I’ve kept it no secret from myself that the time is ripe to buy a new laptop. During the summer, the screen of my 2009 MacBook Core 2 Duo started behaving badly. Strictly speaking, it’s the backlight or the inverter which delivers power to it which is giving me bother. It was the first Mac I’d owned (having had a PC laptop to call my own before then) and I found it a natural transition because of an interest in Linux. The ability to pop open a terminal window into a POSIX-compliant system, within a slick and very stable GUI makes it a compelling experience for anyone who has a bit of technical background, but who uses his/her computer for about 80% consumer / 20% “development” purposes.
But the price of staying in the Apple ecosystem is too high. I have to consider a purchase of $1000 dollars to keep me in play with a device that is nigh-on unupgradeable (MacBook Air 11"), and is, I believe, going to hit obsolesence in about 2-3 years as opposed to the 4 years I’ve got out of my present machine - and the estimated 3-4 years I’d get out of the entry-level MacBook Pro 13".
Moving outside the Apple ecosystem, I have two options: PC (and install Linux) or Chromebook (and install Linux either Dual-Boot or crouton). I also value portability, and I would rather an 11" or 12" laptop with a bare minium resolution identical to that which I already have on the 13" MacBook (1280 x 600). Portability means battery-life too. Competitive were the likes of an eentry-level ThinkPad X201 (cons: no SSD as standard) or something a bit like the Asus X201E (cons: I was worried about build-quality, glossy screen - eugh!). Now that Acer has released the C720 (the HP has a glossy screen, not enough RAM and I think the MicroUSB charging thing is useless) they are handing anyone with a bit of technical knowhow a machine with specs that we will eventually see in entry-level Windows Ultraportables at the $350-500 price point, simply because it’s “crippled” by Chrome OS.
The massive downside is the paltry local storage (16GB local SSD), but it is a little-publicised fact that there is a new generation of internal SSDs coming with NGFF connectors. A white-label 128GB module is for sale on amazon.com for about $100, so if it really gets on my nerves then I’ll fork out for it. But there are several reasons why I think it will not. Firstly, almost all my “documents” (college work, etc.) are on Google Drive (and the most important ones fit on to a 16GB memory stick when I do periodic backups for posterity). Not only that, I’m lucky to have a nice internet connection here, so I’m going to retire my MacBook into a “server” role so I’ll have about 100GB of SSD storage on-line at any given time that I can tap into.
And keeping my Mac online also means I can dabble back into OS X if I need any niche apps through VNC (or even Splashtop which seems to work well on Android with my Mac as a server). On top of that I have a DigitalOcean instance that I can offload particularly strenous image processing/music processing jobs if I reckon the Chromebook can’t handle.
Apple’s closed hardware model is a bummer, so I’m getting out. I don’t care too much for Google’s OS layer so I’ll hopefully fully eviscerate it from the C720 and install Debian (I think Ubuntu is gone off the rails with Unity and the Wayland/Mir debacle, but I still value the .deb ecosystem.) Finally, an x86 Chromebook that doesn’t have a spinning disk (the sucky original Acer) or isn’t prohibitively priced (Samsung Series 5 Chromebook). What’s not to like?