Vivek Haldar

Moving to Chrome OS

I knew I was ready for jump to ChromeOS because I was already spending most of my time on any computer in Chrome. Yes, it could even do things like ssh, which was all the escape from the browser I ever needed. I used my laptop as a 21st century dumb terminal. For heavy duty work coding, I had a heavy duty machine that I sat under my desk and was used remotely. For the rare occasion that I needed the full desktop experience of that remote machine, I used the Chrome Remote Desktop extension.

What pushed me over the edge was the Pixel.

I will not review the Pixel here. Plenty of folks have done that in depth already. I will just say that the hardware is delicious. Particularly the screen. I’m a bit of a typography nut, and seeing type on a screen of that resolution makes you realize what a waste it was looking at and picking out fonts for low-resolution screens. I now hate to connect to a large external monitor because it just looks so crappy.

(By the way, I’m biased. See my “About” page. Take all this for what it’s worth.)

Here I want to talk about how some of my workflows and habits have changed (or will need to change). I’ve had the Pixel as my full-time sole machine for a glorious four days now, so a lot of this might change as I find my way.

Whether ChromeOS is right for you depends entirely on whether you live on the web full time, or are still shackled to native apps. Even if you do live on the web full time or most of the time, like I do, when you are on a “regular” machine you fall into habits that reinforce the use of the local machine as a crutch.

There are two major factors that might tie someone to a “regular” machine. The first is native apps. In the spirit of aiming for where the puck is headed, I feel confident that those who are absolutely tied to native apps will continue to dwindle and be confined to highly specialized niches. High-end image editing, graphics, 3D rendering and video editing is the most obvious one.

The other major reason is the use of local disk. That gargantuan terabyte (or fraction thereof) of space attached to your machine–but only your machine. Local disk ties you to specific machines. Local disk makes you worry about backups. Local disk fills up. Local disk is 20th century. On my previous main machine (a 13-inch MacBook Air), I used local disk like a messy floor. The things I cared about would always find a place online, usually on Google Drive or PicasaWeb, and those that I was unsure about or were temporary in nature would get tossed on the floor, usually never to be looked at after the first time.

Even though the Pixel hardware is not cheap, there is a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing that a ChromeBook is disposable in the sense that I don’t have to worry about “all that stuff that was on that machine.”

That said, I plead guilty to being addicted to local disk. A lot of crucial things in my setup depend on local disk. Thankfully, they don’t have to. It’s a legacy workflow that will take me awhile to properly untangle. The first step is to use “Save to Google Drive” when “downloading” something from the web.

So how have my workflows changed? The big news is that they haven’t, for the most part. I used to spent 90% of my time in the browser before, and now I spend 100%.

The biggest thing I thought I would miss was dictation software. I used Dragon Dictate on the Mac. But the spanking new WebSpeech API looks like it will at least start to cover some of that ground. Check out this demo of speech to text in the browser.

There are still some odds and ends I miss. I got used to a bunch of trackpad gestures in MacOS X that don’t work on ChromeOS. Two and three-finger swipes, mostly. I’d also developed a deep habit of using sticky modifier keys (that’s when you can press and release “Ctrl” and then press “A” to emit the “Ctrl-A” key combo, rather than having to hold down “Ctrl” and then pressing “A” while “Ctrl” is held down). I still miss that.

But so far, living full time in the cloud has been great. It’s the future. Might as well start now.