Chromebook as a development machine

Chromebook as a development machine

Update followup: One month in

I drank the cool-aid and bought a Samsung ARM Chromebook. My Macbook Pro needed repairing and I can’t go without a laptop for two weeks. For a living I am a Ruby on Rails developer, most of my time I spent on either the commandline and Vim or in a browser. I figured I just as well might get a Chromebook which only has these two things. My plan was to use plain Chrome OS with a VPS. I really didn’t want to install Ubuntu on the laptop. In the end the only thing I tweaked on the Chromebook itself was to run it in developer mode.


Recently I have gotten quite enthusiastic about the devops tool Ansible which I now use to provision my VPS. I decided to do this not only because I liked Ansible but also because there are so many different VPS vendors out there, I wanted to be able to quickly and painlessly switch from one vendor to the other. Currently I rent a 2GB VPS from BudgetVM for \$10 a month. Initially I was looking for a 4GB VPS but the price point was more important to me and who knew how my RAM I would need? After having run this setup for a couple of days I think 2GB is more than enough, actually I now think the order of importance is: latency, disk IO, CPU, RAM. What helped me enormously was, this site finally gave me insight in the overgrown VPS market (and they have coupons too!).


Many people are compiling Ruby from source for their servers. I think that is silly to say the least. Initially I set out to create my own Ubuntu Ruby packages, this is not for the faint of heart and I was struggling. Then I found Brightbox, bless them! These guys are maintaining a PPA with the latest and greatest Ruby builds (also an experimental PPA). They even threw in some optimizations. This saved me hours.



Lots of road bumps! I have tried ‘crosh’ the native shell of Chrome OS and I have tried Secure Shell. The main downside of crosh is the it runs in a tab which then eats your Ctrl-W. I really need that. I have twiddled with vim bindings and I might get back to it but for now I have settled for Secure Shell. The latter one makes it easier to store your ssh keys, which, by the way, I had to generate on a different machine (unless you run in Chrome OS developer mode).


I also struggled with a setup in which I could use my windows effectively. On my Macbook I used iTerm which had several tabs. Running Secure Shell in a tab is not possible which it eating Ctrl-W so I run that in a window. For a tabs substitute I now use tmux, I’m still getting used to it. So now I only have 2 windows between which I can cycle with \‘alt-tab’. One running Chrome and the other running Secure Shell. I find it very important that with one particular keystroke I always get to the same spot.



I still haven’t found a proper way of playing my tunes. I have a large iTunes library but I would be willing to switch to some online service for less than \$10 per month. For now I resort to online radio which involves Flash players. These are no fun at all and cause the load on my Chromebook to steadily rise to around 3.5 at which point things start to slow down noticeably.


I receive email, sometimes even with an attachment. This I can download but what to do with a .xsd file? What I would really like is for my Downloads folder to be mounted on my VPS.

My resources


In my vps-ansible-config repo all provisioning comes together. It does:

  • install Ruby
  • add new user
  • install basic packages
  • fixes locale
  • sets up my dev environment
  • links up my dotfiles


I have seriously spent time on my dotfiles. I have files for:

  • vim
  • zsh
  • git
  • tmux
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