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Why I love my Chromebook: Reason 1, it's a Linux desktop

We appreciate power but sometimes it's about getting up and running sooner

Column The fact that I like the Linux desktop will come as no surprise to anyone who reads my work. I mean, I was once the lead writer and editor for a long-gone publication called Linux Desktop. So why is it as I sit at Kubecon North America in Detroit that I'm writing this on an HP Chromebook x360?

Simple, because Chrome OS is a Linux distro. Always has been; always will be.

Now this annoys the heck out of some Linux fans. Their vision of the Linux desktop future has everyone running Ubuntu - no Fedora! - or Arch Linux - please, Linux Mint for the win! - or MX Linux - get real! Use openSUSE Tumbleweed! - and on and on. There are over a thousand Linux distros, which is a big reason we'll never see their dream of the Linux desktop wiping out Windows come true.

But Chromebooks are a different story. Sure, Chromebook sales have crashed, but part of the reason is that Chromebooks last pretty much forever. Unlike Windows machines, which have a lifespan of about three years, I still have Chromebooks running that are seven years old. 

True, their Auto Update Expiration (AUE) dates are now history, so I can't get automatic updates anymore. But, so what? Even Google admits you can keep using them after their average five-year expiration date.  

Now, if this were Windows, it would be a different story. Anyone still running Windows 7 is just asking to be hacked unless they got an Extended Security Update (ESU) contract. And, even that is finally ending in January 2023.

Chrome OS, though? Unlike Windows, with its monthly major security patches, serious security problems are few and far between. For example, the last major Chrome OS security holes popped up and were fixed in 2019.  

Of course, the Chrome browser is another story. The browser, which is also Chrome OS's desktop interface, often has important security updates. But, Google is expected to separate Chrome OS and the Chrome browser, so even if you can't get Chrome OS upgrades, you'll still get browser updates.

Besides, Google and its partners are also now extending AUEs. For example, March 2022's Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 has an AUE of June 2028.

Underneath it all, of course, is Linux. And, if you want, you can also install a full scale Linux distro to go with it. The default choice is Debian Bullseye. It's easy as pie. With a bit more work, you can install other distros.

I do this because while I can do most of my work with Google Docs, I like having access to Linux's shell commands, the GIMP graphics editor, and the LibreOffice office suite. 

So, why don't I just run Linux on a laptop? Well, I do that too. I have a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition with Ubuntu Linux, an older XPS 13 with Mint Linux on it, and Fedora Workstation on my Lenovo ThinkPad X1. But, when I'm on the road, I like having a lightweight, cheap laptop that I can replace if I break it. 

And, alas, as a klutz, I break my laptops a lot. Recently, when I was at Open Source Summit North America in Austin, Texas, when an electrical surge blew out my Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5, a top two-in-one Chromebook/tablet. Yarg!

Now, I'd be stuck if I were running an ordinary Windows, MacBook, or Linux laptop. I'd have to buy one, update it - which is never trivial if I were a Windows user- and then install and update my software. At a minimum, I'd lose a day's work, and I don't know about you, but I can't afford to use that much work time.

Instead, I ran out to the closest Best Buy and picked up the aforementioned HP Chromebook X360. My total downtime from when my old Chromebook went bang to returning to the exact same line I'd been working on earlier was just over an hour. Most of that time was spent riding to and from the store. 

Another Chromebook plus is that replacing the system costs me less than $500. Sure, there are expensive Chromebooks. I've owned many, and I like them a lot. But, you don't have to spend serious coin on a Chromebook to get a great user experience. 

There are many great, cheap Chromebooks for under $500. Today, even a bottom-line Chromebook has all the power you need for Chrome OS and Linux work. The technical specifications, such as the processor, memory, and storage, don't matter much for most users. You just want to look for one with a decent screen and keyboard.  

It's a different story for Linux, Macs, and Windows. I wouldn't touch any of those with price tags under $800. You can run Linux on anything - and I mean anything - but buying a laptop with Linux preinstalled tends to be as pricey as Windows. Besides, I don't have time to hunt down an old laptop to install Linux on when I need to get back to work immediately. And, of course, even the cheapest Macs cost a grand.

So, for me, at least, my preferred road warrior Linux laptop is a Chromebook. Give it a thought, give it a try - Lord knows Chromebooks are cheap enough - and you just might find that you agree with me. ®

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