shortcuts that can be used for these.

I probably should have already covered this, but I purchased the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook from Amazon ($219 at the time of this writing). That price is really incredible for the functionality I’ve seen already from this device.

Could a Student or Faculty Member Use This?

I think this would be an incredible tool for students. It’s portability would be great. However, I think there would need to be some virtual applications provisioned to the students for some of their needs. For example, providing SPSS and Maple, etc. to students via a virtual environment would be ideal. Although it requires much overhead on the backend, it is a great way to provision software and could save a good bit of work in the way we do things now. Sure, there are times when students are disconnected, but with smartphones, tablets and more that students generally already own, they can already keep up with email and Facebook there. I don’t know that students are doing assignments, etc that often where they are disconnected. Many smartphones and data plans these days allow for tethering, so it’s easy enough to be able to connect when necessary. There certainly are times when faculty are disconnected and need to do work on SPSS, etc. (I’m in the Psychology Dept, so that’s why I focus on SPSS so much.)  Most times that could be handled by providing the department with either a loaner laptop or two or a couple of mobile hotspots and data accounts for them that they could travel with. We’re talking about a $219 per person device vs a $1000 or above per person device, so there is much to be considered here as far as costs.

I’ve lately signed up for Microsoft Office 365 subscription that was about $80 for a 4-year subscription. It provides access to the latest versions of online Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote and the online versions are very full-featured. Much more so than Google Docs. I realize the collaboration features in online Office aren’t nearly as good as with Google Docs, but I don’t think that’s the primary focus of users on campus. It’s a nice feature when you need it, but campus users are already used to going to Google Docs when they need to collaborate and local copies of MS Office apps when they need full features.

….to be continued (this is an ongoing project, so I’ll be posting more about my experiences with the Chromebook as I go along)

Update

I ended up returning my Chromebook, but still think it is a very promising device at a very good price point. However, one thing that is lacking is the ability to connect to many enterprise VPN’s. Chrome OS does have VPN capabilities built-in, but not the ability to connect to those requiring group names. I’m not 100% sure that’s the part of the VPN client that’s missing, but there was no way to connect to our enterprise Cisco VPN. This is a huge con for me since part of the reason I really liked the Chromebook option was that I’d be able to edit my WordPress sites remotely with it and more and more of my work involves working with WordPress sites. However, our WordPress sites are only editable via a VPN connection, so that makes the Chromebook useless for this purpose. I really believe Google will remedy this at some point, and I will certainly want to try the Chromebook out again once that update is out there.

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