Thursday, April 30, 2015

Considering a Chromebook? Get Something Better

This is a draft in progress.

The old Samsung netbook I'd been using for delivering lectures recently died, and I replaced it with an Asus C200 Chromebook with 4 GB RAM and 32 GB flash. For a week or two, I thought I just had to acclimate. Since then, I've known it was simply a mistake.

The C200 itself is a nice piece of hardware. Chrome OS is a bad idea poorly-implemented.

What I like:
  • Long battery life.
What I dislike:
  • Storage management is inflexible. I wanted to store a bunch of documents on my machine prior to a long meeting in a room with questionable Wi-Fi. Chrome OS does not support storing files locally in anything resembling a modern file system. Flash is treated as a cache, and does not preserve directory structure.
  • In said meeting, I discovered that I was unable to open a number of DOCX files and any RTF files. Some DOCX files opened fine. So, in the middle of the meeting, Chrome was suggesting that I install extensions. Seriously?
  • No Java SDK, so I cannot run simple programs from the command line. I need to ssh to a remote server and run them there. This is an extra time step I'd rather not take at the beginning of class each day. And it presupposes network connectivity.
  • The provided command line has none of the standard Unix network tools, making another class of examples I often give in class awkward at best.
  • There is no good PDF viewer. I want to go full screen and advance a page at a time. Is this so hard or unusual?
  • There is no way to modify the screen timeout. Sometimes in the middle of a lecture, the machine will go to sleep. Then, unless one is quick, it may be necessary to log back in to the machine. In the middle of a lecture. There is an app, Keep Awake, that can keep the screen on, but one has to remember to enable it at the beginning of a lecture and disable it at the end. Forgetting to disable Keep Awake can result in a very low battery the next day. Can't they automate this?
  • Google loves light characters on gray backgrounds. Very often from an angle or at a short distance, items on the screen are much less readable than they could be.
  • No Haskell or Scala, meaning the Chromebook is useless for simple software development. Somehow when I heard it was based on Linux, I didn't investigate further--I was in a hurry.
  • The charger runs very hot. This is an Asus C200 issue, though, and not specific to Chrome OS.
My path from here (probably after exams end and post-LamdaConf 2015):
  • Blow Chrome OS away and install Linux.
  • Problem: if I'd bought a cheap laptop, I'd have a hard drive much bigger than 32 GB to work with.