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Thursday, February 21, 2013

My hour with a (gasp) Chromebook

A couple of years ago -- I think it was 2010 -- I went to a company holiday party. They had rented out the entire "Exploratorium" up in San Francisco and did a huge bus caravan to get everyone up there. Inside, they had all kinds of weird nerd things set up, with cocktails, and food, and a band, and just all of that stuff.

They also had us check in at the entrance for our "holiday gift". It wasn't given to us right then and there, but would follow along later. Not too long after that party, a bunch of us started getting shipping notifications, and the gifts started going out to our home addresses. I had already found out what the gift was, so it wasn't a surprise when I opened the box.

It was a Cr48 notebook computer, aka "Chromebook". It was a tiny little thing which essentially booted straight into a web browser. Once there, I could cruise around to different web sites or (naturally) look at my Gmail accounts and all of the other gunk associated with them. This thing also had some kind of cellular modem in it so that it could hop on Verizon's wireless network and work even when a traditional 802.11(mumble) network wasn't available.

I started playing with it and realized there were things I really didn't like about the stock browser experience. I'm one of those people who uses NoScript on my regular browser, and I keep a second one around with all of that stuff enabled for the occasional broken site which won't work any other way.

I also block a lot of ads. I consider it to be an essential part of the browsing experience. I don't subscribe to any sort of block lists, though. I just block things as they annoy me. If they don't annoy me, they don't get blocked. It's a simple arrangement which suits me well.

None of this was going to fly on this little box. It was set up to keep all of your state online "in the cloud" somehow, and customization just wasn't going to happen. Worse still, you were entirely at the mercy of whatever the big G decided to force-feed you in terms of user interfaces. If they changed something, you had to accept it, since there was no real client software on the box to use otherwise. You couldn't resort to IMAP, for instance. It was the web or nothing.

I had already gone through the forced Gmail redesign earlier that year, and wasn't about to hand over even more of my day to day activities to a bunch of people who wouldn't care about my experiences. It was time to say goodbye to this little box.

I decided to ship it off to someone else in the family who actually likes fighting with technology. His idea of a pleasant topic of technical conversation is how he now has all of his drivers up to "64 bits" and couldn't before because ... who knows, it went in one ear and out the other. It was something like that, anyway.

It's clear there are at least two distinct types of computer users. There are people who just want the damn thing to work and stay out of their way, and then there are people who actually enjoy the "grinding" it takes to "level up" and "get more out of things".

So, I went through the steps of finding out how to truly wipe the thing and get it back to where it was when it first came out of the box. Then I packed it up just the way it had been and stuck a mailing label on the box. A day or two later, I handed it over to FedEx and sent it on its way.

This turned out to be a surprisingly good move. He actually likes it.

I'm just not that kind of user.