DigiEx

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Netbooks and living in the ‘cloud’

Posted by Lee on March 25, 2009

There’s so much hype around ‘cloud computing’ and netbooks that I thought I’d try living this way for a few weeks to see how practical it really is.

I was going to be overseas in Thailand for a week or so and I made the brave decision to get a netbook and leave my Macbook behind – I figured that the weight / space saving, combined with signing up for some online apps and productivity ‘cloudware’ would be a good way to test things out.

The netbook. I originally wanted to try to be a ‘netbook purist’, so spent a while looking for a small footprint (9″ screen), linux based machine with an atom processor chip and preferably an SSD, however, the first thing I realised is that we’re a little underwhelmed with choice in NZ, so ended up with an Acer Aspire One.

acer-aspire-one-mini-laptop2

Weighing around a kilo, the Aspire One has the atom chip, an 8.9″ screen, but carries a 120GB spinning hard drive – also, it comes with Windows XP installed – hmmmm, so a few compromises had to be made. Sadly, although the netbook itself is compact and light, it’s spoilt by a bulky, cumbersome charging unit. The sales guy tried to sell me Microsoft Office as well, but that really would have been cheating, so I politely declined.

Back to netbook / ‘cloud computing’ purists – apparently, hard core practitioners think that if you have more than a browser shortcut and a trash can on your desktop, you’re cheating!

OK, so I had a tiny netbook pre-loaded with Windows XP but nothing else – time to go online and start signing up for some apps / storage etc to live in the ‘cloud’.

Browser. I’ve never been a fan of IE, and would normally have downloaded Firefox as my browser of choice, however I wanted to give Google Chrome a go, so what better time to do that than for this trial? My verdict on Chrome? I like it, a lot! I especially love the way they’ve combined Search into the URL Address field.

Comms. In this age of social media we all have access to many communications tools and so I painstakingly bookmarked and logged in to my existing work email, GMail, Twitter, Facebook and Skype accounts, then added my WordPress account details for blogging.

Pictures / basic photo-editing. I signed up for a Picasa storage account so I could take pics and upload them onto the site for easy retrieval and access as I need them. To do basic photo-editing, I discovered Fotoflexer, in my view, the smartest general purpose photo / image editing online tool around.

‘Office’ style applications (Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations). Looking into this, initially I found some of the online free services seemed to do some parts very well, but others quite poorly, however I then came across Zoho Office – terrific! The full suite of Zoho products offer just about any productivity / business application you’ll ever need – most of which are totally free to use. Not only can you work directly online, you can also download any docs, spreadsheets or presentations you’ve created in Zoho to any Microsoft Office equipped computer – as well as uploading / importing Office documents into Zoho to continue working on them.

Music. Although I was taking my ipod with me, I signed up for lastfm so I could listen to a limitless range of streamed music.

So, with all that done, I was ready to go. I packed and got on my flight, knowing that I wasn’t going to see my Macbook for about 10 days – and quite frankly, a little worried about that.

Results. Before setting off to judge at Adfest in Thailand, I was a little sceptical, however, after a couple of days I was really impressed. In no time at all it became second nature to keep most of my work and files away from my hard drive altogether, simply by uploading my work when I’d finished with it, or loading it onto a wee 4gig USB key. The only additional ‘cheat’ thing I did was to buy a wireless mouse, as I found the Acer tracker pad too fiddly to use for certain jobs.

Summary. Of course I still love the ease, design and full functionality of my Macbook (Macs are objects of desire!), and it will retain its rightful position as my main work tool, but now, other than at weekends when I may need to use it to work from home, my Mac will live on the desk in my office, and I’ll carry my new friend, the Acer Aspire One, around with me for coffee meetings or quick trips around the country.

Sure, there needs to be some careful soul searching about online security with regards to ‘cloud computing’, and of course, there are real limitations in terms of what a netbook can do comfortably, however I have to confess that I’m now a total fan of netbooks and ‘living in the ‘cloud’.

There’s something really refreshing about getting back to basics, and maybe the whole netbook phenomenon is just another example of people now wanting to simplify their lives. Believe it or not, I’m already thinking about getting another netbook, perhaps an earlier model that I can install linux on, one that only carrys a browser and trash can, and pocessing a woefully inadequate SSD, just to  take to the life of a netbook / cloud computing purist to a new, further stripped back experience.

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5 Responses to “Netbooks and living in the ‘cloud’”

  1. Madge said

    You’ll be collecting them like watches then? 😛

  2. dinu said

    chrome is light, and faster, and it has great future on netbooks !

  3. Lee said

    For sure – Chrome is a nice browser, and perfect on my netbook – and this is from a confirmed Firefox fan!

  4. John Baker said

    Great content. I agree with you about google chrome. I have found a glitch when I try to copy something and then paste it in a word processor. But, surely soon they will fix that. Hey, for those looking for a machine. I have found a free tool on the net to help with getting the best price. Check out my blog for more info.

  5. x tream said

    acer aspire one aoa150-1126
    I’ve spent 30 some years traveling for a living and also just for fun! Always took a laptop along for biz, and occasionally took a small Winbook on personal trips. I found the Acer Aspire One while looking for something else. My unit has the 3 cell battery which will only go approx 2 hours at best. But for travel it’s great! It’s light, sturdy and the XP software is faster than Vista. Startup time is just about a minute! I can’t say enough good things about this unit. Be prepared to buy a portable cd/dvd for down loadning movies, programs etc… I recently found a very compact Sony drive for $100. In this case my total expenditure was $450 for both.
    If your looking for a unit to take along on trips – this is it! No need to spend $800 to $1000 for HP or others – this one fills the bill!

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