5 Reasons to Make a Chromebook Your Next Laptop

NOTE: This article is off-topic. That is, the article is not about the usual topics published in this newsletter concerning genealogy. DNA, family heritage, and genealogy-related news. If you are looking for true genealogy-related articles, you might want to skip this article.

I have written often about Chromebook laptop computers and even once or twice about Chromebox computers, the desktop computers that are essentially the same as Chromebooks except that Chromebox systems are built as desktop computers. Chromeboxes look about the same as many Windows desktop computers except they run the Chrome operating system, not Windows or Macintosh software.

I normally use a Chromebook as my primary computer when traveling. It does most everything I ever do with any other computer; it is simpler to use than Windows or even a Macintosh system, boots up faster, and never gets viruses. In short, “it just works.” No hassle. This week I am very glad that I always travel with a Chromebook.

Two weeks ago, I moved from Florida to Massachusetts where I plan to spend the summer. I lead a so-called “snowbird” life, spending winters in the sunbelt and summers up north where the summertime weather is more agreeable.

I packed my automobile for the trip with all sorts of things I might need during my stay up north. I undoubtedly overpacked with computer devices. After all, one can never have too many computers! Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

a Chromebox Desktop Computer

I packed the Chromebook laptop and also my Macintosh laptop, an iPad, a mobile modem, and a few other miscellaneous computing devices. After all, if I was going to spend months away from home, I perhaps I would need the “extra power” of the MacBook Pro laptop occasionally during my summer.

Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro died before I ever reached the cooler climate.

During the first evening of my multi-day driving trip, I checked into a hotel alongside the Interstate highway where I was traveling and got food from the drive-through window of a local fast food restaurant. (I detest fast food and always try to avoid those places but all the nearby restaurants with sit-down, order-from-the-menu, dining were closed due to the CoronaVirus isolation requirements in that state.)

I returned to the hotel, ate my food, then turned on the MacBook Pro laptop and also plugged its power charger into a wall outlet to keep the laptop charged during my use. I heard a loud “snap” when I plugged the power charger into the wall outlet but I ignored that.

I used the laptop for a while but soon noticed it wasn’t charging. The battery status began to show a lower and lower percentage of battery power left.

I’ll skip all the details about how I experimented with trying a different outlet and other troubleshooting methods. I pulled out the Chromebook, plugged in its charger, and continued with my online work.

Two days later, after my arrival at the destination, I experimented with the MacBook Pro. It wouldn’t charge. In short, the problem was obviously in the MacBook Pro laptop and I wasn’t about to open its case and try to fix it myself.

I started contacting nearby Apple Stores to get the defective laptop fixed but all the local stores were closed due to CoronaVirus concerns. A week later, I was finally able to drive over the state line to a nearby state where everyone seems to wear face masks, the CoronaVirus infection rate continues to drop rapidly, and most stores and restaurants have recently re-opened without problems.

The laptop Genius at the Apple Store performed some quick troubleshooting and agreed with my diagnosis: the laptop itself (not the charger) has a power problem. I agreed to have the laptop sent to an Apple repair depot. However, due to the fact that the repair depot had been closed for some time due to the CoronaVirus quarantine, there is a huge backlog of work now that the depot has re-opened. In short, there is no guarantee as to how long it will take to get the laptop repaired. I am guessing several weeks.

MyHeritage running on a Chromebook

Guess what? I have now been using the Chromebook for all my online work for nearly three weeks and, so far, there have been no problems. I have managed to accomplish everything I always need to do with computers. I have read and sent email messages, written newsletter articles, sent the weekly Plus Edition email updates to thousands of subscribers, worked on my genealogy, participated in video conferences, created a slideshow presentation and presented it to a few hundred attendees during my recent online webinar, watched Netflix movies, and more. I will even admit that I played a few computer games in my spare time. And, yes, I am writing this article on the Chromebook and even created the HTML version of the article for publishing in this newsletter..

In short, the Chromebook has done everything I needed to do. Admittedly, I did not have a need to use CAD/CAM software to design buildings or for other engineering work, did not need to edit videos, and did not need to perform any other computer resource-intensive work. The Chromebook cannot do EVERYTHING a more powerful computer can do but it does perform perhaps 95% of the tasks that most people expect from computers. In my case, it has performed 100% of what I needed to accomplish in the past 3 weeks. Not bad for a cheap laptop!

I was going to write an article about the advantages of Chromebooks but I see that Damien Wilde has just published such an article, along with a video, in the 9to5Google web site. He writes:

“Are you in the market for a new laptop? If so, have you considered a Chromebook?

“Gone are the days when you need to have a device running Windows or macOS to actually get things done. You can do so much within your browser without needing to install any software or applications, the browser is the place where almost all of the action occurs.

“That means unless you want to do things that require tons of processing grunt or specific software, then you can probably use a Chromebook to get things done without much compromise.

“In essence, a Chromebook is a mobile device that looks and acts like a laptop but is designed for the always-connected world we are now living in — and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before we delve any further, a Chromebook is definitely something that better suits those of us that spend most of our time on the internet or utilizing the internet. Need more convincing? Well, here are 5 reasons you should probably consider a Chromebook as your next laptop.”

You can read Damien Wilde’s article at https://9to5google.com/2020/06/22/chromebook-5-reasons/. His video is also available at the same address as well as below.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting for the return of my (hopefully repaired) Mac laptop.

18 Comments

My wife and I are very pleased with each of our Chromebooks. We bought them to replace overpriced iPads that would no longer talk to YouTube, and could not display PDFs reliably.

My Chromebook and YouTube are my main source of news and entertainment. I also take mine when I travel. I can stay in touch with my email, and if I lose it, the damage is much reduced.

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My 2016 MacBook Pro is struggling when I work with Reunion, Excel and Firefox open and in use. It is probably the size of the Reunion database where for instance an interfamily marriage search takes over an hour to produce the current answer of some 1700. It is much faster on my newer and more powerful Mac Mini and I fear a Chromebook is not an option for me

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    —> I fear a Chromebook is not an option for me

    If you want to run a specific Macintosh or Windows program, then a Chromebook will not do the job for you. If you are willing to switch to equivalent programs that are cloud-based (and most are available free of charge), then a Chromebook could be an excellent choice. It all depends upon your needs and preferences.

    As for me, I already moved most of my programs to equivalent software in the cloud over the past few years so a Chromebook works well. Even when I use a Macintosh or an iPad, I am usually connected online and using cloud-based applications.

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    You don’t elaborate on which 2016 MacBook Pro you have but even the 13 inch has an i5 processor and 8 gigs of ram and an SSD drive. The 15 inch is a very credible computer with one of two i7 CPUs, 16 gigs ram and an SSD drive. I had used my 2012 MacMini for my genealogical work for many years; it has an i5 and I’d upgraded the ram to 8 gigs. But about two months ago I couldn’t tolerate how slow and labored it was was behaving and wasn’t going to pay the money to upgrade to a new MacMini. As well, MacOSX Catalina no longer supports 32 bit software, which ticked me off. I transferred my genealogy to a PC I newly built, and I clearly had to change software from Reunion to Legacy (I tested a number of programs before setting on that). However, I decided to play around with the MacMini to see what I could do with it. I would assume that since you have bought that MacBook you have upgraded the operating system (not a clean install) and you probably have installed and uninstalled a fair amount of software; that has been my experience with my MacMini at least. So I replaced the internal 2 terabyte hard drive (that I had upgraded my MacMini to a few years ago) with a 1 terabyte SSD and I of course then did a clean installation of Catalina. I reinstalled Reunion and the old core of software that I would use on that computer and the results have been remarkable. It now takes about 15 seconds from power on to the log-in window and about 10 seconds to log in with the Stickies and Thunderbird all loaded and ready. In short, that MacMini has been transformed into essentially a new machine. Apple has allowed actual in-place upgrades (rather than forcing upgrades to be “clean” installs) of MacOSX for quite a while but clearly that will create a accumulation of all sorts of junk that gradually badly degrades how your computer behaves. So if your history with your MacBook Pro (and I guess you have already bought a new MacMini) is similar to my experience with my MacMini I’m sure if you backup everything on your MacBook and then wipe the SSD in it and do a clean install of Catalina then you will end up with a properly functioning laptop again. Depending on how big the SSD drive is in your machine you would be tempted to consider upgrading to a 1 or 2 TB SSD. However, upgrading that MacBook is not a simple task.

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    Ma\y MacBook Pro is a 15-inch laptop purchased about 18 months ago with the dual i7 CPUs and a 1 terabyte SSD drive. Its speed has always been excellent. Even at the time of the failure three weeks ago its speed was as fast as always. Only the charging was not working.

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—> I am thinking about sheer processing power and RAM. My database has just passed 200000 individuals and a gedcom is around 100MB

That shouldn’t be a problem for any of the better-known cloud-based programs. I haven’t checked with every one of them but I am guessing that most of them, perhaps all of them, can handle much larger numbers of people and much larger GEDCOM files than that. Don’t forget that with Chromebooks or in any Windows or Macintosh system that is connected to a cloud-based genealogy database service, all heavy-duty processing is done remotely in banks of very powerful application servers installed in large server farms in multiple data centers around the world, not in your local computer on your desk or in your lap. These systems tend to be much more powerful and have a lot more memory and storage space than the typical computer sold at your local computer store or on the web or by mail order. In many cases, moving to a cloud-based app solves problems of home computers having difficulty with large databases.

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Steven Fleckenstein June 23, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Is a Chromebook for you? If your mainly use a laptop for web related adventures and store things in the Cloud then it might be the ultimate solution as long as you understand most of them are not worth repairing when they break. The motherboard for a $300 Chromebook can cost $150 on the used market for parts alone. Also understand the terms of AUE “Every Chrome device receives regular updates from Google until it reaches its Auto Update Expiration (“AUE”) date, subject to support from component manufacturers. When a device reaches AUE, automatic software updates from Google will no longer be provided.” https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366?hl=en There are plenty of documented hacks online to install your OS of choice on higher end Chromebooks.

Liked by 1 person

Do you not use a family history program (which is a specialised database)?

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    —> Do you not use a family history program (which is a specialised database)?

    Yes, I have been using specialized genealogy database programs for years and would never be without one. In the early 1980s, I used a genealogy program made for the CP/M operating system, then later switched to an MS-DOS genealogy program, then still later to one for Windows, then later still to one for Macintosh. When cloud technology started to mature, I started looking at online genealogy programs that run online in the cloud. The first few such programs were perhaps a bit anemic but most of them kept improving and improving. Eventually, I was impressed by MyHeritage.com and I have been using that as my genealogy database program now for a couple of years.

    Of course, MyHeritage is not the only online genealogy program available today. There are several other good online genealogy programs to choose from. However, MyHeritage seems to fit my personal preferences better than the others, strictly a matter of personal taste. I made the switch some time BEFORE MyHeritage became the sponsor of this newsletter.

    Unlike all the genealogy programs for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iPad, or Android, I can now use almost any computer for my genealogy work, regardless of the operating systems involved. I can access my genealogy data from Windows, Macintosh, Chromebook, Linux, iPad, Android tablets and other systems as well, all without difficulty and I can use any and all of them for serious work, whether I am at home or in a hotel room or in the sub-basement of a records center. Even better, I can switch from one computer to another without difficulty, such as using an iPad or a Chromebook when in the records center and then continuing to work later on my powerful Macintosh at home that has the convenience of two large screens. I find cloud computing to be more flexible and far more convenient than being restricted to one computer or even one operating system.

    I also keep hundreds of notes about my genealogy research “work in progress” as I continue to do research. I use the online genealogy program to store all my research that I feel I have completed dnd I am comfortable the information is accurate, then use notes (also stored in the cloud and available from most any computer I own) for my research that is not yet completed. These are my “work-in-progress” notes about a wide variety of things that I have not yet proven to my satisfaction. I feel they are as important to my research as the information that is already completed and is logged in a genealogy program.

    In addition, with all the cloud-based products, everything is always backed up automatically within seconds after being entered and is more secure than information stored in most traditional computers (I once had a laptop computer stolen from the trunk of my car and the thief got all sorts of my personal data. That won’t happen with cloud-based programs that do not store information in the local computer.) With data stored in the cloud, it is easy to share information with others, should I wish to do so, even to share with people who use a different operating system from what I might be using at the moment.

    I also have moved my word processing, use of spreadsheets, email, information about the maintenance schedules for my automobiles, copies of important documents in my life, my income tax records, checkbook register, and most everything else to the cloud. The EOGN.COM newsletter also obviously runs online and I spend many hours every week maintaining it. Last week, I even created a Google Slides slideshow (similar to PowerPoint) in the cloud and used it in a presentation I made to several hundred people around the world during an online webinar.

    Using the cloud isn’t perfect. There are some drawbacks. However, I find the cloud to be more useful for my purposes than anything I have ever found in Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or other operating systems. Someone who uses only one computer probably will disagree with my choices. However, it works well for me.

    I am not “married” to MyHeritage, however. If a better genealogy program comes along in the future or if a new technology turns out to be better than today’s cloud computing services, I will undoubtedly switch again. Technology continues to evolve quickly!

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Does the Chromebook have a satisfactory built in camera and microphone for video conferences? Can I use Zoom with a Chrome laptop?? My 2 y/o HP laptop has an unreliable mic/camera and I want a solution other than trying to fix this one single problem I have with the HP.
I would dedicate the Chromebook primarily for videoconferencing.

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    —> Does the Chromebook have a satisfactory built in camera and microphone for video conferences?

    Most of the Chromebook laptops do have a built-in camera and I believe all of them have microphones. However, double-check the specifications of the Chromebook you are thinking of purchasing just to make sure.

    —> Can I use Zoom with a Chrome laptop?

    Yes. See https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-to-best-use-zoom-on-a-chromebook/ for a detailed explanation. As that article points out, “The installation of Zoom on your Chromebook is just as easy as any app.”

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We live in the country with very poor internet connections. We only have the one provider and it cuts in and out many times a day. Using the internet can be very frustrating. I don’t think a Chromebook would do at all for me or others like me where internet is not dependable

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Hi Dick
Thank you for the newsletter. Your article on the use of Chromebooks was useful but I have asked dealers three questions and they did not know the answers. Perhaps you can advise.
1. Can I continue to use Ancestral Quest, which I have used for about 25 years?
2. Can I use Skype>
3. Can I use Dropbox?
4. Can I use One Drive?
Regards
Jeff

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    —> 1. Can I continue to use Ancestral Quest, which I have used for about 25 years?

    No. AncestralQuest is a Windows program. Unfortunately, Windows programs cannot run on Chromebooks, Macintosh, Linux, iPad, Android, or other operating systems.

    (I am deliberately ignoring a thing called virtual computers or software emulators that can theoretically make programs designed for one operating system to run on a different operating system. However, these programs require significant technical expertise to install and operate. I generally do not recommend their use by anyone who does not possess that expertise. In addition, there is no Windows virtual computer or emulator available today to run Windows programs on Chromebooks although there are rumors that such a product will become available within the next few months.)

    —> 2. Can I use Skype?

    Yes. See “How to Use Skype on Your Chromebook” at https://www.howtogeek.com/199857/how-to-use-skype-on-your-chromebook/

    —> 3. Can I use Dropbox?

    Yes. See “Here’s the best way to use Dropbox on a Chromebook” at https://www.cnet.com/how-to/heres-the-best-way-to-use-dropbox-on-a-chromebook/

    —->4. Can I use One Drive?

    Yes. See “How to add Dropbox or OneDrive to the Files App on Chrome OS” at https://appuals.com/add-dropbox-onedrive-files-app-chrome-os/

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Thanks for your summary of how to use some general programs on Chromebook. NOW… what about Ancestry and My Heritage? Ancestry has an app for Android/Chromebook. I use it, but I hesitate to use try to do “big” things with a 12,000-name file with the app. Also, do we have the ability to do many things that we can do with FTM? And the same questions for My Heritage, which I see you use. Is that, too, a “baby” version of the real thing?

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    Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, and all other web-based genealogy databases will work perfectly when accessing them with a web browser. That is true with Chromebooks, Macintosh, Windows Linux, UNIX, iPads, Android, and other operating systems. To my knowledge, all those web sites include full functionality, everything that an Android or Apple iOS app can do. On a Chromebook or any other operating system, simply open a web browser and go to Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com or any of the other web sites and start using the web site’s many features.

    I would not hesitate to use a Chromebook (or a Macintosh, Windows Linux, UNIX, iPads, Android, or other operating system) on Ancestry or MyHeritage when accessing 100,000 or more names. In fact, I access genealogy web sites with my Chromebook several times a week although my database is much smaller than the number you mentioned. So far, the Chromebook has worked perfectly and I doubt if I will ever have a problem when accessing genealogy web sites.

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HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET INTO MY CHROME BOOK SINCE WE CHANGED THE WIFI. NOW i HAVE FORGOTTEN MY PASSWORD. ANY HELP APPRECIATED

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