My professional desktop computing journey…

Over the past 25 years of my professional IT life, I have bebopped between a Linux, Mac OS X (MacOS) and Windows desktops.  However, in the past 10 years I would have to say 85+ percent of my desktop usage has been MacOS. This is mainly because of MacOS’s standardized *nix based desktop experience and the build quality of their laptop computer offerings. Unlike many Linux desktop users, I love Linux but I never received a lot of joy spending 100s of hours setting up, configuring and ultimately debugging my desktop environments. As the great JWZ says, “Linux is only free if your time has no value”. Ubuntu really made strides in making the Linux desktop a more seamless experience, but compared MacOS, Linux still has a way to go.

In the past three years it has been obvious that Apple’s commitment to desktop computing is wavering, from making weird design choices with their Macbook Pro line, to the atrophy of their desktop offerings. Isos has been very generous in specing and refreshing our Mac laptops. Even with a laptop that costs as much as a late model used car, my eyes are starting to wander again.

On the flip side, I’ve personally enjoyed using Chromebooks. GREAT battery life, instant on laptop usage, great performance and a fully configured desktop environment. ChromeOS has been my worry free computing platform at home for years now.

I was never really able consider using ChromeOS for work until a few things happened over the past 2 years:

  • Chromebook system specs are now available in more professional configurations (CPU, RAM, build quality)
  • Android apps are now available
  • Linux apps are now available.

That last point, which is called Crostini, a Linux container in Chrome OS, was the final straw that made me really consider this move.

At BestBuy I recently picked up an HP 14″ 2 in 1 Chromebook (for $300!) and used it as my main computing device. So far, so GREAT!

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Pros of ChromeOS

  • Performance is amazing. I have an i9 Macbook Pro with 32GB of RAM, yet my i3 Chromebook with 8 GB of RAM seems faster for most operations.
  • HP x360 14″ has the best keyboard ever. The current slate of MBP keyboards have received, justifiably, horrible reviews for being too shallow. Conversely, this HP keyboard is completely and insanely great.
  • Touchpad, also great! My 15″ MBP has the worst touchpad I’ve used on a Mac in years. The Chromebook touchpad is what the Mac used to be.
  • The HP ChromeOS device is getting on average 10+ hours of battery life compared to my MBP that is barely getting 4.
  • Having full Android Play store is great.  Being able to run applications like DUO (the 2FA client) on my desktop has been a real boon to productivity.
  • Having full Linux is great. The Crostini environment that runs full Debian (or other distributions) has been a dream. VSCODE, tons of browser, etc availability has made my productivity soar.

Cons of ChromeOS

  • Android app integration needs work. Cut and paste is weird and basic adaption to the tablet form factor is still not 100%.
  • Anemic hardware for the dollar spent. While the performance has been pretty good, you still don’t get the per dollar value of a similarly spec’d out Window’s laptop.
  • VM based Linux not 100% integrated. Cut and paste seems a little off, some apps like a little fuzzy on high DPI screens. Not horrible, just not 100%.
  • Hardware integration not all there. What to plug in your favorite USB camera to use on Linux?  You can’t do stuff like that yet.
  • Horrible to almost no VPN options. If you need a lot of VPN options, ChromeOS is not your platform… yet.

A quick here’s how I do specific tasks

When moving to ChromeOS, here’s how to accomplish certain tasks:

  • Amazon Workspaces: If you need a Windows desktop (with VPN access),  Amazon Workspaces works well on ChromeOS.
  • Password management: 1Password for Chrome and Android both work great.
  • Video Conferencing: All the apps (Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting) all work well using the Android app. The Zoom ChromeOS client is super too.
  • Terminal: Tilix is a great replacement for iTerm2 on the Mac.

Setting up Crostini: In an upcoming post,  I’ll show you the whole setup process… Stay tuned!