Chromebook Test (Photo credit: slgckgc)
With some problems with my main work machine last week I decided to get a cheap machine as a backup - because I like redundancies and because the economic rebound some speak of hasn't quite made it's way to my bank account. Chromebooks are cheap, and though I dislike having a dependency on any particular company, the Chromebook has potential. If it failed to handle what I needed it to do, I could always install Linux on it.
When Walmart.com had the Acer C7 Chromebook down to $199, I decided it was time. Having seen someone's cat destroy a Chromebook over Skype (they weren't using it for Skype), I opted for the Walmart insurance as well. For $36 it covers drop damage for 2 years (amongst other things), so all told I spent about $240-$250 after taxes. I'm a contractor. It's a tax writeoff.
My first impressions of the Chromebook were colored by my want for physically solid machines. My phone feels solid. My main work machine feels solid. The Chromebook did not feel solid, but then it's because it's light. Until now my travelling laptop has weighed in at 10lbs. I suppose I might write something up on the Acer after I've spent more time on it. I can't understand how people can write a review on a machine that they just got. That's silly. You need at least a month.
I'd done my research, though maybe Google could pay Ballmer to visit their Chromebook marketing department.. The Chromebook would be called upon to handle development and, really, that's not something that the marketers of Chromebooks are intent to talk about because their main market are... not developers.
All of these made me more confident in purchasing a Chromebook as far as work.
What most developers articles on these things don't realize is that one process does not fit all.
Since my main workflow is typically from a local WAMP/LAMP setup with Git, this may alter the way I do things a bit. Sure, I'm a Free Software/Open Source person and that goes to clients but clients don't always want their code public even though it's GPL'd - sometimes they want to maintain a Trade Secret, or sometimes they just aren't going to distribute their code. When working with and/or managing developer groups, the client's server development environment is where it all happens - though sometimes you walk into situations where unresolved office politics can leave too many keys to the server out there.
And there's always Github.
I suppose I should have expected Google to have tailored what apps it suggested based on my gmail account and google searches I've done while logged in - but I found it a bit creepy.
ShiftEdit and CodingTheWeb were the only ones I installed.
In fiddling around this weekend, I decided that so far I prefer using NeutronDrive - the main selling point to me being all the different Editor modes available and the fact that it leverages Google Drive (working a single dev project). Is it better or worse than the other IDEs/repositories? I have no idea yet, I've only really toyed with one - but the present project involves lots of use of Google Drive already. I am concerned about how multiple users editing the same file at the same time might not work well, but for one dev projects it's a workable solution.
With larger projects, it will depend on the size of the team - so it might be a development server's Git, it might be Github. It will depend on the project. With SSH on the Chromebook, it's not that difficult - and with a little network setup, I can have the Chromebook connect to a local WAMP/LAMP as needed.
The Web Developer's Achilles Heel.
No one seems to have mentioned this in any of the posts that I've read, but there's an issue with web development on the Chromebook that is the elephant in the room. Your browser. On a Chromebook, you're locked into Google Chrome - so you're out of luck for front end development. Since I mainly do back end development, it's not too big of a deal for me - but it's something that means that you can't always see what the client sees. While the machine is good for development, it's not necessarily good for evaluating browser glitches.
The Skype Issue
Skype has become a central tool for people who work across the Internet - Google Hangouts seem to be nice for some, but I have yet to encounter anyone who uses them effectively. We all know that Skype works on Android. Why it doesn't work on Chromebooks seems to have been a business decision by Google - and a crappy one at that. Here's Google's writeup on Skype on a Chromebook.
I've committed myself to working with the out-of-the-box Chromebook for a while. It's not because I like Google - I'm ambivalent about Google - but it's because I want to give it a fair shake. The lack of Skype and the inability to use other browsers is very limiting for web development work in general, but these I can work around with different machines - at least for now. The second I need to run Skype or other browsers on the Chromebook, I'll have a little entry on installing Linux on a Chromebook.
Ubuntu does seem popular for that.