October 19th, 2013
The Chromebook can be a powerful workhorse — here’s how to replace your standard laptop for work.
12 tips and tools for Chromebook users
I’ve been using my Chromebook for several months now, and I’ve still not found the need to return to my MacBook Pro for more than a few short hours in all that time. More than that, our small office is now equipped with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, so all our staff have enterprise-quality IT without an enterprise IT department. No one has the “hobby” of managing antivirus installs, software updates, crashed hard drives, and the rest of the IT circus. How has that been possible? Here are some of the tips I’ve picked up to make Chrome OS work for work.
The Evernote logo is an elephant because it’s the note-keeping app that never forgets.
Evernote has played a vital role in keeping my research, notes, and plans organized. It conveniently indexes notes and even images, making them searchable in a clear, well ordered fashion. A paid account, which I use, will give you effectively unlimited storage plus indexing of the text in images and PDFs.
Sadly there’s no offline mode on the Chromebook but it’s immensely useful all the same.
Secure shell (SSH) is the terminal of choice for server administrators everywhere. Handily, it’s built into the Chromebook in the form of crosh (just press ctrl-alt-t).
Alternatively a more flexible incarnation is available as the Secure Shell extension (pictured), which stores details of commonly used servers.
Chrome Remote Desktop
Chrome Remote Desktop is an essential tool for those looking to make Chromebook their primary laptop but can’t quite cut the cord completely on their other machines. With it, you can screenshare any of your computers wherever they are, even behind firewalls or on home broadband.
It’s the perfect way to help family, retrieve files, and make use of apps otherwise unavailable on the Chromebook.
There is also a full version of VNCViewer available for the Chromebook, allowing sharing of any VNC server (including Macs) visible to your network. I also use the 2X RDP viewer to access Windows sessions.
With the demise of Google Reader, Feedly is my RSS feed reader of choice. It’s essential for anyone looking to keep up to date with their favorite websites.
The Chrome app is just a wrapper for cloud.feedly.com, but having it installed means there’s an icon to click on the dock, which can be set to start full-screen rather than in a tab.
I use it to track the news I post to Twitter, research for my InfoWorld column, and so on. It’s able to clip text to Evernote as well as keep track of what I have read across all the places I log in to Feedly.
Unfortunately, it does not offer an offline mode for reading while traveling; otherwise it’s near perfect.
Music fans are well taken care of, thanks to the Spotify client tailored specifically for the Chromebook.
The Spotify client works flawlessly with my Spotify account — online-only, of course.
Another way to get your music fix is to purchase an “unlimited access” subscription to Google Play, allowing you to listen to any of the extensive music catalog available on Google Play.
For those moving off laptops, you may well find you’re lacking a photo app to replace software like iPhoto.
Fortunately, with the Chromebook Pixel Google released an app that will scan your cameras, SD cards and other storage plugged into the computer, upload photos to Google+ and provide many of the simple editing and cataloging functions of apps like iPhoto and ThumbsPlus.
Although not advertised as such, Google+ Photos works fine on all our Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.
It will come as no surprise that the Chromebook is perfectly tailored for working on documents.
All of Google’s productivity apps accessed from Google Drive — word processor, spreadsheet, presentations and more — work well on the Chromebook, and they also work offline, allowing documents to be created and used without an Internet connection. They clearly expect heavy use of this feature, given the extra capacity perks that come with devices.
Google’s cloud file storage also caches recently used and user-specified files offline. The only problem I’ve encountered has been the surprisingly poor support for ODF (Open Document format) in Google services. My workaround: Use Chrome Remote Desktop to access LibreOffice back at base.
Conference calls are a fact of business life. We use ÜberConference to arrange and manage telephone conference calls. It has a great Web app for setting up calls, and you can even dial in to them using nothing more than a Chromebook and a headset.
In addition to the bookmark app that’s been available all along, ÜberConference just introduced a new Chrome app that makes booking and using a conference call really easy.
Twitter needs no introduction, but TweetDeck provides a valuable HTML5 Web app that allows you to monitor multiple accounts, searches, messages and more. It also offers timed posting so you can schedule tweet updates from your various accounts in advance.
TweetDeck provides an especially good Twitter experience when your Chromebook is plugged into a large external screen and the font size is set to “small” — columns as far as the eye can see.
For users of the Amazon Kindle, there’s a Kindle Cloud Reader app for the Chromebook that offers all the same functionality as a physical Kindle or the Kindle app for other devices. It includes the ability to store and read books offline so you don’t need an Internet connection to enjoy a few chapters while traveling.
One tip you shouldn’t overlook is to claim the free storage space and in-flight Wi-Fi passes Google offers all Chromebook and Chromebox buyers. There’s 100GB of free storage for two years offered with most devices — 1TB with the purchase of a Chromebook Pixel. To claim them you’ll need to be logged in to the owner account on your Chromebook and visit the Goodies page.
Another tip for Chromebook users: Take advantage of external monitors. One member of our staff has two 27-inch monitors attached to a Chromebox, and I’m using my Apple Cinema display with my Chromebook.
We have a variety of keyboards, mouses and trackpads in use, some wired, some cordless. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes work very well with all of them.
Plus, as you replace your other machines with your Chromebook, you’ll still have use for all those old accessories.