Recently a colleague in the U.S. posed a couple of questions related to a possible shift from a standard desktop computer to a Chromebook.

He realized he would be parting ways with Microsoft Office, at least in the form he was used to, and asked if Open Office might be a substitute. He also wondered if he could create folders by right-clicking on the desktop.

In reply I wrote that a Chromebook represents a complete shift in thinking. Don’t think of a desktop. Don’t think of a built-in folder structure. Think of everything as being remote.

Don’t think (too much) of apps or programs. Concentrate on Drive/Google Docs and the Chrome browser.

And once you’ve made that shift, it can feel quite clunky going back to the “old” ways of a PC desktop or laptop.

Once you are in the Chromebook world, I told my colleague, you will be amazed at the time you save. No sitting around waiting for updates, or for a machine to boot up. Let’s face it, people do most computer-related tasks on the web. Locally installed applications are a disappearing commodity.

For me it started back in 2012. I had ordered 36 Chromebooks, then a completely unknown commodity, for my school. In fact, no school in Canada had yet deployed such machines.

I had witnessed first-hand the collaborative possibilities of the then young but rapidly evolving world of Google Docs and felt that a machine built around that platform would resonate with students and teachers alike.

Fast-forward six years and Chromebooks, despite early skepticism, if not outright derision from colleagues, principals, and administrators across North America, have become ubiquitous.

During those six years I phased out most use of a standard Windows-based desktop computer, except for certain administrative tasks in my role as a teacher, and for a highly specialized task involving Microsoft’s database tool Access.

I even phased out use of my own MacBook Air, a lovely machine in its own right. In fact I last touched the MacBook in 2014 when I turned it on to retrieve a single Word file. It took two hours to retrieve that file all because the machine had to go through various updates before it would let me get at that one small and innocuous file!

For me that became the defining moment when I knew that Chromebooks made so much sense for most users. Who really needs a device that takes an hour or more to update?

Not only have Chromebooks, with their ChromeOS operating system (a derivative of Linux) and their G Suite of tools and utilities become widespread in schools, they have proven to be robust sellers in the retail space in the United States.

Longtime local teacher and published author Linda Knappett recently became a Chromebook convert. She writes: “What I like best is the speed of initial connection, the ease of it opening my previous tabs and documents, and updating, which is infrequent compared to the two to three hours, every Thursday, that Windows 10 takes over my life on my desktop computer.”

In school settings, Chromebooks outsell all other educational technologies. Apple and Microsoft have taken note and are trying to reclaim some of their lost business.

That may prove difficult. Put yourself in the place of a classroom teacher. Wouldn’t you appreciate a device that requires virtually no maintenance, that is self-updating (and updates take only seconds), that is ready to use within 15 seconds of a student picking it up, that automatically saves work every few seconds, and that requires no special add-on software?

Or would you rather have a device that takes an unpredictable amount of time to start up and allow a student to be productive, that may require an update to a particular piece of add-on software before a student can work on a certain task, and that may require support staff to keep the device up to date?

Those same sorts of questions are applicable at the consumer level as well. Think of what you typically do with your computer, be it a desktop computer, a laptop, or even a tablet. If you fit the typical mould, then pretty much everything you do is web or cloud based. Web browsing, email, banking, consuming media, be it movies or music or news, all of these are activities requiring little in the way of local processing power and nothing more than a lightweight device and a solid Internet connection.

In other words, a Chromebook.

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