Friday, November 4, 2011

Developing on a Chromebook - Part 1: The Chromebook

"It's just chro without me."
Last week our local GTUG organized a Chrome Hackathon. It was a fun event featuring tons of code, free drinks, free pizza, more code and free swag. If you want to see what the event looked like, you can watch a slideshow compiled by Fabian.

The extension I've been working on was a new version of Announcify, which I've built together with Dominic Bartl and Kariem Hussein. Dominic worked on that mindblowing blur effect and the rest of the design, Kariem built the fancy settings (he showed up late, like 5 hours after kickoff ;)) and I was responsible for the "Announcify" part of the extension - fetching a website's content and announcing it paragraph by paragraph.
And thanks to Dominic's mindblowing effects, Kariem's naughty marketing tricks and - maybe - Announcify's beautiful voice, we won the grand prize: a Chromebook. :)

Now that I (finally!) own a Chromebook, I want to use it for as much work as possible. Unfortunately, that's not that easy if you're an Java and Android developer, but I'll talk about that in part 2 of this series. This part is about the Chromebook itself...

My first impression was pure excitement. Maybe because I just won a laptop worth 400€, but I was excited anyway. The first thing I noticed was its weight. I really thought it was lighter, but actually it's quite heavy for a "thin client" like a Chromebook. Anyway, excitement didn't stop: I liked everything else I've seen so far.
After unboxing everything like a baby at christmas, I opened the Chromebook and... WOW! It unfolds like silk! :P Easy and smooth.

After a first setup and some exploring of the system, I decided to immediately switch to Developer Mode. Reboot, set everything up again, update, install tons of apps using the addictive new interface of the Chrome Web Store, reboot again and... be no more able to login? Urgh. Ok, this seemed to be a bug in a recent version of ChromeOS, but it's fixed now. I had to wipe my Chromebook like five times, but that's not a big deal. You know, everything's in the cloud... ;)

Besides the mentioned "cool"s and "booh"s, I really love the animation when logging out of your account and shutting down. Of course, shutting down and booting is blazingly fast. Google didn't lie when promising us a 8 seconds boot.

One thing most of the reviewers complained about was the touchpad. And... yes, I'm still not used to it. Right click is really uncomfortable, but I guess Google wants to eliminate right clicks in the web browsers in the future... Other than that, scrolling is fun, but is buggy every now and then too.
However, the most important part of a laptop / Chromebook, which ultimately distinguishes it from a tablet, the keyboard, is great. Perfect for typing and minimalistic. No num pad and lots of other keys missing too. At first! For example, I desperately missed page up / down, or delete. By accident I found that they're just packed into key combos:
  • page up / down - alt + up / down
  • caps lock - caps left + caps right
  • delete - alt + backspace

I'm sure there are a lot more combinations available.

I can't really talk about speed and annoying sounds at the moment, because I experienced both, slowness and a loud fan. However, my first experience (and my experience at the time of writing this article) is a fast system.

All in all, if you asked me whether you should buy this thing is "if you can afford it, definitely yes", no matter who you are. Sure, this thing is primarily targeted at Otto and Jimmy Normal at the moment, but it's capable of some magic tricks turning it into a beastie.

Want to read more about this topic? Check out the other posts of this series:
- Part 2: Cloud
- Part 3: X-Forwarding
- Part 4: Ubuntu