Once upon a time, a shiny new Windows laptop could be reduced to a slow crawl within about three years. Endless security updates take their toll on the processor and memory. The hard drive fills up with fragmented junk and badly written applications hog the system or simply take it down with them as they crash.
These days, a well maintained home laptop should expect a good five year life and that’s partly because you’ve likely gravitated toward your tablet and/or smartphone for your daily internet fix.
It’s a little more heartbreaking to replace a home laptop these days, especially if it’s not your main machine now that mobile devices have taken over much of the load. But at the same time, it’s nice to have a proper keyboard, big screen and access to the ‘desktop’ versions of websites from time to time.
What to do? Well, perhaps see if you can get more useful years out of your existing laptop by ditching Windows and installing the CloudReady Chromebook experience.
You may have noticed Chromebooks on the shelves at your local electronics store. They’re usually stripped back laptops that are designed to run the Chrome browser from Google and nothing else. They’re hugely popular in US schools, but haven’t taken Europe by quite the same storm. Some argue that they’re a bit too limited given the lack of functionality without a live internet connection - but honestly, how often do you use your computer without an internet connection?
The advantage of a Chromebook is simplicity. It boots up in seconds, you log in with your Google account and you’re on the internet with the Chrome Browser and Chrome Apps. All the patching and updates are done silently in the background by Google and there is little or no performance degradation over time.
With CloudReady, home users need not go out and buy a ChromeBook, they can convert their Windows laptop in a series of simple steps for free!
I tried out the process on a Dell E4200 dating from about 2008. It’s one of about 200 supported models and it really had reached the end of its useful days as a Windows machine - but there was nothing at all wrong with the hardware and I still find it a pleasure to type on. The whole process took about 25 minutes. You download the software onto a USB stick, then use a Chrome app to put the computer into a ChromeBook recovery mode. The computer then boots up from the USB stick and installs the ChromeBook operating system. Do remember to back up your data. Everything will be wiped!!!
As a Chromebook, it now flies. Booting in about ten seconds and coping just fine with as many tabs open as my own brain can handle - it’s become a genuinely useful device again for keeping up with email, editing documents in Google Docs and general web-surfing.
As a solution for families, I can see this saving some real money. The laptop gets a new lease of life. There are fewer ‘technical support’ requirements, if any, AND if it gets damaged by the kids, it’s not the end of the world.
The CloudReady software can be found at Neverware’s site and instructions for installing the ChromeBook experience are here. Note that you’ll need a USB stick handy with at least 8GB capacity. Neverware have done a good job with the written instructions, but if you have any trouble, they have posted a useful YouTube video, which talks you through the steps whilst demonstrating the steps on a computer.
CloudReady is free for personal use, but they also have packages for business and education that include a management console so that you can run a fleet of these in a school or college.
If you’re a fan of the Google Chrome browser and fancy turning that old laptop into a something useful again, then this is a simple and effective way to give it a new lease of life!