Living without the internet is no fun once you’ve trimmed your life around its enormous and diverse benefits. But why on earth would you choose to live without anyway? In my case it was nothing to do with a quest for a back-to-basics ascetic Good Life, and everything to do with moving house. I had to wait three weeks for a BT OpenReach engineer to resplice a landline that had been relegated by cable TV years before. See Broadband Advisor.
It doesn’t need spelling out that after taking for granted online banking, shopping, fact finding, email, Skype, internet radio, you name it, going back to the manual ‘analogue’ way of doing things can be a chore.
Okay, so I cheated a little. First there was the option of mobile-connected computing, made possible by 3G cellular data. Armed with a tablet and a phone, I thought I could entirely make do for a few weeks without an online PC. Turns out, I can’t. See Mobile Advisor.
Some things are easier to do on a mobile device, for sure. Checking trains is one - it’s much quicker to look up train cancellations and delays after a centimetre of snow through an iPhone than with the full-fat web browser. Most other things, I found, though, are slower, more cumbersome or just plain undo-able.
Thankfully, a new neighbour granted me the keys to the internet kingdom with the help of her Wi-Fi network. But power users need more than simple connectivity - we need to bind MAC addresses, open and forward ports, and mess with ICMP echo requests. Ideally, we need to do so using a proper keyboard and mouse/trackpad for our man-machine interface. Laptops and desktops are here for a while yet.
Google doesn’t - or rather, didn’t, until recently - recognise this condition called ‘no internet’. Its Chromebook platform is all about a maintenance-free laptop that has its software bugs silently patched in the background, saves your documents as you go, and is sandboxed to the hilt to prevent a hacker or you from ever breaking it. The platform mandates a continuous connection to Google’s online servers when need to use it, though. That model doesn’t work in even 21st-century cities yet, and it really falls down when you step outside Blighty and face crippling online roaming charges.
With the latest Chromebooks (we’ve reviewed Samsung’s Series 3), Google allows some offline usage, with a limited number of server-side apps also able to run locally. The Chromebook is a slow-burn project for Mountain View, but by giving out a ‘free’ operating system and promising to take care of all the hassles of maintaining a computer, it has understood the needs of the greater number of modern internet users.
The bigger story is really the chip that drives this laptop. Entirely free of the Wintel legacy, the Chromebook’s Linux-based operating system now runs on an ARM Cortex-A15 chip, showing the pathway to the next generation of not just tablets and phones, but PC-like PCs that will run cool and run quiet. And do so for days, not hours, from battery. Now that’s what I call an always-on connection.