Should I get a Chromebook?

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  • This topic has 15 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated Aug 3-12:20 am by Brian Masinick.
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  • #63562
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    seaken64

    Should I get a Chromebook?

    Recently I have been considering buying a Chromebook. It is mostly out of curiosity, wondering what a Chromebook is like and how I may be able to use it. But before I buy one I want to consider whether I need to spend any money to satisfy my curiosity. I have a few old computers that I can test out on Chromium OS, which is the Open Source version of what Chrome OS is based on.

    Chromium is essentially Chrome OS but without the Google customization and without all of the restrictions that come with owning a Chromebook. So, I installed Chromium OS using the CloudReady software (which has recently been purchased by Google) on an old Two Core AMD All-in-One computer with 8GB of RAM. I replaced the hard drive and installed CloudReady using the instructions provided by CloudReady.

    On first boot I entered my Google Workspace credentials and then opened the Chromium Browser. The browser is synced with my usual workspace that I use in my office (using Chrome on Windows 10). Everything is quite familiar at this point and I can see no difference accessing my Google Workspace with this “Chromebook” (actually Chromium OS Desktop).

    Now, what about non-Google Workspace applications? Browsing the web is the same. But I like to use some local apps to do things like listening to music or printing to my home or office printer, or accessing a file on my network. Can I do these things in Chromium OS?

    The answer is yes. All this stuff can be done on a Chromebook. But in order to do this stuff I need to think differently. Chrome OS is not really intended for use on the local network and for connecting to local peripherals. This is a completely different paradigm than I am used to since using DOS, Windows, and Linux for years.

    For instance, let’s say I want to access a file share on my local LAN. I can’t simply set up a connection to the local share using a command line or a GUI Network Connection app. Instead, I need to install a Chrome App that supports some kind of file share that is also available in my Windows or Linux systems on the LAN. This usually means something like Google Drive or Dropbox or OneDrive. Simple permissions based file sharing over the local LAN does not seem to work since everything is done through a browser and there is no command line access by default. Chrome OS does not see anything outside of the browser. There may be some workarounds but so far I am not sure Chrome OS supports LAN file access at all.

    Next, can I print directly to my office printer or scan a document to my hard drive? Again, there is no direct connection to the local printer with a cable. If the printer is wifi enabled and the printer has been set up to be found over the internet then yes, it will work – at least for printing. I’m not sure about scanning.

    Can I use the “Audacious” app to play internet radio? Can I use a media player to play a CD or DVD? Umm, no. Audacious is not available as a Chrome App. In order to play an internet radio station I have to browse to the website and load the player available from that site. It is not as convenient as setting up a playlist in Audacious and just clicking on the stations I want to play. But it does work as long as the station has a player built into their website. CD or DVD? No way. Chrome OS does not support CDs and DVDs. Not even as removable drives. Nothing. But I can use a USB drive as removable media and play files from there.

    File manager? Kind of. There is a simple file manager but no way to get down to fine details or handle advanced file management. I may be able to download alternate file managers. The new Chrome OS is supposed to support Android Apps and even Linux Apps, where you can use different file managers. But Chromium OS does not support these features. (I was able to get Linux to work inside of Chromium OS using the “Crouton” application. More on this subject in a later document).

    Doing “normal” computing stuff like file management and file sharing, and printing and playing CD’s, is not supported. But doing anything on the web through a browser is easily accomplished. Yet, you only have the Chromium/Chrome browser. There are no options for running other browsers, like Edge or Firefox. This is expected since Chrome OS is a Google project and only supports Chrome. But it is limiting.

    So, why would I want a Chromebook when I already have a Windows or Linux laptop?

    I wouldn’t. For me, Chrome OS makes no sense. I’m a Linux user and I have no problem using Linux for everything I want to do with a computer. So, a Chromebook is not necessary. And I can install Chromium OS and get everything available in a Chromebook for free. (Mostly – the new Android and Linux features are different in a Chromebook. But they are mostly available in Chromium OS by alternative procedures). But I do see the appeal of the Chromebook for some users.

    If you are not a “geeky” type and struggle with Windows or Linux, and you want a new laptop that “just works” without having to learn anything new, then a Chromebook may be a good choice. But be ready to change your thinking on how computers work. Everything is centered on what is now called “cloud computing”. Even local LAN networks are ignored. But if you don’t even know what a LAN is, or how to use networking tools to share information between separate computers in your own home or office, then a Chromebook may be for you. (And I may be wrong about Chrome OS and LAN Networking – it’s all new to me and I haven’t figured it all out yet).

    Just remember that when you buy into a Chromebook you have surrendered your freedom of choices to Google. You will be in the Google system for computing and you cannot freely do things your own way anymore. You have to do it the Google way. That’s ok in and of itself. If you can get your work done then it doesn’t matter. But if you are used to the computing freedom of a “personal computer” you will be disappointed. Especially if you are used to Linux and the Open Source Software community. You will not have the same freedom to install what you want and use what you want. Although Google seems to now be allowing more Linux apps and Android apps, it is not the same as installing Linux from a live USB and creating what you want.

    After this exercise I am no longer considering purchasing a Chromebook. But I am going to continue to experiment with Chromium OS and using Linux alongside Chromium OS. (Maybe I’ll figure out how to integrate Chromium OS in my LAN – I think the answer will be using Linux features).

    Seaken64

    • This topic was modified 2 months ago by seaken64.
    #63567
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    christophe
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    Good writeup!

    I have gone back and forth recently on buying a used intel-based chromebook from ebay for about $40 USD.
    I was intending to wipe out the OS & install antiX. (I would never want chromeOS.) But then I dropped (or postponed) the idea, figuring I’ve got enough problems right now without spending money to buy another one. But it does seem viable, to install antiX on one. Maybe I will revisit the issue someday…

    confirmed antiX frugaler, since 2018

    #63569
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    seaken64
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    Hi christophe,

    Installing Linux on a Chromebook can be dicey. It depends on the hardware. But if you buy a Chromebook with an Intel processor you should be able to install antiX as Virtual Machine. At least that is my understanding. On my Chromium OS Desktop I can only (so far) install Ubuntu. The new Chromebooks use virtual machine features for both Linux and Android. CloudReady does not support those features and most older AMD processors won’t work with that feature anyway.

    I am looking into options other than CloudReady that may allow me to install Linux. But it looks like they are multi-boot and not concurrent. With CloudReady and Crouton I can run Linux and Chrome OS at same time and switch back and forth with a keyboard command or run Linux in a tab. Pretty useful actually. But no antiX. If I can figure out how to install antiX I will share it. So far, just Ubuntu.

    Seaken64

    #63578
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    Brian Masinick
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    I’ll weigh in on this since I have multiple computer systems, including a Chromebook.

    First, I’ll say that I was an early adopter of Chrome and Chromebook. In 2010 when Google was getting into the business, they offered to provide a small number of free Chromebooks for those willing to test. I applied, and to my surprise, I received a completely free test Chromebook model CR-48 on December 10, 2010.

    It wasn’t a very powerful system, but it was solidly built and I used it without issue for a couple of years then gave it away to someone else, who also used it for a while before it became too old to be usable any more.

    About a year ago I bought another Chromebook, another commodity system, but this time it had a lot more power, and I caught it at a good price and snagged it. Again, it’s only for running ChromeOS. It might be theoretically possible to use it for something else, but I wouldn’t bother. It is an Acer. I also bought another Acer, this one is an Aspire 5 A515-55 with an NVME SSD. Both of these run well, but are pretty limited for what works. On the more recent Aspire, the only Debian-like system I can get booting and installed on it is siduction. I’ve tried MX Linux, Debian Bullseye and a couple of recent antiX builds with no success. However, Debian, MX Linux and antiX work very well on a Dell Inspiron 5558, where some of the newer distributions don’t work very well, so I save my older hardware for my light distributions. AntiX works beautifully on 10-15 year old hardware and also the 5-6 year old Dell, so that’s where I prefer to use it.

    As for Chromebook models, they are excellent for browsing, as long as you don’t object to Google and Chrome.
    Personally, I’m all for freedom of all types – freedom of choice to use both free and proprietary systems, so sometimes I get familiar with choices on both ends of the spectrum, and that’s where I can appreciate the Chromebook systems. Also, my wife prefers Chromebooks, so I keep a few of them in the house so that she can use the newer ones for multi-user Zoom meetings.

    Not everyone will go for this kind of thing, nor is it my interest to coerce anyone to do so, but I do advocate the choice for each person to make their own personal, well-informed decision about what kinds of systems to use based on both interest and need – for personal or business use; all of which impact individual choice.

    Brian Masinick

    #63579
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    Brian Masinick
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    FWIW, I happen to be using a different distribution than my common set of distributions – I’m on KDE Neon at the moment. I’ve used it before a few times, but it seems to work well with NVME SSD on the Acer Aspire 5, hence one reason I’m using this choice today.

    Brian Masinick

    #63582
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    seaken64
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    @Brian, is the Acer Aspire 5 A515-55 also a Chromebook?

    You have mentioned you use Chromebooks and it is one of the reasons I have been considering buying one. I also appreciate the right we all have in choices and I don’t disparage any Operating System. And even though I have decided that I won’t be buying a Chromebook right now I may yet decide to pick one up in the future. I like to play with different hardware just for fun.

    But as far as my use profile goes I can get the same experience using the free Chromium OS. At least for now. I will be keeping an eye on things and if someone steps up and shows that antiX can run on their Chrome OS machine then I will go ahead and purchase one. (Or, maybe I will be the one who figures it out. Could happen!)

    I usually recommend an Apple Ipad to my family and friends who are not computer savvy. But given what has happened with the online classes and remote learning I am rethinking that and considering recommending Chromebooks instead. Of course, for my computer nerd family and friends I recommend antiX!

    Seaken64

    • This reply was modified 2 months ago by seaken64.
    #63585
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    Brian Masinick
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    The Acer Aspire 5 A515-55 is NOT a Chromebook. Delivered, this discount model comes with a simple version of Windows 10. I had to figure out how to change the system configuration to get rid of Windows; that took me a while; in essence, I finally figured out how to enable AHCI instead of some other SATA default configuration that had “locked” Windows 10 in place.

    The Acer Aspire 5 A515-55 does not seem very friendly to antiX; I’ve not been able to install antiX. Instead, PCLinuxOS, Endeavor OS, KDE Neon, and siduction made it, and it took me 2-3 weeks to find four distros that would successfully install.

    Because it has an SSD and a 10th Gen Intel Core processor base, performance is pretty good for such an inexpensive solution, but it’s full of compromises, few of which make putting Linux on it an easy exercise. I was successful, but a lot of reading and research, failures and retries took place before I managed to get around it. There are probably a dozen other computers with similar overall performance that might make a safer choice. Given those limitations, once I conquered a few of those, it does run some distros; MX and antiX are not among those I’ve had success with, so it’s the first computer I’ve ever owned that has had issues with either distro. It could be that I’m not “clever enough”; given that my Dell Inspiron 5558 and the old collection of ancient IBM Thinkpad and HP 5000 series laptops run antiX and MX very well, I run ’em there, and run the others on this one.

    Brian Masinick

    #63586
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    Brian Masinick
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    The Chromebook that I DID purchase I found for a real deal, but that was maybe 15-18 months ago; it is since then a much higher price – Acer Chromebook 715.

    https://buyersguide.org/laptops/t/hp?msclkid=2c77e135f7df151ba1ed81c81d8778e9&m=p&d=c&c=83975378043248&oid=kwd-83975923928040:loc-190&qs=best%20chromebook%202021&lp=81347&li=&nw=s&nts=1&tdid=9430443

    https://www.cnet.com/tech/computing/best-chromebook/

    Will give you some ideas. The Lenovo, HP and Acer models have some good options; the Acer Spin 713, Acer Chromebook 711 or 712 are less expensive than the 715, and the Lenovo Duet and Flex 5 models are also less expensive if your needs are basic; I’d shop around a bit before making a decision, if you actually want a Chromebook.

    Google has a nice model, but their prices shot up during the pandemic and have not come back down, at least not that I’ve seen.

    Brian Masinick

    #63587
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    Brian Masinick
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    I do recommend a moderately priced Chromebook as a practical alternative to a commodity priced Windows laptop computer.

    Comparing the Acer Chromebook 715 to the Acer Aspire 5 A515-55, the Chromebook 715 I got was a better buy without a doubt, but I got lucky with my purchase by watching for Chromebook models around Amazon discount days, Black Friday or whatever big sale was available. I also found the Aspire 5 Model A515-55 with similar hunting.

    Quite honestly, the overall Acer lineup is pretty good. With the Aspire series, you have to be REALLY careful and pay close attention to what you are getting. The one I actually got was one at the rock bottom of their series. If it was not for literally weeks of reading and research, I’d be stuck with a pretty stupid, low powered Windows 10 device, but I eventually figured it out; if you relish the challenge, go for it; frankly there are other choices.

    Some of the best buys for Linux enthusiasts are old machines that are really solidly built, don’t work well any more with new versions of Windows, but work remarkably well with some versions like antiX. My wife had this really old system; I think it was an Asus system, and it was VERY solid, better than most systems these days. It had Windows 7 on it and ran like a 15-year old dog. I put antiX on it and it ran great. I found a friend who needed a computer and really couldn’t afford one, so I gave this antiX system to the person. They liked it. Their “geek son” took one look at it, seeing a Linux system on it and said “Cool!” Not sure if the parent got the computer back or not, since the son was drooling on it! Anyway, our antiX has saved many old systems that I either use or give away to people.

    Brian Masinick

    #63592
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    seaken64
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    I really think it comes down to the “geek” level of the user/buyer. I may buy a Chromebook, but why would I if I can get a cheap/free used laptop and put Chromium OS on it? I have a couple of old laptops right now that I can turn into “Chromebooks”.

    Now, if I wanted some of the hardware upgrades that a Chromebook could give me, such as battery life or screen resolution, then maybe it makes more sense. I so prefer to “tinker” that I think I am better suited to Chromium OS than I am to Chrome OS.

    Seaken64

    #63595
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    Brian Masinick
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    That’s a good one!

    Brian Masinick

    #63776
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    stevesr0
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    I have a chromebook that has impressed me a whole lot for the usual chromebook reason – just works. I bought it on eBay from a nonprofit bookstore to which it had been donated.

    However, it has now reached end of support life for OS updates (including security).

    So, I have stopped using it until I figure what is the best way to update it to an OS that will work and give me security updates. I have heard of Gallium OS and it is promoted for exactly this purpose.

    Curious if anyone has experience with it here?

    stevesr0

    #63778
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    Brian Masinick
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    If it’s old it’s probably a good candidate for antiX unless you are set for something different

    Brian Masinick

    #64219
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    seaken64
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    @stevesr0, I have not had any experience with Gallium OS. But is is a full Linux distro made to work on Chromebooks. That may work for you. You may also be able to install antiX, although that will likely be trickier. Chromebooks have some different hardware and antiX may need to be shoe-horned.

    If you just like the Chromebook setup you could try installing CloudReady on it. You will need to modify the machine to boot from an external drive. Then use the CloudReady USB to install. It will replace your Chrome OS and it will get regular updates just like Chrome OS. CloudReady is now owned by Google.

    Here’s one example I found:
    https://www.chromestory.com/2019/07/eol-chromebook-install-cloudready/

    Seaken64

    #64224
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    christophe
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    @stevesr0 – I searched the forum & discovered that: rokytnji has installed antiX on a chromebook. Also fatmac, though he couldn’t get sound working on his. It sounds like roky has his 100% fully operational.

    I researched via the web to see which models should work with linux. And I matched up one on ebay for less than $50 with tax & shipping.

    You already have one, so I’d search all I can about your specific model & “install linux.”

    I had to read & re-read the how-tos; watch & re-watch how-to videos to get it kind of “second-nature.”

    And I replaced the bios & put antiX on it. After my prep, it was very straight-forward. My only thing was — no sound. A typical problem, I’ve read.
    (But I ordered a usb sound card for a few quid, to use earbuds — I rarely use sound without earbuds, anyway.)

    So. My 2nd UEFI antiX (frugal-only) machine. Quite fun.

    confirmed antiX frugaler, since 2018

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