Chromebook: the BEST "Senior Computer"

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Are you're using an old computer that isn't working very well any more? Are you stuck with it because you can't afford a new PC, or wouldn't know how to use a new system? Do you miss the simplicity and reliablilty of your WebTV or MSNTV2?

In 2013, when MSNTV announced it was closing, we worried about our members who might have to struggle with a PC, or who might fall for one of those obsolete, over-priced "senior computers." Then we found the Chromebook!

Chromebooks had been around for a couple of years, but new models from Acer and Samsung had dropped the cost to around $200! We bought one to check out, and were amazed and delighted with what we found, especially for seniors and people who had been using MSNTV.

  • It isn't complicated to use.
  • It's perfect for email, browsing, shopping, playing games, having video chats with family, and other things that are important to our users.
  • It comes with email and Google Drive, free.
  • You can't mess it up by making a mistake from the keyboard.
  • You don't need to do any maintenance, and it keeps itself up to date with new releases.
  • It can't get any of the common malware, trojans, and viruses that afflict PCs, so you don't need anti-virus software.
  • There is no subscription cost for the Chromebook.
  • It's always up to date with current web technology.
  • You can even connect it to an HDTV and use it from your easy chair!

Chromebook, Now in "3 Flavors"

When we first tested the Chromebook last year, it was only available as a notebook (e.g., small laptop) computer. Since then, it has become a huge success, and now is also available as a Chromebox (set-top box, or "desktop box"), and as an all-in-one monitor-computer called the Chromebase.




Image of ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop Image of LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud Desktop
By Acer, Samsung, Toshiba, HP, etc. By ASUS, HP By LG
$199 - $320 $179 $349

While the Chromebook, Chromebox and Chromebase may look different, that's just on the surface: they all work exactly the same way. So we're using "Chromebook" as the general term. Everything we say about the Chromebook system and operation applies to all of them.

The Advantages of the Chromebook

All Operations are in the Browser

On the Chromebook, everything happens in the browser. Not just web browsing and email, but instant messages and chat, video and audio, and anything else like word processing or spreadsheets. There are no other programs to install or run.  That makes it a very easy -- there's basically only one thing to learn.

But what's a browser? It's true that the majority of American consumers (of any age) don't know the answer to the question. But if anything, a browser-based system is easier, because "open your browser" is something you never say. The WebTV and MSNTV2, the most senior-friendly Internet systems ever made, were browser-based. Users didn't know it, but it didn't mean they didn't know how to use it. (A browser is the program on your computer that you use to surf the Internet.)

Security and Virus Protection

When one of my MSNTV-using members would move to a PC, my biggest fear for them was malware infection. It would happen within days, if not hours, and new users were clueless about how to prevent it. The most frequent call for technical help that I receive is from someone who can't play games or watch videos because of malware.

With a Chromebook, common malware and drive-by downloads just don't affect it.  So even when someone just can't resist clicking on that email attachment or scammy ad "just to see," it's not going to leave malware on their system.  And without viruses, there's no anti-virus software to purchase or keep up to date, either.

Maintenance and Support

Have you ever accidentally clicked something that crashed your program or froze your computer? One of the biggest fears of an inexperienced PC user is they can click the wrong thing and mess up their computer. It can happen, especially if you delete something the system needs, or drag it out of its folder.

That's NOT going to happen with Chromebook because there's nothing critical that can be dragged out of place or deleted. So relax -- there's nothing you can do that will screw it up.

In terms of maintenance, the Chrome system takes care of keeping itself up to date. For backup, it's easy to set Google Drive and/or Dropbox as the place that files are saved, and that becomes an automatic backup.

Different Users on the Same Chromebook

Chromebook is designed so that different people can use it, without anyone ever getting into someone else's account. All of your account settings are stored with your Google (GMail) account, so if someone else wants to use the machine, you just log off, and let them log in with their Google account. And you could log in on someone else's Chromebook, too, and you would have all of your stuff -- even your Games4TV login. When you're done, just log out and give their Chromebook back to them.

Remember how useful it was that WebTV let you have multiple user accounts with different emails? You can do this with Chromebook, too -- just add a new user and make a new GMail account for them. I have a an extra account on my Chromebook so that I can experiment with things as my cat Louie, without having all of the things in my own account getting in the way.

Printing from Chromebook

Your old "perfectly good printer" from your WebTV or your old PC will not work with the Chromebook.  The Chromebook is designed to print over a network, rather than plugging it in via a USB port. The good news is that there are lots of great printers that will work, via Google Cloud Print, and they start at quite low prices, below $100.

With a Cloud Ready printer, it's a quick and painless setup. HP ePrint-enabled printers, for example, all connect directly to the Internet and are ready to print out of the box. To register them with Google's CloudPrint service, you simply enter the email address of the printer (every ePrint-enabled printer has one) on Google's CloudPrint connection page, and you're ready to print. All of HP's HPEnvy printers are ePrint enabled.

If you're keeping your old PC and you already have a printer connected to it, you can print from the Chromebook to that printer through your old PC, as long as they are on the same network (and the PC is on). If you're replacing an old PC, you might do this and put off buying a new printer until you decide that you really want a new one.

Connecting to your TV

You want to surf the web on TV? Just plug it in! Every Chromebook and the Chromebox (of course) has an HDMI connector so that you can use your flat-screen TV as the display. You can even do this with the Chromebase, which is in its own monitor, because every Chromebook is designed so that it can use 2 displays at once. The Chromebox, which doesn't come with a display, has two plugs so that you can use an HDMI display, and/or monitor with a DVI connector (modern monitors will have this and, for older ones, there are convertor cables). There's a key to switch displays right on the keyboard.

What You Can, and Can't, Do on a Chromebook

With the Chromebook, everything that it runs is a "web app" -- that is, in an HTML page that runs in the web browser. This isn't as limiting as you might think. There is a big "web store" filled with all kind of apps, from productivity like word processors and spreadsheets, to graphics creation, music, chat and instant messaging, games, educational programs, e-book readers, and much more. Most of these are free, and many of them can be used "offline" -- that is, when you don't have an Internet connection.

The Chromebook does run Adobe Flash. This lets the Chromebook have apps that can rival some PC programs, such as the really good (and free) Pixlr Editor, which is a lot like Photoshop and runs on the Chromebook. Google recently has indicated that some Android apps might be made to run on Chromebook in the near future (which would be cool, because we want Google Earth!).

What you can't do is run Windows programs. This is one reason that the common malware doesn't affect the Chromebook, because malware infects by downloading into the PC. That also means that you can't connect a disk drive that has some old Windows games and run them on the Chromebook. If you've got some that are important to you, keep your PC just for those.

The Chromebooks all have USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports to connect other devices. But if a special driver program or other software is required to run a device, it won't work if you plug it in. I mentioned above that you can't plug in a USB printer; other USB peripherals that can't be used are CD-ROM/DVD drives.

What can be used, however, are keyboards, mice, trackpads, including wireless ones. You won't need a webcam with a Chromebook or Chromebase because it's part of the system. On the Chromebox, you don't get a webcam but most Logitech webcams will work when plugged in. If you need extra storage, you can plug in a USB "thumb drive" (aka SSD, flash drive, keychain drive, etc.) or an external USB hard drive. And all of the Chromebook systems include a slot for an SD card, so if you have a digital camera, you can use that to transfer your pictures.

Why We Recommend the Chromebook

We've had a Chromebook for about a year now, and I like it better every day. It also has gotten better, because Google releases a Chrome update every couple of months. I think I started on Chrome 23, and my current version is Chrome 30. 

When the Chromebox came out I got one, connected it to my living room TV, and used the wireless keyboard with trackpad that I had bought for the Chromebook. Very nice -- Chromebook on the big screen!

But more than that, we've heard good things about it from almost everyone we know who got one. Just to see how easy it might be, I actually traveled to one of our members' homes and set it up for her to replace her WebTV. She had no computer experience, but took to it right away and uses it every day.

The Chromebook really doesn't come with much of a manual, but fortunately, Michael Miller has written a really excellent book on it, My Google Chromebook. It is written in a clear, simple way, and it doesn't assume that you know about computers. It walks you through everything, with pictures so that you know exactly what he's talking about and what it looks like on your Chromebook. It's probably the best accessory you can have for your Chromebook.

So there you have it. When you think about it, WebTV cost more when it launched ($349), and MSNTV2 cost more when it launched, too ($250). Affordable and easy to use, they were game-changers when it came to getting people online. I remember a senior who wrote to me, way back then, about her WebTV: "being shut in no longer means being shut out."

The Chromebook is being marketed to students and schools, computer professionals and business people, and it's becoming really popular with them. At this writing, the Acer C720 is Amazon's best-selling laptop, and the ASUS Chromebook is the best-selling desktop.

But I also think it should be marketed to seniors and people who are new to computing. It's empowering, it's simple, and its 1/3 the price of the so-called "senior computers." The Chromebase is really interesting for the senior market. It's like a Chromebook, complete and ready to use right out of the box. But it's also like what you could get by setting a Chromebox up with a bigger screen and a full-sized keyboard and mouse, great for people for whom a laptop may be too small.

For more on the Chromebook, come to our Chromebook Club in Net4TV Guides. We've got an entire topic set aside for you to ask questions.