How about free VMs for Chromebook owners?

I’ve been using a Chromebook for a few years now, and find myself going for long stretches without needing to turn on a Windows machine or an Apple Mac. At first I was a little sceptical, since I spend much of my time developing and researching stuff, and I wondered if I’d be able to do all I needed to without a local machine.

What do you need something else for?

Obviously there’s Office. Even those of us that use Google Apps (or G-Suite if you prefer) by default, occasionally need to reach for it when collaborating with others, but there is Office 365 after all, and there is also the JavaScript API for Office. Personally, I only need to crank up Windows to work on old VBA stuff, which I seldom do nowadays. Full stack development uses lots of tools that you need Linux and Node for, and although you can hack the Chromebook to run Linux,  it defeats the objective. If you really do want to run Linux locally, you may as well just run a Linux desktop. For the Chromebook, you have AWS and Google Compute Engine, and development environments such as Cloud 9 that offer a full VM (for free!), so if you need the Chromebook to be something other than it is – don’t bother – use it to access a cloud based VM instead.


Another great way to wean you off needing something on your desktop is to use containers for everything. By Dockerizing projects, you can just spin up a VM anywhere and have the container up and running in no time (and take it down again when done to avoid usage charges).  With the new flex environment on Google App Engine, you are no longer limited to the supported languages – you can now run any containerized project on App Engine (which has a generous free tier), although you will also need a regular VM for a while to prepare your project to deploy to App Engine.

Provide free VMs for Chromebook owners

Many are using Chromebooks exclusively, but others are reluctant to take the plunge because of the times they think they might need something else. When Chromebooks first came out, Google provided a chunk of free Drive space (I think the maybe still do), in the place of the local storage you would normally need with a desktop. I wonder why Google don’t now provide free use of a small Compute Engine VM for the odd times you need it. It would be a great incentive for those who haven’t jumped yet, and the cost to Google would be minimal given the likely infrequency of general usage.  It would also lead to more compute engine consumption by regular people who don’t yet see the attraction. Google – this is an easy thing to do.


Author: brucemcp

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