Blog Archive

The Computer Dilemma

Recently, something occurred to me that was probably pretty obvious to everyone else in my house - I spend a lot of time on the computer. As someone who loves to create things, I constantly need to be doing something with my time. Whenever I have any free time, especially in the evenings, I can't just sit down and watch television. I would much rather be working to improve my skills processing photographs, building out my website, listening to music, engaging with friends on social media, or enjoying other people's creative work on sites like 500px or Vimeo. In the rare instances where I do crave a little tube time, I choose streaming over television since I can watch precisely what I'm in the mood for and entirely on my schedule. Suffice it to say, I rely on my computer for virtually everything I like to do.

So what's the problem?

The problem is this: to organize, manipulate, and process digital photographs, one needs a pretty robust computer. I built a desktop machine to specifically handle this task a few years ago and it's still going strong. It's a behemoth of a computer, loaded to the gills with RAM and one of the fastest processors available. Shrouded in a giant, sound-insulating tower case, it sits quietly next to my office desk humming away, always ready to handle the toughest computational tasks I can throw at it. But therein lies the problem - it's a big desktop computer. It cannot fold up and fit in my bag, nor can it be propped up on my lap should I want to sit elsewhere in the house with my feet up. The result is that I'm essentially held captive in my home office, anchored down by my computer.

So I recently started pricing out a laptop to replace my desktop computer. That turned out to be a very brief investigation. To build out such a machine was exorbitantly expensive. But as I was sitting at my desk with a dozen tabs open in my browser, comparing prices and reading reviews of the latest laptops, something dawned on me: almost everything I do on the computer other than processing photos is done through a browser. I immediately began to make a list. Other than the Adobe applications I use for photography, I use SmugMug, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Wordpress, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Netflix, Vimeo, Flickr, 500px, and YouTube on an almost a daily basis. There are probably others... and that list doesn't include the hundreds of blogs and news outlets I follow through Feedly. Unless I sit down at my desk to specifically edit photos, I'm literally using only one other app: Google Chrome.

This was a Eureka! moment if I've ever had one.

I didn't need a replacement desktop... I needed a simple laptop with a browser. Enter the "Chromebook" breed of computers. These things are essentially laptops that only run Google Chrome as an OS which, prior to this thought exercise, seemed limited to me. Yet as I continued to think about my particular situation and usage scenario, the more I realized that this kind of computer could be the solution I was looking for! Intrigued by this realization, I wasted no time and quickly ordered a Toshiba Chromebook 2 from my good friends at Amazon. Two days later, it arrived and I started writing this blog with it!

So how is it? It's AWESOME.

The first thing I noticed when I powered it on was how lightning quick it starts up. In fact, it's so fast that describing it as "starting up" doesn't do it justice. It reminds me of my iPad; it simply turns on. Then, after logging in with my Google account, I was presented with a gorgeous desktop and a Chrome browser window. Voilla! In an instant I realized I (almost) don't need Windows or Mac OS anymore! Everything is there, just as one would expect. With my new Chromebook, all of my files are stored, managed, and accessed via Google Drive; my documents are handled with Google Docs; my email, contacts, and calendar are all handled by... Google, yes. And, of course, everything on the web is accessed as it would be from any other computer with a web browser.

Now, for the best part. Because virtually everything one would access using a Chromebook is managed on a remote server, the machines themselves don't need to be all that powerful. This makes them thin, lightweight, lower power-consuming, and best of all, cheap. I literally purchased this computer for 8% the cost of the Macbook Pro I was originally looking at.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats. Obviously, you can't do much without an internet connection. The whole premise of the Chromebook is that you're working through a web browser. On the plus side, Google Docs, Gmail, and Calendar each offer an offline sync mode that lets you work away when an internet connection is not available. So, in this light, it's not that much different than any other laptop. Implicit in all of this, however, is that you must use Google apps. There is no Microsoft Office here; no iTunes; and no Adobe applications. This means that I cannot process photographs on my Chromebook; I must still rely on my office desktop machine for that kind of heavy lifting. But it probably won't be long before even that changes... Adobe has recently launched a web-based version of Lightroom, which, though simplified from the desktop version, is accessible through a browser. Even more promising, they have also recently announced a forthcoming web-based version of Photoshop, meaning that Adobe and Google are on the same page. That's good business, and great technology.

So, the final point: why did I dedicate an entire blog entry about my new Chromebook? First, because literally the day after I ordered mine, Alphabet (the parent company of Google) displaced Apple as the most valuable company in the world. Coincidence? I think not. Okay, the other reason I wrote this blog entry is because I see this great little laptop as a major enabler for more writing. I stopped blogging for a long time because of the computer dilemma. Writing always seemed to get pushed down the list when I would be working late in my office on my desktop computer. Now that I can roam around, untethered, I'm hoping it will be easier to keep up the writing habit! Thank you, Google!