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chromebook acer c720It's 2014 and the present is not my grandfather's future. There's no race to colonize the moon and we are most assuredly not zipping around in jetpacks and flying cars. Most predictions fail, but some ghosts of future past are alive and well.

20 years ago I had my first run in with a web browser. I was browsing the NASA website at an Internet conference and and it was a revelation! The BBS community I had grown up in was dead in the water. This would change everything. A couple of years later, the developer of Mosaic, Marc Anderseen, now heading Netscape made a prescient prediction:

In the future - the browser will be the operating system.

Unsurprisingly, this mobilized Microsoft to crush Netscape in what would become known by some as the browser wars, and the start of the end for Microsoft's reign of terror by others.

Netscape didn't stick around long enough to see Anderseen's prediction come to pass, but some technology trends are seemingly inexorable, or perhaps self fulfilling? 20 years after trying my first browser, I tried my first computer in which Anderseen's "the browser will be the operating system" vision has been fully realized. By Google, who supplanted Microsoft as the world's leading tech empire, in the form of a refurbished (never used) Acer C720 Chromebook which I picked up for a ridiculously low $180.

To my surprise... it's pretty good, and apparently I'm not the only one that thinks so because these things are flying off the shelves. The model I picked up is currently the most popular netbook on Amazon and is a steal even at the original price of $220.

Specs

chromebook search launcherIntel Celeron 2955U 1.4 GHz (2 MB Cache) 2 GB DDR3L SDRAM 32 GB Solid-State Drive 12-Inch Screen, Intel HD Graphics, HDMI output 8.5-hour battery life Weight is 1.25 KG

I've been using my new Acer C720 chromebook this week as a backup computer and it is surprisingly good, especially considering the price. This is the first Linux based laptop/netbook I would whole-heartedly recommend to non-tech savvy family members and friends.

What I like

  • Amazing value

    This thing costs about as much as the cheapest Intel NUC yet comes with memory, a hard drive, a screen and a keyboard - all in a very light, tightly integrated package.

  • Good hardware, good Linux integration
  • Cool and quiet
  • Amazing battery life
  • Very light
  • You can replace the SSD if you want more storage
  • Uses an open BIOS
  • Best out of the box Linux support of any laptop type device I have ever owned. With Chromebook Linux isn't an option, it's the default. So everything works.
  • Crazy fast boot/suspend time. Chromebook has the fastest Linux boot time I haver ever experienced. I plugged in the device and about a second or two later I was configuring it. It only takes about 3-4 seconds to reboot the device.
  • Sleak button-less trackpad with support for gestures (e.g., click with two fingers for right click). The buttons are actually there, they're just hidden by the trackpad itself so if you click on the left corner of the trackpad that's a left click and clicking on the right corner is a right click. I just click on the trackpad itself unless I need drag and drop.
  • Dedicated search button on the keyboard, doubles as an app launcher
  • Innovative ChromeOS
  • ChromeOS is a lightening quick Gentoo based OS that performs extremely well, especially considering there are only 2GBs of RAM in there. Seems very stable.
  • The novelty of having Chrome run everything, including the shell. It's actually not that bad.
  • Very good integration with Google apps (big surprise!)
  • Surprisingly good usability. It's different from what I'm used to but I found it to be a consistent, tightly integrated experience.
  • I'm a big fan of text to speech which is how I get most of my reading done nowadays. I started with the Kindle and moved on to Moon Reader+ on my phone. So I was delighted to discover ChromeOS features the best text-to-speech integration in any OS via the built-in ChromeVox functionality This is supposedly for vision impaired users but I've been finding it useful to have it read web content (e.g., Wikipedia) to me over breakfast.

    To toggle ChromeVox on/off: Ctrl + Alt + Z
    On ChromeBox is enabled, you change the speed with the { } keys. I read pretty quickly.

  • Keyboard shortcuts for everything with onboard help
  • High security, low maintenance
  • Auto-updating / self-maintaining, like the Nexus phones
  • Recovery mode resets to known good state.
  • Designed with security in mind from the bottom up (assuming you trust Google of course): in non developer mode it uses tamper resistant keys stored in a TPM chip to verify the boot chain from the bootloader up so that installing malware isn't possible without physical modification of the laptop.
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