After Improvised Life’s part-time editorial assistant Mira Keras had a health challenge that lasted months, causing extended leave from her two steady gigs, her laptop broke. It happened just as she was feeling well enough to return to virtual work at Improvised Life AND when her emergency-slammed finances were at an all-time low.
She told me about a solution Google offered in the form of a Chromebook, a bare-bones $200 laptop that employs an essential reorientation of how laptops are traditionally used. Rather than paying for a lot of power and memory to keep all your files on it, just about all data is kept on the Cloud. You use mostly Google apps —many of which come free with a Google account or their web browser, Chrome. You need wifi — tethering to your phone will work — to access everything.
We planned to document Mira’s use of this wonderful, affordable tool on Improvised Life (see her commentary about it versus MacBooks below.) But after a financially-pressured six months, $200 proved difficult to come up with (for both of us).
Intrigued with Google’s essential concept, I decided to see if I could apply it to 2008 still-working-but-considered-obsolete white MacBook I had (That’s almost nine years old! ancient by laptop standards.) My strategy was to strip it down to the bare essentials to get work done. I removed all the data files —documents, photos, emails, music, notes etc —and any nonessential applications. Chrome (with its many apps) would be the browser and Gmail, accessed through a web page would be its mail account. Data would be stored on Dropbox, and downloaded as needed to work on. Any other apps needed would come via Google.
Wonder of wonders, the ancient laptop speeds along, unencumbered by a cluttered hard drive and memory, happily accessing all it needs on the Cloud, a la Google. Mira is back at work, writing more than ever.
The seeming disaster of her laptop breaking and not being able to buy the Chromebook led us to improvise, applying Google’s efficient virtual systems to a Mac, whose business model is based upon planned-obsolescence and hunger for the next, expensive, thing. Who knew that an old Mac, poo-poo’d as slow and obsolete, could find new life as a faux Chromebook? (A friend refurbed her ancient boggy MacBookAir from the same era into a lightweight, does-the-job travel laptop.)
Here’s the basic approach to transforming an ancient laptop to a faux-Chromebook:
—First, check out your old computer and make sure it’s working. If you don’t know how to run tests to check its software, google instructions. Determine which applications you absolutely need. Do NOT update applications unless you’re sure your computer can handle it.
—Backup any data you want to save to a hard drive (and/or another computer), and then to a cloud backup, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. You can access it all from your stripped-down laptop via wifi, downloading what you need to work on, and then delete it from the laptop when you’re done.
—Then move that backed-up data, including documents, photos, mail files, etc to the trash and delete.
—If it is a secondary laptop and/or you can reload applications from a disk, then delete unnecessary applications. I was able to load an old version of Chrome that worked with the Snow Leopard Operating System. (For Macs, this seems to be about as far as you can go and still have things work reliably). Google is no longer releasing updates for Snow Leopard so security is not great, but we’re not using it for anything sensitive. Firefox offers similar advantages to Chrome and our research indicates that it may still work with Snow Leopard.
—Run a Disk Utility application to refresh your hard drive.
Note: Be sure NOT to use Drobox’s desktop app which can auto-populate it with files, mightily bogging it down.
The bottom line is that a computer is a tool. If the tool gets you where you need to go, or what you need to be doing, it’s a good one.
Google’s motto is “do no evil” and by doing what they can to create affordable products, they live up to that. What google knows that apple doesn’t, is people. They know that people need these devices to work and thrive and they know that not everyone can find $2,000. Google’s will to nurture creativity and personal growth shines against Apple’s focus on style and status. I imagine there are some of the future’s greatest thinkers writing on Chromebooks somewhere that would, without Google, go unequipped.
—Sally Schneider and Mira Keras