Coding on a Chromebook budget

I volunteer as a research assistant at the Gazzaley Lab at UC San Francisco. My tasks involve a lot of data analysis, and this means I write a lot of code, just scripts really, but I’m on the command line all day. I don’t make enough money from my day job to be able to afford a full-blown laptop, let alone one of those newfangled Apple MacBooks. So what does a guy like me, who can’t afford (or want) an expensive MacBook do when he needs to add a little mobility to his work?

I got a Chromebook. I’ve only had it for a few days, but I’ve had several opportunities to work all day long on it, and I have to say it has been pure joy. I have yet to find a practical need of mine which this thing cannot fulfill. Every time I think I’ve run into an issue I find that there is a comfortable workaround.

First and foremost I was concerned about developing on a Chromebook, but I ran across an article a few weeks ago (lost the link, sorry) which introduced to me a web-based service called Nitrous.IO, and I have to say that these guys are awesome. Their support is fast and friendly. The service gives you access to a full developing IDE and a completely usable terminal. The Chromebook does have a terminal but it is quite limited in application. The terminal in Nitrous.IO is fantastic. Prefer Vim or GNU Emacs? No problem. Want to be able to edit your .vimrc or .ssh config file? SSH or VNC your thing? You can do that too. I use the service to SSH into servers to do the heavy lifting, and I have yet to feel any limitations.

For virtually every other work need I have, there’s Google Drive and Google Docs. I’m sold on this stuff. I have simple, practical needs. I don’t need a lot of flash and sparkle, and the convenience and access provided by these online services is invaluable. Hell, even if I do need a little sparkle, I’m more and more impressed every year with what you can make happen in Google Docs. And they’re really pushing hard in developing that that arena lately.

Basically, my point is to assuage any fears a student like me might have about going the online-only route. I should mention that I do have the comfort of owning a Linux-powered desktop to fall back on for my more hardware intensive needs, but between the cost of my Chromebook 11 and my self-built desktop, and hell let’s throw in my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone too―I’ve still spent less than the cost of a MacBook Pro. You don’t have to shell out a ton of money for the technological conveniences Mr. Moneybags enjoys. I’ve easily saved myself $300-$400 at the very least just on a laptop alone and I feel like I’m not missing out on a thing. It works for me, maybe it will work for you.

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