Are Chromebooks a Viable Option for Your Software Developers?

Chromebooks might seem like consumer-only devices, but they do have business use-cases, even for developers.
March 17, 2022
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Chromebooks have made a huge difference for consumers looking to break from the complications and insecurities of using operating systems like Windows. Chromebooks are powered by ChromeOS, which is an operating system that functions by using a web browser as its primary user interface. 

The idea behind ChromeOS was not only to give consumers a much easier platform to use but one that is more secure and efficient than the traditional offerings. And consumers ate it up. According to Canalys, Chromebook shipments grew 275% in Q1 2021, with HP leading that surge with nearly 4.5 million units shipped.

As the pandemic continues to rage across the globe, Chromebook sales should continue to climb. Why? Because they are far cheaper than standard laptops, easier to deploy, and simpler to use. That’s a win-win for any business.

But what about developers? Given Chromebooks don’t typically allow users to install regular applications, are they a viable option for your developers?

It depends.

Let us explain.

It’s all about IDEs

The very first thing your development team will want to know about using a Chromebook, centers on IDEs (Integrated Development Environment). Because you can’t install typical apps (in the typical fashion) on a Chromebook, this could severely limit your developers. However, there are options. Said options are of the cloud sort.

That’s right, there are cloud-based IDEs available that your developers can take advantage of. 

Here’s a shortlist.

VS Code for the Web

If your development team uses VS Code, they’ll be glad to hear there’s a cloud-based version (VS Code for the Web) that’ll perform just fine on their Chromebooks. That’s a good thing because VS Code is one of the more popular IDEs on the planet. And with VS Code for the Web, your developers will enjoy all the features they’ve grown accustomed to, such as syntax highlighting, extension support, GitHub and Azure repo support, and even local storage support.

VS Code for the Web is free to use for any developer.

Google Apps Script

If your developers work with JavaScript, Google Apps Script is a very good option that makes it possible for your frontend teams to develop automations, add-ons, custom functions, and even chatbots. This IDE makes it possible to automate tasks across Google Workspace and third-party products and includes all of the necessary APIs for your developers to create their own applications. There are even sample Quick Starts to help your developers get going. 

Google Apps Script is free to use.

AWS Cloud9

Amazon purchased the fan-favorite Cloud9 IDE back in 2016 with the intention of fully integrating it into Amazon Web Services. With an extremely intuitive interface, it takes zero time for your developers to get up and running. With AWS Cloud9, you run your development environment on a managed Amazon EC2 instance or any existing Linux server that supports SSH. And because it’s a cloud-based IDE, it’s perfectly suited for ChromeOS. 

AWS Cloud9 also makes it easy to collaborate (in real-time) on code with just a few clicks. You can write, run, and debug serverless applications with the help of pre-configured SDKs, libraries, and plugins. Your developers can work with over 40 languages (including Node.js, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Go, and C++).

AWS Cloud9 comes at no additional charge to your regular Amazon EC2 instance charges.

CodeTasty

CodeTasty is another cloud-based IDE that supports over 40 languages and includes features like real-time language tools, a powerful (built-in) editor, zero setup, plenty of available extensions, love collaboration, revision control, terminal access, and desktop-like speed. There’s even a Chrome application your developers can use.

CodeTasty can be used for free with 1 sandbox workspace, 2 SSH/FTP workspaces, 2 collaborators, and terminal access. You can also opt to pay from $4.00 to $50.00 per month for other plans. Check out the price/feature matrix for more information.

Linux, Linux, Linux

It’s not just about the cloud. Thanks to the help of the Google developers, it’s possible to install Linux support on a Chromebook (without removing ChromeOS). This is similar to the Windows Subsystem for Linux. And, thanks to the likes of Flatpak, you can even install and run applications like the Eclipse Java IDE. There’s also the likes of the Bluefish, Geany, and Gedit. 

But even more powerful is the command line. If you’re comfortable with developing without a GUI, there’s a wealth of powerful tools at your fingertips. You can even install Git for repository integration. And, thanks to Linux, your developers can even install Docker to work with container deployments.

The Caveat

You might be thinking, “This is great! I can deploy cheap Chromebooks to my development team and save some money.” Before you start drawing up purchase orders for low-powered, inexpensive Chromebooks, know that you shouldn’t. Developers do require more substantial hardware than the average user. Because of this, you’ll want to bypass the bottom end of the barrel and jump up to the higher-end devices. 

Also, with running Linux apps on a Chromebook, there are a few hoops to jump through, in order to allow those applications access to the local filesystem. It’s not a big challenge, but it’s yet one more step you’ll have to take to make it work.

The Concluding Verdict

The answer to the question depends. If your developers can get by with a cloud-based IDE, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t consider Chromebooks as an alternative. They’re simple to use, fast, secure, and cost-effective. 

However, if your developers either require an IDE that isn’t available in the cloud or don’t want to have to hassle with Linux on ChromeOS, then a Chromebook is probably not the best option for your teams. Of course, you could always experiment with one or two developers, to see if it’s a solid fit. Given the cost of Chromebooks, you won’t be out much and, should the experiment succeed, the ROI could be impressive.

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