Using a Chromebook at work
Sun 16 October 2022 — download

Since I'm only using a terminal ssh and a web browser at work, and because my beloved Thinkpad X1 corp laptop was due for a refresh, I went for a brand new HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook:

  • The 12th generation i7 along with the 32G of DDRM4 RAM are really nice for local development.
  • The 500G of NVMe M.2 SSD is a teensy bit overkill for a "cloud-oriented" laptop, but I won't complain
  • The 13.5" 2256x1506 screen is bright enough, but since it's a touchscreen, the slightest brush against it will be considered as an input, which is annoying. Of course, there is no way to disable this. I also stuffed the stylus in a drawer in my desk because it's useless and loss-prone.
  • The 5MP 1080p webcam is really good, no doubt allowing coworkers can see in great details how my shaving schedule sucks.
  • The titan C security chip is reportedly good.
  • The speakers are garbage, but that's expected, and I'm not using them anyway.
  • The lid looks a tad more brittle than it should be, but the build as a whole looks sturdy enough.

Software-wise, it works great if your workplace is using Google for everything: Google Calendar, GMail, Custom Google Store, … everything is completely integrated and polished, and chromoting is butter-smooth. It's also possible to step outside of the Google World, thanks to the (properly sandboxed) "Linux development environment", and it's working ok.

But there are still a ton of paper cuts:

  • Inability to not merge windows in the taskbar: it's annoying since one tends to have a couple of chrome windows. Moreover, there is no way to spawn another instance of an app with a single click.
  • The fans exhausts are on the bottom, meaning that it'll sounds as if the laptop is trying to take off should you use it on a non-solid surface, like your sofa, a pillow, your belly or a blanket.
  • The right-click on the touchpad is triggered by a click with two fingers, the usual right click is equivalent to a left-click.
  • No way to put the taskbar on top of the screen, but at least it can be hidden automatically.
  • The terminal is an html app with a terrible typing latency.
  • Speaking of the terminal, <Ctrl-Click> sometimes work, but more often than not doesn't. Moreover, <Ctrl-Shift-Click> to select links doesn't work, sometimes. Oh, and also, touchpad-scrolling in the terminal is unusable.
  • No way to move the windows by maintaining <Alt>, you have to grab their status bar: this might be acceptable when using the 13" screen, but on a dual 4k monitors setup, it's awful. There is a tiling extension, but it's not great.
  • Most of the actions feel sluggish, likely due to non-disableable animations everywhere.
  • No way to make a window "always on top" or "always on the active desktop".
  • Some shortcuts are being used by the browser: <C-u> will sometimes show your the source code of the app you're in, instead of clearing the current prompt, or simply not work at all, like on the lockscreen.
  • The keyboard layout is weird, with a "search" key instead of a compose key. Speaking of compose key, an extension is required to use one, but it's super-brittle.
  • Some shortcuts are… peculiar and can't be changed!
    • <Alt-Backspace> because there is no<Del> key
    • <Search-Left> and <Search-Right> for <Home> and <End> respectively, but <Alt-Up> and <Alt-Down> are working for <PgUp> and <PgDown>, while <Alt-Left> and <Alt-Right> aren't working for <Home>/<End>.
    • <Search-]> to move to the right desktop, instead of Crtl-Alt-left>
    • <Search-Alt> for capslock
    • <Alt-[> to dock a window on the left (except terminal windows), …
    • Big up to the <Ctrl-n> one who will open a new window, instead of telling my IRC client that I don't want to paste multiple-lines.
  • <Alt-Tab> is switching between windows on all desktops.
  • No trackpoint, but this is what one gets for not using a Thinkpad.
  • Despite having the power button acting as a security key, I haven't found a way to expose it to the Linux VM, and it seems to not be possible.

Used with external monitors, an external keyboard and a mouse, it's bearable. But I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone doing anything outside of a full-screen web-browser.