On the way back home after a long weekend trip to a winter wonderland, we stopped and picked up the Samsung Chromebook that I finally purchased after my long and often tedious struggle with second-hand technology. I almost waited for Christmas to officially arrive before opening it…for about 10 seconds. Patience is not one of my cardinal virtues. But I suspect that if I have even a little of it with this little machine, I’ll be amply rewarded.
This is a delightful device to look at, hold, and use. The size, shape, and weight are ideal for a small personal computer. The keyboard is attractive and well-laid out, though I am having some trouble finding my way around. Let’s blame operator error for that. It feels sturdy, looks clean, and even sounds decent, for an ultralight laptop.
Getting underway with the Chrome environment took some doing, though. Since my main objectives with the computer are writing, social contact, and listening to music, that has been the focus of my setup activity over the past few days, and it’s been a hit-and-miss affair. I’ve been a Gmail user for years; no worries there. Facebook-or any standard webpage, for that matter- is the same as it ever was, just a little smaller. In that sense, it’s a huge gain over the tablet I was using, which could never seem to decide whether it was a mobile device or a proper computer. Websites could never tell either, which led to some truly aggravating browsing time.
Document and music access turned out to be a different story. While Dropbox is a great document repository for most users, it doesn’t want to play nice with Chrome or Google Drive. First of all, I couldn’t open any document files in Google Drive, nor in Dropbox. A few hours’ searching showed me what little check-box in which obscure setting panel I had to check to solve that. Then, I had to do a two-step maneuver: download the file to my minimalist “desktop,” then drag from the “Downloads” folder to the “Google Drive” folder, then right-click for options on how to open the file. Oy. There turns out to be a better alternative for crossover file storage and sharing, though: Box. Box has a larger baseline for free storage (5 GB vs. 2 for Dropbox) and is totally compatible both ways: I can open or save a file as either a Google or Windows document, so I can save either in Google Drive or the Box. Pretty sweet, yes? Yes.
So much for Day 1.
Day 2 was Moving the Music, and it proved as fraught with peril, if not more so, than that which had preceded it. Google stores tunes, along with everything else, “in the cloud,” which is the cool way of saying “somewhere on a server in a giant warehouse.” So, one has to move the music files to said “cloud” before being able to play them through Google Play. I have my music stored on a flash drive, on my iPod, and on the hard drive of my MacBook (the broken one). The Mac hard drive being obviously not an option, I plugged my iPod into the USB port of the Chromebook, and…and…
“Device not recognized. Format not supported.” Grrrr. Try the flash drive. Yes! There are the files! There is the music! Now to move them…but first, I need to download and install the “Google Music Manager.”
“This file type is not supported.”
Eh? What’s that now? There’s no version of the Google Music Manager for the Google Chrome OS?
Oops. Major ball-dropping there, folks. I did find one program in the Chrome App Store, MusicAlpha, which was touted as a solution. I installed it, tried it, and it promptly froze on me. I hate to think of what an unsuspecting new user without access to a second computer would be faced with at this point. Fortunately, I have access to both Windows and Linux machines, a nice fringe benefit of living in a tech-nerdy house. I logged in to my son’s computer, signed in as myself on Chrome, downloaded and installed the music manager, and proceeded to upload my thousand-plus song inventory. Granted, it took a few hours, but my son was able to use his computer in the meantime. Soon, I could see songs popping up in my music account; song title, artist, album, and all.
“And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
After that initial grind, things have gone quite smoothly. I do wish I had realized what sort of compatibility issues I would run into, but none of the many reviews I read online made much mention of them, and of course Google bills the whole experience as a joyous transference. then again, what else would they say? I suppose in a way it’s a microcosm of the transition that digital society is undergoing, moving from desktop-based programs to a more mobile, fluid, internet-based model. This Chromebook is, after all, very like a tablet with a keyboard and hinge instead of a touchscreen. For someone who produces more than they consume, and can operate within its parameters and limitations, it’s a superb lightweight solution.
As to that “desktop,” this is more of a spot of counter space. I have offline access to all the documents in Drive, as well as my Google calendar and Gmail, with a couple of setting tweaks. I should probably download some music to the machine, too, as one can’t always connect to wifi. Shocking, I know, but true. Of I could keep that flash drive (and/or my iPod) in my bag for when I need some tunes but can’t get online.
The thing is, though, that limits can be very useful things. Is there anything inherently wrong with not being on the internet all the time? Is there a problem with not having total access to everything? Is there not a trace of virtue in boredom, a touch of joy in loneliness, a spark of bliss in isolation? I think there is. We need to be conscious, mindful users of our time as much as of any resource. Anything to keep us thinking.