Saturday, July 04, 2015

Experiences with my new Toshiba Chromebook 2

When I worked as a contractor at Google in 2013 I noticed that a lot of people were using Chromebooks. On my first orientation day I received a retina MacBook Pro, that was very nice, and I didn't immediately understand the preference of some people to use a Chromebook. Later I understood that a large amount of work performed at Google could be done in a Chrome web browser. They even had a very nice browser based IDE called Cider that was very great to use because it handled all programming languages and interfaced with Perforce source code control.

My curiousity about Chromebooks has persisted. I am going to start teaching free classes at my local library in about two months on Internet secutity and privacy and I used this as an excuse to buy a Tosiba Chromebook 2. I had already bought earlier this year a little HP Stream 11 Windows 8.1 laptop using the same excuse :-)

I will start out this "review" with a list of the good and not so good things about the Chromebook 2 (all just my personal opinions). The good:

  • The number 1 reason: security. Nothing (except for a few SSH keys) is stored locally and I think that if a Chrombook gets compromised it is automatically reset with a factory image.
  • The screen is fairly high resolution 1080p and looks really nice. Some of the user comments on Amazon complained about reflections in the screen, and this would be a problem if it was used outdoors.
  • 4 GB of main memory which helps the performance. Most Chromebooks seem to only have 2GB of memory.
  • The keyboard and trackpad work well - no complaints.
  • Contrary to some reviews, the battery has been lasting about 8 hours - not bad at all.
  • This laptop is inexpensive, given the nice display.

The not so good:

  • The laptop case is plastic. It looks OK, but I expect it to get dinged up easily. I also bought an iPearl hard shell cover that should help prevent some case damage.
  • Only 16 GB of storage. How much would it have added to manufacturing costs to make this 32 GB? I did try using a 32 GB SD Card for a while which worked fine except for the card sticking slightly out of the case. I think that I will use the external memory card only for movies while flying or other cases where I temporarily need a lot of local space.
  • Privacy: I find myself using Google, Dropbox, and Microsoft web services a lot on the Chromebook. There are issues using these services that I have blogged about before: FSF and practical Internet privacy and security.

Using the Toshiba Chromebook 2:

Writing: As you might expect, I find this laptop great for web browsing and watching Netflix. It is also pretty good for writing. I use leanpub for writing. My markdown manuscript files are stored in a book specific Dropbox folder, and I use a web interface to generate preview PDF, Mobi, and ePub files (which get put back into Dropbox). I use the Chrome StackEdit app to edit the markdown files. This is a simple and effective workflow that lets me concentrate on writing.

Programming is a different issue. I do Haskell, Common Lisp, and Scheme programming in Emacs so using the Chrome shell app is fine for keeping multiple SSH shell windows open to whatever server that I am using. I spent 20 minutes this morning fine tuning my emacs Haskell setup and I can honestly say that the Chrombook is > 95% as effective for Haskell development than my MacBook or Linux laptops. The advantages of using remote servers for Haskell development are my servers are usually faster than than my laptops and long running computations like cabal sandbox/init/build don't heat up my laptop. You would think that Clojure development would be fine on a Chromebook except that my Clojure development workflow uses IntelliJ, not Emacs. It is not worth changing my Clojure development style, so I'll just use my other laptops for Clojure work (and for Java and Ruby, which also use IntelliJ for my work flow). I have tried using (web based IDE) for Javascript and Ruby/Sinatra development and that works well on my Chromebook.

I am very happy that I bought the Chromebook - no buyer's remorse :-)

July 5, 2015 (next day) edits):

For web based Haskell development, I left off of my list - an excellent web based IDE and Haskell learning center.

Also, I spent some time this morning working on a Clojure project using Emacs + cider instead of IntelliJ. To be honest, since I usually use IntelliJ, I forgot how great cider has become. Beautiful integration with lein, nice auto-complete, etc.

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