Sunday, March 15, 2015


I travel a lot and until a couple of years ago I lugged around a 17" laptop. It was heavy, but it was also the only machine I used and I don't use an external monitor at home, just the office, so I needed the desktop space. But it was heavy and almost unusable when on a plane, especially if the person in front decided to recline their seat! Try coding when you can't see the entire screen!

In the past I'd tried to have a second smaller laptop for travelling, but that didn't work for me. Essentially the problem was once of synchronisation: making sure my files (docs, source, email etc.) which mainly resided on my 17" (main) machine were copied across to the smaller (typically 13") machine and back again once I was home. Obviously it's possible to do - I did it for a couple of years. But it's a PITA, even when automated. So eventually I gave up and went back to having just one machine.

Enter the tablet age. I decided to try to use a tablet for doing things when on a plane, but still just have a single machine and travel with it. That worked, but it was still limiting, not least because I don't like typing quickly on a touch screen - too many mistakes. Then I considered getting a keyboard for the tablet and suddenly thought about a Chromebook, which was fortunate because I happened to have one that was languishing unused on a shelf.

Originally I wasn't so convinced about the Chromebook. I'd lived through the JavaStation era and we had one in the office - one of the very first ever in the UK. Despite being heavy users of Java, the JavaStation idea was never appealing to me and it didn't take off despite a lot of marketing from Sun. There were a number of problems, not least of which were the lack of applications and the fact that the networks at the time really weren't up to the job. However, today things are very different - I use Google docs a lot from my main development machine as well as from my phone.

Therefore, although the idea of using a Chromebook hadn't appealed initially, it started to grown on me. What also helped push me over the tipping point was that I grew more and more disinterested in my tablet(s). I don't use them for playing games or social media; typically they are (were) used for email or editing documents, both of which I can do far better (for me at least) on a Chromebook.

So I decided that I could probably get away with a Chromebook on a plane, especially since it has offline capabilities - not many planes have wifi yet. But then I began to think that perhaps for short trips I could get away with it for everything, i.e., leave the main machine at home. Despite the fact I don't get a lot of time to spend coding, I still do it as much as I can. But for short trips (two or three days) I tend to only be working on documents or reading email. If I didn't take my main machine I wouldn't be able to code, but it wouldn't be such a problem. I also wouldn't need to sync code or email between the Chromebook and my main machine.

Therefore, I decided to give it a go earlier this year. I'd used the Chromebook at home quite extensively but never away from there. This meant there were a few teething problems, such as ensuring the work VPN worked smoothly and installing a few more applications that allowed for offline editing or video watching instead of real-time streaming. It wasn't a perfect first effort, but I think it was successful enough for me to give it another go next time I travel and know I won't need to code. I've also pretty much replaced my tablets with the Chromebook.

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