Friday, April 26, 2013

The Google Chromebook: The ultimate traveling companion

When Google announced the new generation of Chromebooks, I was pretty sure that I wanted to try one. And at $199, it's a pretty low barrier to entry. Before they were available in Canada, I had a friend who was traveling in California pick up an Acer C7 for me. I'm very glad I did. I chose the C7 over the slightly more expensive Samsung because I wanted the higher resolution webcam for video conferences and the wired Ethernet port (for hotels with dodgy WiFi). Also, you can upgrade the memory in the C7.

For the first time in my working life, my work-issued laptop stays put when I travel and at home it has reduced the squabbles among my kids about available computer time for homework and other stuff.

The device is ultra-portable. The C7 weighs in 3lbs and is very compact. Despite the size, the screen is great (1366x768), the keyboard is very comfortable and the track-pad is better than my work-issue HP EliteBook 8460.

Before you run out and buy one, you'll need to know what a Chromebook is and what it isn't. It doesn't run Windows or Apple's operating system, nor does it run apps designed for those systems. It runs ChromeOS, which is based on Google's Chrome browser. It runs most plugins and Chrome add-ons, which significantly extend its utility beyond "just a browser". What it does, it does very well. And when I'm traveling, it does everything I need. I have Google Drive, Google Apps, Evernote and everything else I do through the browser.

My firm is on Windows and we use Outlook, Word and a document management system, none of which run natively on ChromeOS. When I do need more than access to my e-mail via the webmail interface, I use ChromeRDP for remote access to my firm's system and it's just like I'm using the firm's windows system. (Tip: This is the best RDP system, which is an almost perfect emulation of Window's Remote Desktop Connection client. No additional software is required on the server side. There are other RDP plug-ins, but I've found they are hit and miss.)

One feature that it important to me is that everything is stored remotely, so there's nothing on the device if it is lost or stolen. Or searched at the border. I'm from Nova Scotia and I do work for public bodies that are subject to the silly Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act, which prohibits public bodies and their service providers from allowing personal information to be stored outside of Canada or accessed from outside of Canada. My normal work laptop contains locally-stored and synchronized information that can't be taken out of the country. That is not an issue with my Chromebook. All I store locally are movies that I want to watch on the plane. I can easily wipe the entire device without hesitation because the next time I log in, it reinstalls all my settings within a minute. I can hand the device to anyone who can use it in "guest mode" or they can log in with their Google account and all their preferences are right there.

Don't just take my word on it. If you're looking for another lawyer's opinion on the device, check out Why a Chromebook Might be a Better Option for Your Law Practice than a Tablet | The Droid Lawyer™

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