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Can you live without Microsoft by using Chrome and still be productive?

By Hector Cisneros
Courtesy of Flickr

As a writer who researches and writes about marketing, digital security, tech trends and all things internet, I am always concerned about losing my ability to use my computers to access the internet and then write about the subjects I'm interested in. I have been doing this long enough to remember internet outages due to DOS attacks, power outages due to hurricanes, and a more recent issue - that of constant updates which often break the operational ability of my systems. This last problem has led me on a search for alternatives to my dependency on Microsoft products as my primary tools for writing,  doing internet research and managing my computer. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, I will explore my experience of living without Microsoft products for a couple of weeks to see if I can still get all my work done in a fast and efficient way. So get ready to take down some notes as I discuss the pros and cons of living without Microsoft and switching to Chrome for three weeks.

Recently I purchased a Chromebook and a replacement for an old Samsung 10" Android tablet I purchased for Christmas in 2012 (which still works almost as fast as it did when I purchased it). This new tablet provides me with all the features of my old tablet, plus it comes with a keyboard as well. So it dawned on me that this would be an excellent time to test to see if I could live without my Mircosoft habit and actually be productive without using MS office, Windows 10 or any Microsoft products to complete my daily writing and work objectives. 

Let me start by saying that I have been, for the most part, happily using Microsoft products since 1981!  At one time, I was a Certified Microsoft Systems Engineer (MCSE) and have been using Microsoft products for over 37 years. I like Microsofts products, their functionality and maturity. What I don't like about Microsoft has more to do with specific instances, when they have rushed products and updates to market. I also have a problem with the invasion of privacy that all large tech companies seem to be obsessed with today. Microsoft is not an exception to the invasion of privacy tech crowd.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the past, I have written several articles about being overly dependent on a single vendor for all your tech needs. For example, I wrote about the importance of the browser wars in two articles; Battle of the Browsers - Internet Dominance and Why Your Choice Matters and the Browser Wars – Then and Now. Today, TV shows about the browser wars are all the rage, but the fact remains that the outcome of those wars has had a tremendous impact on our digital lives.

My writing about how the tech giants frequently step on our toes (by accident or otherwise) also shows how I feel when they often abuse their semi exclusive control of specific software applications and SAS (software as a service) products. My articles called Why do Giant Companies Step on Consumers? Part 1: and Part 2: addressed this matter. I also have addressed the issues of how changes to algorithms and frequent updates to their operating systems has caused havoc for businesses and consumers alike. Read my articles called "Are Internet Algorithms giving Mary Shelley a run for her Frankenstein Monster?" and "Are You Currently Living in Digital Update Hell?", to see what I am talking about.
Courtesy of Vimeo

I have also stated that many of the tech giants are trying to force us to pick an exclusive platform camp, whether it be Microsoft, Apple, Google or even Linux for that matter. However, I am not oblivious to the importance of staying power and the depth and breadth of mature products these tech giants have produced for the general public. My beef is when they put expediency and corporate profits over the product value they provide. We the consumer of their products and services need to make sure that we hold their feet to the fire by making them provide real value for our hard-earned money.

It has always been my position (even when I was an MCSE) that business users should never be overly dependent on any one technical product, service or manufacturer, because eventually every giant company in time will abuse the exclusive power they have over your business. In our office today, we are using several tech giant products and platforms. This sometimes makes it a little harder to  share and collaborate with our employees but it keeps us from being overly dependent on one vendor. We use Microsoft Windows and Office for a lot of our work. We use Google business cloud services for browser, storage and email and we use other third party products for accounting, security and general data management.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In this article I am going to address many of the advantages and disadvantages I experience using Microsoft Windows products  and how they compare to that of of using Google Chrome and a few third party products to do the same work. In no way am I implying that these are the only alternatives. Apple has always been a viable alternative to Microsoft. So, is Linux for those members of the tech savvy community (especially those who like freeware products). I am limiting this article to these two platforms because it would take a whole book to compare all four platforms (even if I was just comparing browsing, office products, blog publishing and cloud computing). Now let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Microsoft and Google products.

The Advantages of using  Microsft Products  - First off, Microsoft products, especially Mocrpspft Office is a comprehensive, well integrated, full featured, productivity platform that is widely used by millions of businesses around the world. Microsoft products are the most widely used and generally accepted as the de facto business productivity platform.  Microsoft isn't going away anytime soon and Microsoft does work hard to improve its product performance and fix any bugs and security issues that crop up when users find issues.

Whether you believe something is an Advantage or Disadvantages depends on three related issues
#1. Are you solely acclimated to using only one product? 
#2. Does your alternative product accomplish the same function equally or better?
#3. Does your alternative product need greater or lesser support than the equivalent product?
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

#1 The learning Curve - Now let's look at what determines these three factors. First off, if you have only or mostly used Microsoft products, you will find that there is a learning curve you will have to deal with. For some people this is a big hurdle. This is true whether you're switching from Microsoft Office to Googles G-suite, Apple's iWork or Linux or OpenOffice. This learning curve will seem frustrating in the beginning, but it gets better as you acclimate the new product. Additionally, if you're switching from a Windows laptop to a Chromebook or Apple Table, there will be differences between keyboards and command keystrokes that you will have to get used to. For example, my Chromebook doesn't have a caps lock key (you can lock caps by using a combination of keys). You will also find that there are more compatibility issues and fewer add-on options for Chrome and Linux products than there are for Windows products. Apple products have a very mature ecosystem, so I don't feel you would have many issues with add-ons or compatibility problems concerns there.

#2 Is it Capable of doing the same function? - In many cases, most of the applications I have tried to use as an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Office are adequate for most of our common business needs. In some cases, they may have fewer automated functions, but that does not mean you still can't get the job done. Also in some cases the alternative product may even be superior to the Micosoft alternative, I believe most Apple users would share this point of view. From this perspective, dollar for dollar, a Chromebook is a superior browsing device when compared to browsing on a Microsoft Windows laptop, even if the Windows laptop is using a Chrome browser. Also, if you own a Windows computer, you know that startup time can be lengthy (anywhere from a minute to several minutes). Apple has always worked hard to make startup, quick and I can tell you that higher end Android devices and my Chromebook start up very quickly.

In most cases the Microsoft ecosystem has more variety and choices than my Chrome book. However, this is not a one sided equation, In some cases the alternative product may be simpler and easier to learn and may only need minimal capabilities. For example, if all you want to do is browse the web and send emails, a cloud-based product may be a better alternative. For example, a Chromebook and higher end Apple or Android tablet can handle these functions easily and adequately. Also, these devices usually have several advantages with battery life, lower cost and more built-in security than a Windows laptop. They also usually have a much lower cost of ownership as well.
Courtesy of Vimeo

#3 Which has the lowest cost of Ownership? -  Speaking of lower cost of ownership, I calculate the cost of ownership by adding the cost of the hardware needed, the software cost required (including ongoing cost) and the maintenance cost (which includes upgrades, SAS fees, security fees, downtime etc.).

My least expensive Windows laptop/tablet PC costs me a little over $400.00. I can use the cloud version of Microsft Office on it as I have an annual license for  $99 a year. I also have an annual license for Ginger grammar check of $89.88 and a similar Gramerly license for $139.95. This adds up up to a total cost of 728.83 not including any downtime cost for updates and upgrades. I am excluding the ongoing cost of anti-malware protection on this system, but it would be a minimum of $59 a year.

My Chromebook on sale was $229 (regular price was $339), and I used Blogger as my editing platform. I could have used Google Docs as well, since both are free to use. I used the free versions of Ginger and Grammerly as plugin apps in my Chrome browser. This provided my grammar and spell checking and I used free plug-in for audio playback in Chrome, to have it read out loud my articles for proofing purposes. Total cost. $229 (retail $339). The Chromebook is mostly cloud based and includes Googles anti-malware service that run in the background. I can also add free scanner apps to Chrome as additional protection at little or no cost.

Now lets look at the operational aspects of these two devices. One of my personal pet peeves is downtime because of updates and upgrades. Microsoft goes out of its way to update and upgrade its Windows and Office subscriptions often. However, this now causes a considerable amount of downtime. My home and office computers often are down, upgrading a couple of hours at a time at least once a month (sometimes once every other week). I am not talking about the download times, just the reboot and blue screen issues. Also Windows startup time is extensive, even on a brand new computer with minimal applications installed. 
HP Chromebook Courtesy of Flickr

My Chromebook, on the other hand doesn't update anywhere near as frequently (maybe one every six months or so) and its startup time is minimal. I have always noticed that when I open a lot tabs when browsing on a Microsoft system, that Windows becomes unstable, slows way down and sometimes crashes. This is especially true just before an update takes place. I have not noticed anywhere near the same type of problem on my Chromebook.

Some may say that I am being unfair to Microsoft Windows and Office because that system has greater capabilities and that I am comparing apples and oranges. There is some truth in that point of view and I acknowledge that. However, this does not negate the fact that I am capable of producing the same final product (our blogs) without using all of the sophisticated capabilities that Microsoft products bring to the table. I have found that for this particular application (i.e. Blogging), the Chromebook is not only more than adequate, it is superior in performance, startup speed, cost and maintenance.

If you write for a living and are solely dependent on just one vendor, I recommend that you expand your horizons and knowledge base so that you can freely choose what is most cost effective for your needs. It is true that there is a learning curve if you switch from one product to another. Truth be told is that all products are upgraded regularly and this in and of itself causes a perpetual learning curve, If you are a Windows advocate like me, I still recommend that you learn other platforms because you never know what is coming around the corner. Being solely dependent on a single platform minimizes your choices and allows the mega corporations to use us as guinea pigs with their products. 

To choose the best solution, you should start by evaluating the task at hand. What will this computing device be used for? Look at its capabilities not from the perspective of what you have always used, but from the total cost of ownership. Can it do the job you are asking of it? The bottom line for me after engaging in this experiment is this: Reducing my dependency on a single vendor has given me the freedom to get more work done, even when my primary computer is down for updates, upgrades and regular maintenance. I hope you decide to explore other alternative. I would be willing to bet that your experiment will open your eyes to a whole new world of other possibilities as well.

That's my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

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This article explores the pros and cons of blogging using a Micosoft Windows laptop with MS Office and other apps verse using  a Chromebook with Blogger and the similar apps. Lastly, this article also provides links to articles includinglink to the BlogTalkRadio show that goes with this article.

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Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success” and the co-author along with his business partner Carl Weiss of their hit book also called “Working the Web to Win.”

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