Why are Chromebooks still a thing? Seriously…who uses these things?

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a lot more chatter about Chromebooks than I usually do. I've spent the last few years actively ignoring them after getting a bad taste in my mouth from the first batch of Chromebooks in 2011, so maybe that's finally wearing off and my inner gadget nerd is starting to surface again?

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a lot more chatter about Chromebooks than I usually do. I've spent the last few years actively ignoring them after getting a bad taste in my mouth from the first batch of Chromebooks in 2011, so maybe that's finally wearing off and my inner gadget nerd is starting to surface again? I began to wonder if maybe it wasn't time to take a look at them again. I mean, now we have offline Google Drive which, according to Jack, works ok most of the time (I'm paraphrasing there, but the response I got when asking if it worked wasn't one of complete satisfaction), and that was one of my biggest hanging points in my last trial. I swore they'd have to fix that and address the lackluster hardware before I took a look again.

The Chromebook Pixel came out earlier this year, and while it certainly addressed the subpar hardware, it came with a price tag that was more than the cost of my MacBook Air despite having much less of just about everything but screen resolution. Granted, the specs are more then enough to run ChromeOS, but the idea that someone (especially a company) is going to pay ridiculously high prices for a piece of hardware just for the pleasure of running a browser-only computer is laughable. Despite looking good and working quite well (within the Chromebook frame of reference), it was panned. 

On the other end of the spectrum you have the craptops, or the cheaply made wannabe-netbooks that have made up most of the Chromebook lineup. This is type of machine that I bought, tested, and actually returned (I'm not known for returning gadgets) because of its ineptness. Even in 2011 the hardware was overpriced for what it was, which was essentially an underpowered netbook running a clunky OS that didn't place enough focus on the user experience.

So that's why I tuned out Chromebooks for a while, but now that I see HP is still in the game, and apparently pushing hard, I wonder if it's not time to check things out again. I'm still not sold on Google Drive as my Office alternative, and I still need Windows apps here and there (mostly Visio) that I can't access unless I'm online, but perhaps it's still worth investigating. 

Both ExtremeTech and Ars Technica have reviewed HP's new Chromebook 11, and both speak about it in what is best described as a "not negative" way (Ars calls it "a non-terrible cheap laptop"). Ars' title gives both a pat on the back and a slap to the face by saying "HP's $279 Chromebook 11 raises an admittedly low bar." They follow it with the tagline "But beware: even a pretty nice Chromebook is still a Chromebook." The reviews laud the build quality over past devices, saying that it no longer feels cheap despite the fact that it's made from plastic (as most laptops still are, so that's not necessarily a bad thing). The screen, too, earns high marks for it's IPS display and increased clarity on par with higher end systems available today.

This amounts to a good job by HP for making a Chromebook where the device itself doesn't suck. At the end of the day, though, all that is good about this Chromebook comes with the caveat that it's still a Chromebook. You've still got the fact that it needs to be online to truly do anything, you need to rely on Google Drive (which is still miles away from Office in terms of end user experience), and if you're in an organization that needs to deploy Windows apps, you have to do that with an HTML5 client. Thankfully, Ericom, Citrix, and VMware are pushing the limits in that space, but what is a company supposed to do when faced with the decision of buying an underpowered, limited-functionality device for $279, an over-powered, limited functionality device for $1299, or a $500 Windows laptop (or Surface RT tablet, even!) that can do every single thing a Chromebook can do while providing the experience the end user is used to having?

Ugh…there's a question for the next time I play "Would You Rather?" Would you rather use a Chromebook or a Surface RT as your daily driver?

You could make the argument that Chromebooks are not for companies, which would have been a fine argument five years ago. But today, if an end user scoops one of these up at Best Buy because it was cheap, IT has to deal with it. It does't matter if it was made for companies or not. I'd like to meet the end user that is 100% happy with their Chromebook and uses it for everything they do without having access to a more traditional computer. 

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. I'm of the opinion that this whole thing should have ended when one engineer said to another, "Look, I put a browser on a laptop! How crazy is that, bro?!" Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe the device is still ahead of its time, but after this thought exercise, I'm left wondering why it is that Chromebooks continue to exist when there are so many more flexible options out there.

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Why do they continue to exist? Two reasons:


1. They represent a future client platform that is not Windows-based


2. Education


Taking the second one first, these things are perfect for education, especially for younger kids. They're cheap. They can't be screwed up. They can have the full web. And kids don't want to steal them like iPads. :) But seriously, education seems like a slam-dunk for me.


As for my first point about representing the future, I agree that ChromeOS and Chromebooks aren't there yet, but what's the alternative? How long are we going to support all this Microsoft Windows gunk on our endpoints? You talk about IT having to support them? Sure, but that's always the case, and if I were an IT Guy then I'd much rather support a user walking in the door with a Chromebook than with a Surface RT.


I like the idea of using an HTML-based Citrix or VMware client on the Chromebook to connect back to legacy Windows apps, and then doing everything else as web apps. Sure, you can't do everything today via web apps, but that's chipping away bit-by-bit every year. At what point do you flip your client model and get rid of Windows since you're only using it for a few apps? (More on that here: www.brianmadden.com/.../who-wants-to-manage-all-the-quot-gunk-quot-of-windows-just-to-deliver-an-app.aspx) Do you really want to support Windows clients just for Visio? Nope! Put it in a single app VDI instance and deliver it to Chrome. (And if users need Visio offline, fine, put it in a client VM that is only for that app and totally locked down, and then only give them Chrome on whatever local OS they're using. :)


As for the limitations of ChromeOS and offline apps. That's true, but also getting better. I used to have problems with Google Docs randomly not being available offline, though I can say now that I can't remember the last time that happened. And limitations of Google Docs? I can also say that I can't remember the last time I needed "Microsoft Word" to create something. The only reason I have it is because sometimes people email me Word docs with comments, and I have to open them in Word because Google Docs doesn't import comments properly. So if I had Word available as a remote instance for that occasional use, that would be fine by me. (I do still need Excel though since Google Spreadsheets are Read Only when offline. And I need PowerPoint and/or Keynote.. no good web-based alternatives yet.)


So I agree that Chromebooks in the enterprise are not there yet. But I hope Google still invests in these as a long term thing like Google Glass or the self-driving cars, because we have got to break this Microsoft client monopoly as it is unsustainable for the future. The way I look at it, Google has until 2020 to figure it out:)


(2020 since that's when support for Windows 7 ends.)


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2011 was probably the worst time to review Chromebooks from a business perspective.


I use a Pixel as my primary workstation and have deployed several Chromebooks at work of various models. It is not so much that ChromeOS has gotten that much better (although the WM is much nicer), it is that web apps have matured rapidly.


Instead of ViSio, my colleagues and I use LucidChart. For our purposes, it is about the same except that we can simultaneously coauthor diagrams and the licensing is not expensive up front.


I often wonder the exact opposite as your question: why do people care about OS that seem past their prime still a thing? Chromebooks are a little ahead of their time. To me, it is like if Netflix Instant Watch would have come out when people still mostly used VHS tapes and were just moving to DVD. However, I would predict in a few years the video store/Windows shop will be empty.


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We don't have to support anything. The IT department of the future shouldn't be supporting the endpoints. I don't care what you bring, and if you're endpoint has Windows gunk on it, that's fine. All IT has to do is deliver an app to it. The problem is that a user will blame the poor UX on IT even though it's not IT's problem, it's the cheapo device trying to run it.


What's the alternative? I don't need a Chromebook to deploy one-off Windows apps, cloud apps, or Chrome. I can buy more appropriate hardware at a better value that just happens to run some other OS. And, if IT really wants to stick it's nose in and say "now I have to manage that," fantastic. Stick a client hypervisor or Deep Freeze on it and manage away. You're paying more for that, of course, but that's what you get for managing things.


Building on that, if I'm the IT department of the future, not managing endpoints, I don't care what OS is on them. If I'm and end user, what am I buying? The overpriced thing that does nothing well, or the REALLY overpriced thing that does some things kind of ok? Nah, I'm buying the thing that's kind of cheap that does everything. Or, if I'm a student, I'm buying the laptop that lets me play the most games. (Yes, that's still a big deal)


But really, you're answer to my question about who is using these things is that education is using them. That is probably the most likely candidate, but I wouldn't call it a slam dunk. They still have to decide if cheap, underpowered, and limited is the way they want to go. Odds are it's not. Should edu like the IDEA of a Chromebook? Sure, but the reality is lackluster at best.


Plus, there are at least a half dozen other ways to deliver a browser to an endpoint that can't be screwed up (VDI, disk streaming, Client VMs, Deep Freeze, kiosk apps, TS…). So, while there's a chance that Chromebooks can't be beat in terms of delivering a browser to an end user for $300, the experience still suffers, and there are still better ways to deploy the exact same thing…Chrome.


So, I maintain the answer is still that nobody is using these today. Maybe they will in the future, but a lot has to change. So far, each release has been like the groundskeepers in Major League. It started with "They're shitty," and we're now on "They're still shitty."


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You're saying that if you're a student and you wanted a laptop to play the most games, that you would go for something that doesn't use Windows? If you're using Steam (A Windows, Linux, and Mac app), you would need to download steam to download any games. Windows has the highest quantity of games on Steam, and is the most compatible with Steam. With a Chromebook (which runs ChromeOS), you wouldn't even be able to get Steam or any games that are on Steam. I don't see why you would even think about getting a Chromebook for playing games. Even a Mac would be better than a Chromebook, and that's saying something.
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@Ian


I'm not suggesting that Windows is better. I'm suggesting that the devices are too expensive and/or underpowered for the experience that they deliver. You use a Pixel, and if I had to us a Chromebook every day, I'd like to use an i5 processor with an SSD drive, 4GB of memory, and a 2560x1700 screen too. I bet if I replaced it with an ARM processor and slashed the resolution down to 1366x768, you'd be hating life, though.


But why would I pay $1299 for a Pixel when I can have a MacBook Air with an i7 that does everything a Chromebook can do (to keep me up with the future that's coming) and everything else, too? I'm actually asking that...why?


LucidChart is ok. I use Visio for 2D drawings and scale plans, not flow charts, so LucidChart leaves a little to be desired for my use case. Without Visio, I wouldn't need Windows at all. I should probably stop using Visio as an example, though, because LucidChart is that good.


Just to be crystal clear: In no way am I saying that Chromebooks don't work. You can easily get one and use it. The experience won't be great unless you spend a ton of money, though, and even then you could have a better experience, so why bother with a Chromebook in the first place?


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I could make a long list of my complaints about Google docs, but they're pretty small things. I wrote my entire book in google docs, and did a lot of work offline, and I think the experience has been overall pretty good.


Honestly, I'm pretty tempted by the new HP Chromebook. I have the 2011 Samsung model, which for sure has really crappy hardware, but I'm willing to give the HP a shot. And for $280... I'm tempted.


What do I see as the use case? It's sure not going to replace a real ultrabook or MacBook Air, but what else can you buy in this price range that has a keyboard? Your only other option in this range is some sort of 7 inch tablet. But if you already have a smartphone, it can take care of all your mobile apps use cases, and then you have the Chromebook for when you want to browse and write articles. (Though I guess a netbook could be an option... are those still a thing? It seems like they'd still be more expensive, though. After all, some of those other Chromebooks are $199.)


Maybe it's experiment time, like "Jack lives 3 weeks with a Chromebook." The main issue that I can see is missing Powerpoint. Again, obviously I'd prefer my MacBook, but I'm thinking back to my grad school days when I needed a computer and had very little money—these would have been great options.


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The people who use this are people who primarily work in the office and occasionally from home. As a casual computer user in my personal life, I love my Chromebook. It's lightweight, boots up fast, has a keyboard (which I personally like) and gives me full web-page views as opposed to the mobile view you get on a tablet. 99% of the things I use my computer for can be accessed thru a browser and I'm online virtually everywhere I go anyway.


From a business perspective, I can still run my published apps from my office thru the Citrix Receiver when I need to. It is a bit clunky for every day business use, but that's not what I'm doing with it the majority of the time anyway.


In all reality, its more of a tablet substitute for those who like feel of a laptop, i.e. full web pages and a keyboard.


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I boil your question down to... why do people buy bicycles when they could have a motorcycle or a car?  Not everyone has the use cases you do.  And Brian's rainbow checkboard grapihc shows that the present and the future is full of a variety of solutions that meet a wide range of needs... not a one-size-fits-all world.


Who uses them?  Heck if I know but I think I read somewhere that Amazon was selling good numbers of them... and that they supposedly have like an 8% marketshare of laptops now.  If those numbers are wrong, go find real numbers and get back to me.


In any event, when I think of Chromebooks... I think of people who are buying them to run Linux on them. :)  Seriously, people are doing that.


TYL, Scott


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Our local school system just bought a boatload of them.


www.tullahomanews.com


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It's because all of the other "thinclient" laptops suck.  HP and Dell's offerings are low-end crapbooks running Windows which needs patching, antivirus, ets. The hope is that maybe a Chromebook will work as a good non-windows based mobile thinclient.


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i just love it when nerd's review things based on their nerdneeds.


who uses these things? well, i don't, but i've bought two of them. one for my mom and one for my sister. why?  because it's a perfect fit for them. it does everything they want to do.


right now, at this very moment, are countless millions of people on the internet who have never had an urge to load up dreamweaver and whip up some php code or crank up powerpoint and draw up some slides. what they do, daily, is facebook, netflix, amazon, news, weather, sports, games... the list is long.


so here's a machine that is never out of date, never has a virus, never has an upgrade cost or headache and does exactly what they want to do. but to you there's so much "more" available. well, to them no "more" needed.


when was the last time you did anything on a device, other than work, when you weren't connected to the internet?


btw, you can use office365 if you need to. even on a chromebook.


and you couldn't do just the tiniest bit of research to see how schools AND businesses are successfully using them?


just because you can write an article doesn't mean you should.


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When reviews come in and say something to the effect of "pretty good, for a Chromebook," and "not terrible" that's not overwhelmingly positive. Schools, and I'm sure some businesses, love them, but do the users? Not likely. "Hey, guy, you know that desktop you had that did everything? Here's a device that only does some of the things, and it only does them pretty well. No, it's performance doesn't measure up to what you had before, and no, it doesn't do everything you need exactly as you need it, but you'll be fine." It's the same criticism we've had regarding VDI, or at least those that say VDI can cost the same as physical desktops.


A company has other options, too. And if the focus is on end user experience (which it is more than ever) without having to forklift every app in your organization to some other platform to support it, well, Chromebooks aren't your solution. I've already suggested they're ahead of their time.


Using them as thin clients - that's excellent. Better than Android, at least (unless you want to manage them in any way, but why bother?). Look… every single technology in existence today has a use case (otherwise it wouldn't exist), so I'll give you that my criticism that it shouldn't exist is a little harsh, but you can't argue that there isn't something missing from this. If there wasn't, you'd be using one. I'd be using one. Everyone would. So what is it? My position is that they can't get the right mix of price, performance, and quality. If and when that happens, great. The application stars have to align, too. Until then, I'm not a fan, generally speaking.


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"...but do the users? Not likely."


based on what? your extensive research?


so you're arguing someone who had a device that did "everything" won't have the same with a chromebook. that's nice. good to see you haven't abandoned the "more" argument.


i'd argue that there are millions and millions of people who bought a device that did "everything" and they only use it for facebook and email and netflix and...  


kinda overkill, all that "more".


every bad review of a chromebook i read is by a nerd basing it on their nerdneed. i have nerdneed so don't use a chromebook because it's not a good fit for me. just like i don't ride my bike 8,000 miles a year using a comfort bike and i don't play in tennis tournaments using a $40 racquet from a box store. does that mean i'm going to bash comfort bikes and cheap racquets? no, what it means is, uh, those are not a good fit for me.


for a $250, always up to date, never a virus worry, no upgrade cost or headache device, it's perfect for my family. it replaced my mom's aging dell laptop and she has not missed a beat. she doesn't know what "more" is and her eyes will glaze over if you start in on it. mom don't do "more".  she's very happy with it.


so my sister wanted one too. no complaints.


those would be what you would call unhappy users.  based on that extensive research i guess.


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Interesting commentary, but as a Chromebook user, the reason people still talk and write about them because they are exciting and delivering a good user experience for a good price.  From an Enterprise perspective as most companies are moving towards SaaS and Streamed apps, the ChromeOS can cut licensing costs significantly.  Surface RTs are more susceptible to broken screens, require an expensive external keyboard and the Surface 2 will cost twice the amount out the door and even more with a dock and touch cover.  


RT does not support Visio and many apps without streaming like the Chromebook or Mac requires as well. If you want native Visio (not streamed) you must have a Pro which will out you at the Pixel price point.


When I look at the ChromeOS experience I think of the next generation of apps such as Google Apps, Salesforce.com, NetSuite, etc.  based on HTML 5 instead of C# or .Net.  I also see using streaming with Citrix Storefront or Ericom for legacy apps.  


Google has come a long way in 2 years with both the Pixel and ChromeOS. Google Apps is also a lot more improved. At the pricepoint it is on its way to becoming a well seeded hardware platform to run Google's ecosystem of apps. Considering the first commercial Chromebook was released in June 2011 we have seem something go from nothing to a serious player in less than 3 years.  Imaging what the 5 year version will look like with Packaged Apps, Haswell processors and IPS screens.  Not to mention if Streamed Office 365 is fully supported why not use a Chromebook?


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How is this even an article?


The man cherry picks two lines from other people who actually got their hands on one and did a real review.


From those 2 quotes he goes off on his perceived limitations of the thing without managing to do one single bit of research on what he's babbling on about.


He makes certain to repeat the often quoted "it's a brick without a connection" line.


He can't seem to bring himself to even muster up enough imagination to conceive that there are uses for the machines outside of his own tech world, let alone people who would want to use one.


How is this an article? What, all you need is to have an opinion on something, find a few select lines from real reviews that agrees with you, and rant away?


If that's the case then sign me up. I have opinions aplenty and will have no problem finding a few select lines from other authors (I'm assuming context means nothing) to support them.


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The Pixel beats the Macbook Air on CPU & Display and loses on battery life. Just like.. the Mac Book Pro, which is priced *much* higher than the Pixel, and even its display is not as good as the Pixels and doesn't have touchscreen (which admittedly, OS X has no idea how to take advantage of, but ChromeOS does).


Seriously, if you change your "comparison" to Pixel vs. MBP's, suddenly the question becomes why MBP's are so pricey.


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What really matters, of course, is what the masses do and how the overall sales numbers shake out, but I can offer an example. My mother has only 2 computing devices: a desktop computer in the bedroom and an iPhone 4S. Oftentimes when I've visited her I've wished for a convenient way to use the Internet from the main rooms of the house. I used to think that a Chromebook would fit the bill perfectly -- no headaches from Windows updates and malware, no "Microsoft tax" imposed as on garden-variety laptops, a real Web browsing experience with a full-size keyboard as opposed to tablets and smartphones, etc. But -- and this does sort of prove your point -- she has expressed interest in a tablet of late.


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Ok, I'm ordering one. I'll use it. I'll let my mother in law use it, since that seems to be a prevalent use case, and I'll let my wife use it. She only uses Pinterest and Facebook, so she'll be fine. My mother in law will have some crazy problem, I'm sure. If it's as awesome as everyone is making it out to be, I'll be sure to write a positive article on it.


But, this isn't a consumer blog. This is about enterprise end-user computing, so I'm going to look at in that light, too. I'll eat crow if it's good.


I have $350 to spend. Tell me which one to get.


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When you put "who uses these things anyway?" in the title then you can't come back and bark about this being an enterprise end-user blog when people respond to your question.


Words have meaning.


If I were you I'd wait another month. There are more coming from Asus, Toshiba and Acer. I would stay away from the Samsung series 3 and the new Google/HP 11.


Both are running the Arm processor and it has a limit of 2gb RAM. Get one of the new Haswell chips with 2 or 4 gb RAM.


It's actually a bit of a mystery why Google and it's partners would announce new Haswell based machines then Google turns around and releases the ARM one, which is a slight upgrade from last years Samsung.


If you want to get one now go with the Acer C720. It has the Haswell chip and 4gb ram and is only $249.


As far as it being "awesome", again, that depends on the person and the needs no? It might be "awesome" to your mother in law and not even close to you.


Anyway, kudos to you for willing to give it a try. At least you'll have some real world thoughts to offer no?


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"you need to rely on Google Drive (which is still miles away from Office in terms of end user experience)".


Seriously?? For what I use (heavy user of word/docs and excel/sheets) Drive is not even as good as Office, it's better. Excel certainly has more option than sheets for example, but almost all of those options you don't need anyway. And storing, sharing and collaborating is excellent in Drive.


The writer surely hasn't investigated Drive and Chromebooks enough.


If you are a heavy user and want more than ChromeOS it's just a couple of minutes to install Crouton and run ChromeOS next to stock Linux and you don't even have to reboot to switch OS.  


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-It looks like Chromebooks are even more of a thing now than before... There is very little if anything that I cannot do with my Toshiba Chromebooks 2 (2015) model...

I am a longtime Windows, Mac, and Linux convert. I've been using computers since the late 70's and I have to say Google has got it right and it's only getting better!
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Here are the reasons I think they are bad;
1. Hard to write programs on.
2. They do the same things that any computer can do.
3. Lack of software.
4. Almost everything has to be online.
5. You have to use printers that you can use with Google Cloud Print.
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They are the absolute worst. Do not waste time or money on one. You can hardly do as much as a normal computer and the fact that the only way to save things is to drive is the most annoying thing in the world. My school has them, as well as normal dells, and we can't access our work on our student h drives on the stupid chrome books. Whenever a class gets stuck with Chromebooks instead of the dell computer carts, no one gets any work done because they cant access their old files. I am using one right now, and the stupid Double-tap-to-right click drives me nuts. I absolutely hate these. 
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What is my primary device: the one that is capable of anything or the one that I use most? And who told us that one person can´t use more than one device?

This is a really funny topic for me, because as an enthousiastic Mac user I started to use Chrome OS 4 years ago, and I generally prefer Chrome OS rather than mac OS for daily use. The reason? Chrome OS is allways responsive, The Chromebook allways stays cool on my lap, lets me travel light without the need to carry a charger and never lets me wait for startup procedures and internal housekeeping like virtually any other digital device does. A unique property of Chrome OS is it´s native support for univeral USB docking (Display Link), which enables me to drive a dual screen desktop configuration in the office. 

Is it capable to do any task? No, it is not, but is that so important? For photo editing there is still my good old mac, technically speaking it is far more capable than my chromebook, but in my daily workflow I do not need any of this, my chromebook suffices there, in particular because my company offers me a VDI infrastructure via Citrix. So it is the other way around than one would think: the Chromebook is my primary device, the Mac is secondary, for special purposes.
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