Going All In On The Web – Part 2

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The following is a three part series of how I migrated from Apple to the Google ecosystem and completely changed how I work and thought about the web. This is Part 2. You can find Part 1 here.

Listen to this Audio Blog post here:

It’s now been over three years since I wrote Part 1. I’ve been busy. A lot has happened. I have so much to share! That Mac I had three years ago? That’s long gone and I haven’t looked back.

Note: No, I didn’t put links to these apps. They’re all easy to find in the Chrome Web Store

A while back, I had this dream. I was in a room full of people giving a presentation as to why Chromebooks are awesome and out of nowhere I smashed my Chromebook with a sledge hammer. Without skipping a beat, I reached into my bag, pulled out another Chromebook and continued giving my presentation, as if nothing happened.

Well, that kind of happened, but I wasn’t giving a presentation and I didn’t use a sledgehammer. I was sitting with a client one day, opened my Chromebook and a message on the screen said to install the Chromebook Recovery Utility. That’s equivalent to the bluescreen of death on a PC or the old sad Mac appearing on your screen. My Chromebook Pixel had died.

I acted quickly. I contacted Google and was given all of the warranty information to exchange my machine for a new one. They said I should expect it in about two weeks. Wait, what? How was I going to work for the next week? Easy, just buy a new machine.

The Pixel is a work horse. It’s solid, has a gorgeous touchscreen, but a bit heavy. If I had to get a new machine, I wanted something lighter and dual use. I went online and purchased the newly arrived ASUS Chromebook Flip. It exceeded my expectations and with Chromebook’s built in on-screen keyboard, the laptop-to-tablet conversion was perfect for meetings, taking notes and strong work, if needed. Getting up to speed on the new machine was simple. I logged in and there were all of my apps, files and bookmarks, waiting for me in the cloud. There was no down time. I got right back to work.

The Apps

One of the reasons it took me awhile to write this post, is because I wanted to write a solid post on the apps I use. If anyone is going to consider moving to a Chromebook, they will need to know if even just the basic representation of apps are available. I use several apps on a daily basis, so this description is not a full review of each app, but rather highlights of what I use the app for and some of my favorite features.

Chrome Apps

  • Caret – A powerful yet simple text editor with syntax highlighting, code folding, find and replace, project creation and more. Great for editing small scripts and snippets that you need to work on quickly.
  • sFTP Client – Simple and quick ftp tool. I’ve used this to quickly move files and large groups of files. It will even do quick remote editing if needed, but for large file moving and remote editing, I always rely on the Secure Shell web app.
  • Diff Tool – Sometimes you’ll get documents from clients or colleagues and it may be hard to determine what changes were made where. This is a great quick tool that will find the differences quickly and easily. Anything remotely, I always use the Secure Shell Web App for differences.
  • SFTP – If you constantly upload to an FTP site, then this is a neat tool that will create a local folder that maps to an ftp directory. It’s a great time saver.
  • MySQL Admin – I can only compare it to Sequel Pro on the Mac and I am sure it’s not as feature rich, but this is quite the app and has given me great insight into some of the databases I’ve needed help on. An invaluable tool.
  • Minimalist Markdown Editor – I use Markdown for all of my posts and what I’ve come to love is a dual pane environment, where I can see that the text I write is correctly formatted. Just like Markdown itself, this is a simple efficient editor.

Web Apps

Some Chrome apps when installed will still open up in a tab. To make them behave more like native apps, right-click on the icon in the launcher and select Open As Window and it will not open in a new browser window, but a native Chrome style window.

  • Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar & Drive – It’s Google Docs and not only is the online software seasoned, they are powerful and deep in features. The integration is great in Chromebook and seamless.
  • Google Keep – To Do apps have been a challenge of mine for years. What I like about Keep is that I can keep separate to do lists for several areas of my life. That’s important to me. In addition, syncing across all devices is invaluable. Regardless of software, you need to develop a to do process that can work across any new software you decide to use.
  • Codeanywhere – This is by far the best online IDE on the planet. The consistency with the roll out of new features is encouraging. I think the support is not as responsive as I would like it to be, for almost all of your coding needs, this software is solid.
  • Secure Shell – There have been weeks where I pretty much lived in this app. It is so well built and efficient, it is literally my go to for accessing servers and remote locations. I continue to discover great ways to use this reliable tool.
  • Scratchpad – I use Scratchpad every day. It’s a great way to copy and paste text to strip out formatting or to just write some quick notes. It’s a fantastic middle step to add to your work day flow. It’s invaluable to me.
  • Simplenote – I’ve used this app since the day it came out and well before Automattic bought it. I use it differently than Google Keep, in the sense that I keep longer notes there. Excerpts and a place to grow ideas. Think of it as code snippet software for ideas.
  • Skype – The web version is just solid and it works. It by far outperforms any voice or video chat software out there. I don’t use it for conference calls, but the one to one features are exceptional. They did a great job making the web app, just as good or better than the installed app.
  • Slack – I haven’t used this app in a while, as my company has moved to the Office 365 platform, but this is by far the best example of a well built web app. Quite a bit of thought was put into it’s usability and the third party integrations are extensive.
  • Office 365 – We currently use this at Starfire Direct. Outlook, Teams, Planner, Word, SharePoint and Excel are the online apps we use the most. I gotta say, Microsoft got it right with these apps and their cross-integration. Our team relies on this HEAVILY and have only encountered limited bugs. It works seamlessly on a Chromebook and I am in it daily. All day long. Well done Microsoft. Google should be concerned.
  • Canva – This is a great app for the small business that needs help putting together creative content. From documents, to banners, to marketing materials, this app has everything for the small business, as well as a great repository for larger businesses to keep consistent branding.
  • Photo Editors – I don’t create original artwork anymore, however I do work with photos quite often. There are several great photo editors for Chromebook available. Even the native photo editor on Chromebook has gotten better. But if a few more tools are needed, here’s a few more, Pixlr, Polarr, Fotor and even Google Photos.
  • Drive Converter – I love this tool. This is a simple way to convert files fast. Drive Converter will convert Documents, Images and Music Files, simply and quickly.
  • Zip Extractor – One of the unique issues with Chromebooks, is that it does not natively extract compressed files. You can compress them, but not extract them. Zip Extractor will extract files back to your computer or Google Drive. Of course, if you are doing anything on a server, Secure Shell is better suited for compressing files on the server.
  • Feedly – When Google Sunsetted Reader, Feedly was a recommended place to migrate. As someone who loves simplicity, Feedly has done an incredible job with the app. I use it daily and it keeps getting better and better. If you need your own curated news in one place, Feedly is it.
  • Writebox – For all of my writing, I use simple text editors. Currently I am using Minimalist Markdown Editor, but sometimes I use Writebox, an online simple text editor. Getting access to your writing from anywhere is extremely convenient. With Writebox you can also use Markdown to format your text. A simple and well done tool.
  • A Web Whiteboard – I’m pretty big on communication tools. One that I love, but don’t use that often, is Web Whiteboard. I don’t use pen and paper at all and so there is inevitably times when you need to jot down an illustration to make a point. Web Whiteboard is for exactly those times. Well done, reliable and feature rich.
  • HelloSign – For some weird reason, I’ve been signing a lot of documents lately. Like at least a couple a month for the last year. This was a pain, before I found HelloSign. You can use this app to upload a document, sign it, then re-download it as a pdf and send it off to someone. It works great.
  • HelloFax – Do you own a fax? Who does anymore!? Yet, there still are times when you are required to fax something. This web app does the trick. Combine that with HelloSign and you are all set!
  • MyCodeStock – I needed a place to store customized pieces of code that I was using. It seemed I was always going back to an old project where I used that code last and then just pulling from there. This sometimes worked, but I wanted to put more comments in and set it up to be more “re-use friendly.” Then I ran across MyCodeStock and all my code is accessible from anywhere.
  • Wireframe.cc – When working with designers and developers, I’ve found, the more communication I can give, the better. Even some clients find that a simple wireframe can help them understand the idea more clearly. Wireframe.cc is a brilliant tool that is easy to use and share.
  • Buffer – There are more social scheduling apps in this space now than there used to be, but Buffer is a tried and true tool and my preferred scheduler of choice. I really like their phone apps and their simplistic approach. The tool has gotten better and more efficient over time.

Extensions

  • Window Resizer – Chrome’s Device Toolbar is great for quick emulation, but what if you just want something faster? With Window Resizer you can get as granular as you like and as flexible as you like. This extension is quick and convenient and built well.
  • BuiltWith Technology Profiler – Sometimes you want to know some of the software another site is using. BuiltWith is a standard tool to look up and see just that. I use it more like a, “hey, I like that feature, what software runs that…” kind of tool.
  • Lorem Ipsum Generator – As you zero in on a layout that you are building, you need to fill out the boxes and areas that make up the design. The Lorem Ipsum Generator extension is great for doing that.
  • ColorPick Eyedropper – This is a sleeper tool that you don’t think you would use that much, but you end up using more than you think. What’s that color hex code again? Easy.
  • Simple Time Track – I’m all about simple tools that have a big impact. There are many reasons to track your time, figuring out cost, consulting, proof of work, etc. Simple Time Track lives in your browser, tracks your time and then allows you to export to s spreadsheet. Very efficient.
  • Awesome Screen Shot and Screen Video Recorder – If you ever work with a team, customers or support, this is a lifesaver. I am detailing two here, because I use them for different reasons. Awesome Screen Shot, has a lot more features and details, which is great for when I need it.
  • TechSmith Snagit Screen Capture and Screencasting – If you are short on time and want something fast and quick, the Snagit extension is great. Independent of it’s big brother, this works in the browser and is instant.
  • Default power-saving settings – Sometimes you just want the display to not go to sleep. This is quick and does that. Boom.
  • Page Ruler – When building responsive layouts, you need to know dimensions. It’s also a great tool for troubleshooting front end issues.
  • WhatFont – Just like ColorPick, this tool is perfect when you need it. With a lot more fonts available, picking the right font is now that much easier for your design.
  • Strong Password Generator – With every service having you generate a new password every month, it was getting a little out of hand. This does it for me and is independent of all other password maintainer software. It’s fast and works quickly.
  • Flash Control – Flash is still around and still being used. Though Chrome is now building this feature more and more into the browser. This assures that Flash doesn’t start automatically. It works great and runs in the background.
  • mycodestock.com clipper – Simple, yet effective tool for putting scripts in your library. Better than bookmarking them and you can modify them more in the app. I’m using it more and more.
  • Page Analytics – A great way to get a snapshot of where people are clicking around on your pages. This isn’t just the only tool you should go by of course, but it’s another data point that can guide you to better converting your site.

Summary

I really like the Chromebook ecosystem. Working in the browser has always felt natural to me and now all of the tools are catching up. There was a time when I wondered if apps would replace the web and we would all be building sites in apps and building apps in apps. It seems like that hasn’t happened and a new surge in web apps, especially in the Enterprise, as well as SaaS, are becoming more of the preferred approach. I’m not saying apps are dead by any means, it’s becoming more obvious that everything has it’s place. For example, my banking app is much more practical for me on a daily basis, than my banking website.

There are new Chrome Apps, Web Apps and Extensions coming out all the time. Just the other day I was introduced to Noisli and MindMap Tab. Work in an office? Check out the Nope extension! As innovation progresses and software authors expand to get more exposure, the dramatic change in how people use the web to work will be great to watch.

To be continued…

You just finished reading Going All In On The Web – Part 2. You can read Part 1 here.

2 comments

  1. Hi Wes! Nice to hear from you again. I’m still a Mac user (my 2014 MacBook Air is still working well after 4+ years). But I appreciate reading about your perspective on the Chromebook ecosystem, and the tools that help you stay productive. Good references to tools I’ll have to check out further. Cheers!

    1. Robert, glad your Mac is still going strong! I always kept my Mac’s for at least 5 years. A lot of the web tools I listed you can take advantage of even with your Mac. Hope life, business and the renovations on your house are going well!

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