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Chromebook diaries: day one

Nic Healey kicks off a week-long experiment to manage his day-to-day work life entirely from a Google Chromebook.

It's been over two years since Google first unveiled its cloud-loving laptop, the Chromebook.

The Acer C720 Chromebook. (Credit: Acer)

A number of different manufacturers are now on-board, but the concept remains the same — a low-cost piece of hardware that runs so-called cloud-based applications on a specialised operating system (called Chrome OS), rather than the more traditional idea of installing your software on the laptop itself.

With Google having had a couple of years to improve Chrome OS, as well as grow the number of available web apps, I decided to embark on a small experiment: can I use a Chromebook as my sole work computing device for one week?

First, some background.

I've chosen the Acer C720 Chromebook as my Chrome device. This uses the Haswell version of the Intel Celeron 2955U CPU and 4GB of RAM, along with a fairly standard (for Chromebook) 16GB hard drive.

The CPU is an ultra-low voltage model, with Acer claiming a very impressive 8.5 hours of battery life on the C720. The SSD also means a fast boot up: seven seconds from a complete power off, with "instant on" from sleep mode. It's also just AU$399.

I should also be clear that CBS Interactive, the parent company of CNET Australia, uses the Google Apps range for its office software. That means I'm already working with Gmail, Google Drive, Hangouts and the like throughout my regular work day. This was definitely going to make the transition easier.

And it has, in many ways. I've been an Android phone user for many years now, so I've always found it convenient to use the Chrome browser across both mobile and desktop. This was a big win during the initial set up of the C720 — one log-in and I've got my email, documents and all my work bookmarks straight away.

I'm signed in to both my work email and my personal Gmail, just like on desktop. I'm on the work Wi-Fi, so there's no issue signing into our website CMS, which I'm grateful for because setting up a Cisco VPN is possible but looks a little complex.

But there is one moderately large issue, although it's not the Chromebook's fault. Our CMS works best in Firefox because we have a custom-made right-click menu for some of the more common tasks.

Obviously, I'm not able to install Firefox on a Chromebook, so I'm working without it with menu options, which — as my colleagues might be able to angrily attest — is slowing me down a little.

I'm also unable to access any of the network drives (as opposed to Google Drive), which is where I've stored an article I've been working on. I'm debating whether to rewrite it or cheat a little and use my desktop PC to copy it to Google Drive, which is where I should have put it to begin with.

Finally, I'm really missing my keyboard, mouse and big monitor. That’s something I experience anytime I use a laptop, though, so again, you can’t blame the Chromebook for it. I think there's a Targus laptop dock in the office somewhere, so I might drag that out and set it up.

In terms of the physical hardware, C720 has been fine so far. The touch pad took a little getting used to, one finger for a left click and two for a right, but it's been great for scrolling, and the Chromebook itself feels responsive and fast.

I've been tied to my desk so far, so I haven't been getting much benefit from its slim and light form factor (1.47kg and 19mm thick), but I'm hoping to do a bit of hot desking this week, so I imagine my back will appreciate it later.

In all, this hasn't been a bad start to the experiment, but we'll see if I'm this gung-ho by tomorrow afternoon.