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The State of Chromebooks in the Office

It is no secret that Chromebooks rule the one-to-one computing space in classrooms across WELS. I don’t have exact numbers but anecdotal observations suggest that those schools who are committed to putting computers on classroom desks have gone the route of Chromebooks or have plans to do so. And it isn’t too hard to see why. They are fairly inexpensive, easy to configure with central management tools, and fast to load and operate. Yes, you still see “traditional” Windows computers and also iPads, but by volume the numbers aren’t even close.

But what about the church or school office. At least in my visits, I rarely see faculty and staff with Chromebooks as their primary computing device. The reasons for that are also obvious, or at least they used to be. Chromebooks have very little storage, they don’t allow the installation of “traditional” office type applications like Microsoft Word and Outlook, and they don’t function well if “offline” mode, so an internet connection is a must.

Those “we can’t use a Chromebook in the office because…” reasons have pretty much evaporated! Microsoft has made their Office apps web accessible. So if you get a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet from someone you can now open it, even on a Chromebook. On top of that, modern Chromebooks now allow the installation of Android apps, so you essentially get “apps” that provide Office, or many other installable programs, which improve their usability and offline capabilities.

OK. What about the storage thing? No longer an issue either. Chromebooks come with more and more storage, or SD/USB drives to do it as well. However, with the popularity of cloud storage, local storage is less and less an issue. I have a traditional computer with 500 gigabytes of storage. I hardly use any of it since the benefits of keeping things online outweigh having things “offline.”

What about connectivity requirements of Chromebooks? What if you are on a plane or someplace where the internet isn’t. While those internet dark spots are fewer and farther between, Chromebooks and their apps now do a much better job of allowing offline access to applications and files you deem important.

One other objection to Chromebooks in the office is that most of the available hardware just isn’t as well built and easy to use as “real” computers.  I’m writing this on a Chromebook, a $299 Chromebook from Acer, the R11. I’m impressed. While an 11 inch screen wouldn’t be the first choice for this fifty-something eyes, it is actually pleasant to look at, a touch screen, flips over to use in tablet mode, and it’s resolution is more than sufficient for any tasks I’ve tried on it. In addition, it comes with a built in HDMI port for easy connection to an external monitor.

While this isn’t an article about the R11, I do have to say it is a very nice piece of computing hardware. It has two USB ports (one 2.0 and one 3.0), an SD card slot, and audio jack. But perhaps the best parts of the R11 are the input tools, the keyboard and trackpad. Awesome…especially for a device that is $299. The keyboard keys have nice “travel”, is full size, and have a nice texture to them. If I have one complaint, it’s that they aren’t backlit. The trackpad is a nice size, smooth and very responsive. There are a number of configurations available including Intel versions. I’m using the slower Celeron version, but find it perfectly usable.

I’m sold. I think in most office situations, Chromebooks are viable, and in some cases preferable. They are more secure, great battery life and of course, cheaper. There are of course certain use cases that might be more challenges. I can think of serious video editing, perhaps even page layout, although there are online options for both, plus the option for Android apps. Your mileage may vary, but I think it’s worth a try. The upsides are worth the look.

 

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More Favorite Productivity Tips: Cleaning Up Your Desktop

Being in the technology business for many years means I have seen a lot of computer screens and a lot of user desktops. While I have never done a scientific study, I’d guess that an easy majority of them are so full and seemingly disorganized that the user probably knows where a few key files are, but the rest…forget about it. It seems that “desktop” is a dumping ground, home base, halfway house, and miscellaneous whatever, all rolled in to one. At times I’ve been guilty of it too. My ministry productivity quotient went way up however when I finally followed these three simple tips to a healthier desktop.

Tip One: Your desktop should be reserved for documents you need to have one click access to.

Not all documents are created equal, and their relative importance can change over time. Take a look at your desktop right now and identify at least one document you haven’t opened, looked at or otherwise thought about in the last three months. Find any? If you did, it’s like trying to drive down the road and having abandoned cars just sitting there, in your way, slowing you down. Why are they there? Why aren’t they parked in someone’s garage, or towed away, or taken to the dump?

It’s your job to keep the path between you and your destinations as fast and friction free as possible. Not littered with all kinds of things that are just taking up space, making you look at them over and over again for no good reason. And then each time you look at them you think, “I should really clean this place up.” What a waste of brainpower. Knowledge workers like you need clear, distraction free paths to your work. Not an obstacle course. Clear those unneeded or unused documents away. Put them in folders. Delete them. Take a few hours. They’re digital. It won’t take long. You won’t even need to break a sweat.

Tip Two: Don’t use your desktop for applications

One of the wastes of computer desktop space is to leave or put shortcuts to application start up icons there. So you have your Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Email Client, Browser…and the list goes on. Whether you use Windows or Mac you have a Start/App Menu AND  a Task Bar/Dock. Use them for those frequently used apps. While I’ve seen some computers that do have them there, they ALSO have links to them on the desktop! Great! Two ways to get to the app. Sound more productive? Not really. You only need one. In fact, you really don’t need any icons to apps on the desktop or the taskbar/dock. Wait a minute…what? That’s right. The fastest way to open an app is to not even take your fingers off the keyboard. “Resist the mouse!” Say it with me. “Resist the mouse!”

Just tap the Windows key (on a PC) or the Command Key plus Spacebar (on a Mac) and type the first couple letters of the app you want to open and hit enter. More than likely those first couple letters will net you the app you are looking for. Your computer is smart. Let it do the work for you. Give it a try. I almost never use the mouse to open an app. Opening Microsoft Word is as easy as Windows Key -> “wo” -> Enter Key. Opening the Chrome browser is Windows Key -> “ch” -> Enter Key. Sweet!

Tip Three: Change the default location of your desktop to a cloud service.

I saved the coolest tip for last. Perhaps the geekiest too. Unfortunately I think this tip is only for you Windows users. Did you know you can change where your desktop files are stored? Basically that means that whenever you “think” you are throwing something on your desktop, you are “really” storing it in a location of your choosing. My recommendation, if you are OK with the security side of it, is pick a cloud service. I use OneDrive for instance, and have it sync to my computer. Then I change the desktop location to it, and presto, I have anything that is sitting on my desktop also synced to the cloud. This makes it easy to get at my most active files from almost anywhere and any computer…or mobile device.

It’s actually very easy to do. Here is a quick tutorial on it. Another option is to use Google Backup and Sync to make sure your desktop data is stored in the cloud. One of the most frequent “oh no” moments I’ve observed in helping co-workers is when they realize they were saving stuff else where, to the cloud, etc. But neglected to consider the stuff on their desktop. Important stuff!

So just take care to use the desktop wisely. It is a great surface on which to work. Quick. Easy. Efficient. You can now make it even better.

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