What I like to use
Everyone has their own way of working. We each have specific preferences and processes that we use – and for good reason.
This is especially true in our digital lives – both professional and personal, which are of course not entirely separate. There are an abundance of tools and approaches for us to select from as we navigate the world from our computers. What follows is what works for me.
A cloud-first approach suits me as I spend most of my digital time in the browser. I chose to use, and continue to use, the tools that consistently give me the right mix of convenience, security and reliability. Flexibility, interconnectability, cost and continued improvement of the tools are also important factors.
Last updated: November 2023
So many options
There is a debate – which still rages in certain circles – about local vs. cloud. The conflict is moot, though, without a clear and comprehensive understanding of the specific needs of the company or individual who is going to be using the system. What do they need and what do they want? Plus there are likely preconceived ideas about the pros, cons and risks of any of the available options. One of the main concerns seems to be security, as it rightly should be, and there are a number of factors that affect this. Regardless, a strong password strategy is a priority irrespective of where your data is stored.
It has been a conscious choice of mine to sit deeply in Google’s realm. Specifically: Google Workspace, Android and ChromeOS (Google’s operating system born out of the Chrome browser). I’m not entirely comfortable with the quantity and detail of the data they hold on me, but the quality of their stuff is somewhat unmatched.
Other than ChromeOS, the mainstream options when considering platforms are:
- Apple: designed for personal, individual lives
- Microsoft: intended for a large corporate environments
- Linux: for those who know how to build and maintain their own tech
Google seems to have gotten it right for our time right now; at least for me. They pioneered highly functional web apps and saw deep into the future of what was possible from The Web well ahead of the market. Not to say I don’t have my complaints, but as of today I can’t see a better option for my needs and desires.
We use physical hardware to achieve a few tasks: type text, view websites, use web apps. What we choose is a balance of function, price, value, reliability, and personal preference.
Not long after setting up as self-employed in 2009, Chromebooks were launched. My Windows laptop was slow to boot, heavy to carry and largely filled with software unnecessary for how I was working at the time. I’d already realised how most of my computing time was being spent in the browser so the potential of ChromeOS was obvious for me. I knew I’d have to make a few changes but it was a surprisingly easy transition.
The first consideration was whether I could be effective using only cloud-based software – ie. not being able to install software on the device itself. I hate installing and updating software – it’s a chore, a bore and sometimes leads to time-sapping issues. I quickly realised that this limitation was in fact a feature – a very welcome change. Occasionally, a cloud app will update in a way that is unwelcome, but in practice that is pretty rare for me.
The second point, and one that some may never accept, is that ChromeOS is primarily intended to be used with an internet connection. It is a safe assumption that I will have an internet connection because I ensure that’s the case. If I don’t, it’s because I’m travelling on a train (as I am while writing this) or because something has gone wrong. My work on computers is online, so if the internet is down then I can’t do that work – this would be the same if I were on a Mac. It is worth keeping in mind how useful it is to tether an internet connection to a mobile.
Thirdly, I wanted the freedom and calm that comes from knowing that all my data is stored and backed up in the cloud. My devices aren’t disposable in that they aren’t cheap, but if something does happen to them I would not lose any data. Almost all of my cloud-based data is backed up – typically to somewhere else on the cloud. The other reason for focusing on the cloud is less dramatic and more frequent: I’m switching between devices. In brief, it’s extremely rare that I don’t have access to the files I want.
Currently I’m using:
With those points accepted, and hopefully embraced otherwise ChromeOS isn’t really for you, one can finally consider what specific model to purchase. I look for a good screen, pleasant keyboard, long-life battery and plenty of RAM.
With regard to Chromebooks, there are some available under £200, but I tend to get the best available at the time. The game changer for was getting the Chromebook Pixel LS. It was not cheap at nearly £1k but it was truly the perfect computer for me, and I was very sad to hear when it was no longer available to buy new. It lastest over five years without an issue and was only replaced as the hardware could no longer keep up with the software (ref: end of life).
Since then I bought a Pixelbook Go - which is great, but I do prefer the square-er screen ratio of the Pixel LS.
For my office, I have an Asus Chromebox 4 which is connected to two external monitors (BenQ 32” EW3270U as landscape and BenQ 24” BL2420PT rotated to portrait) (one can never have too much screen space), one of Apple’s wired UK keyboards with the number pad, and a comfortable wireless USB mouse (I’ve found the Bluetooth ones lose their connections at the worst times).
My mobile is currently a Pixel 6 which has a great screen, the best camera, is absolute fast enough and runs Google’s stock version of Android. I likely use it too much, but that’s for another time… If you’re curious about using a Chromebook, consider that they have much in common with how we tend to use our smartphones. We don’t need to be online to use them, but we generally expect to be.
In terms of other physical hardware: I hate printers so avoid owning or using them. And I use Google Drive’s scan feature on my phone if I need to do that. I cannot remember if I’ve sent a fax in the last decade, but there are email-to-fax services. CDs and DVDs are obsolete for me now and I’ve moved all my music into the cloud.
- Google Workspace: Gmail, Contact, Calendars, Drive, Photos, Meet, Music
- GQueues* (referral link): task management
- Instant messaging: Discord, Whatsapp, Slack, SMS (too many…)
- Business Calendar: calendars on Android
- GiffGaff*: phone network
- Airtable*: online database
- Xero and Dext: bookkeeping
- Banking: Starling*, Tide*
- Pocketcast: podcasts
NB: My ‘local’ development environment is on a remote server.
- Git with GitHub (for version control, portability and backup)
- ChromeOS Linux Terminal or Secure Shell: SSH & SFTP
- VS Code and Caret: text editors
- Digital Ocean*: cloud servers
- Forge: provision & manage cloud servers
- Pixlr or Polarr: photo manipulation
- httpstatus.io: useful URL checker
- metatags.io: preview what shared URLs look like
- colourcontrast.cc: colour picking and sharing, especially for a11y
- color.hailpixel.com: colour picking and sharing, especially for palettes