Rethinking Computing with a Chromebook

HP ChromebookWorking from home can be great. I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee and get to work. Two or three hours later I have the equivalent of a day’s worth of work done, and the rest of the day available to talk to clients and prospects.

Years ago I discovered GoToMyPC and found that the service works great – it opens a remote desktop in a browser window that allows me to work on files in our server and on the proprietary programs we have purchased like the DataCompdatabase, the Marshall & Swift Commercial Estimator and theArgus Discounted Cash Flow analysis software.

For the past several months I used an old computer from the office with a small monitor. The computer was noisy and on its last legs – I could run a browser, but running any other program ground the old girl to a halt.

I also, on occasion, need a laptop computer for travel or for making PowerPoint presentations. But the instance was so rare I could not justify the expense, plus I have difficulty working on the small screen so a laptop was not going to be a great work-at- home alternative.

Then I read about Google Chromebooks. Priced between $250 and $300 they are full-featured laptops that run the Google Chrome Operating System. Chromebooks work exclusively on the Chrome browser, but in case you don’t use the Chrome browser or haven’t noticed, you can create an account with Google and launch apps and extensions that work like programs.

Google has some standard apps like Google Docs (Word Processor), Google Sheets (Spreadsheets) and Google Slides (PowerPoint). There are also dozens of other apps available from the Chrome Web Store, including games, productivity software, social media, news, weather and lots more. All of these apps can be run on a PC or on a Chromebook.

Chromebooks comes with 15 free gigabytes of cloud memory in Google Drive. A sync feature in Google Drive copies your files to your PC and Chromebook so you can work offline.

I found a dandy $300 14 inch HP Chromebook at P.C. Richard and brought it home. Truth be told, I bought it as a (cross my fingers that it works) backup for a presentation I had to make the next day at a New Jersey County Bar Association conference. The first thing I did was plug a thumb drive with my PowerPoint presentation in the Chromebook. The Chromebook flawlessly found, opened and saved the PowerPoint file. Test one, check.

I added a 27 inch HP monitor ($219 from CostCo), a wireless keyboard and mouse and an HDMI cable for the monitor ($50 and $35 from Staples, respectively). With these accessories I have a top-notch workstation that, when unplugged, also serves as my work laptop.

After some experimentation, I started using Google Docs as my go-to blog drafting software because it is accessible from all of my devices. The more I work with Google Docs the more I like it. It has a clean, simple interface and has more than adequate formatting capabilities.

I paid for a program called Scrivener, a specialty writing program with an “index card” idea bulletin board and a research window.  I haven’t used it much because it is rather complicated. But as I played with Google Docs I realized that It too has a Research window with Images, Scholar, Quotes, Dictionary and other search-narrowing drop downs. And theComments feature allows the writer to mark text with notes (A Fiction Example: ”Character Felicia has green eyes and a bad temper. Mention catfight in Williams Sonoma over wine chiller in Chapter 8, after Character Mark’s botched suicide attempt”).

Bonus! Google has a Remote Desktop Extension, which allows me to log in to my office PC for free.

If you are looking for a high-quality, low cost laptop and workstation, I recommend you consider a Chromebook.

– Bob Gagliano

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