When you’ve been using computers as long as I have change doesn’t always come easy. But, at Mozilla we have a saying that “The Web IS the Platform”. I’ve spent a LOT of time over the past year researching how much one can actually do using only “Web Technology”.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of years there is an ongoing debate (meaning argument) about HTML5 versus “Native”.  The more I experiment with HTML and the associated technologies, the fewer use-cases I find that truly require native platform technologies.

In May of 2011 a co-worker came back from Google I-O with a “Chromebook”. He described it as a net-book that only ran the Chrome browser. As a Microsoft employee I was a good corporate citizen and ran Internet Explorer as my primary browser. (Though I used Firefox for development work). IE doesn’t really have an extensibility model (and no, I don’t consider ActiveX a viable extensibility model) so I hadn’t really come to think of the browser as a container for application type functionality.

Spending the last 14 months embracing Firefox (and by association, Google Chrome) I’ve learned to be comfortable doing things in the browser  that I historically felt the need to do with a native Windows app. So, thinking from the perspective of Mozilla’s “The Web IS the Platform” and seeing the amazing progress we’ve made with FirefoxOS (an HTML5 Operating System for Phones) it makes sense that my “second look” at Chromebooks might leave me a bit more open minded about the potential.

Then it happened a couple of weeks ago. I stopped in to my local Best Buy store to upgrade my phone and they had an end-cap display of Chromebooks. They had two models on featured.

The Samsung ($249) had more elegant, Airbook-eske lines but they had the same size screens and RAM and they both booted in the same 20 seconds. However, the Samsung ($249) had only a 16 gigabyte SSD whereas the Acer ($199) had a 320 Gb hard drive. Since the both booted at the same pace I opted for the cheaper Acer with 20 times the storage.

Acer CHromebook

The plan was to see how much real work that I could to without having to revert to a “full” laptop. I have to say the the experience has been FAR better than I expected it to be. To begin with, I’m getting almost 5 hours of battery life which is 20% more than the manufacturer’s estimates.

The file manager takes a but of getting used to but once I did I was able to organize my files and easily move them between local storage on the hard drive and my Google Drive. One of the cool things about this is that I’ve been able to copy ripped movies t the Chromebook hard drive for in-flight viewing. They play just fine.

I plugged in a Microsoft wireless desktop (Mouse and Keyboard) and they “just worked”.

I found a plethora of apps to meet most of my daily needs.

Between Google Apps, Zoho, and Evernote I have most of my basic needs fulfilled. I also found a collection of other useful apps.  A couple of ToDo list managers, source code editors with built in FTP support, a web based irc client, basic image editors, etc.

I wrote the blog post, cropped the image, and posted all on the Chromebook.

So, what can I NOT do.

Well, I can’t run Zend Studio or other IDE / Editors of choice. I can’t to rich Video, Audio or Image editing (though I can do simple stuff), I haven’t found a batch FTP program yet. The list is pretty small.

There are also little annoyances like the inability to rearrange the order of the icons in the application launcher (which seem to be on the bill for the next ChromeOS update.)

VGA and HDMI support. Wired or Wireless network access. 3 USB ports with drive and device support. 320 Gig hard drive. All for $199.

It may not ever be my ONLY computer, but I probably could have gotten though high school and college with it and it’s almost instant on makes it a great personal data assistant !