I’m Not a Mac #13–The End in the Google Cloud

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This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my migration away from Apple after 15 years as a Mac user. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.

It took four years, but I’ve finally come full circle. Four years ago, I left Apple’s single-company ecosystem to explore more flexible, open hardware and software solutions upon which to base my largely online life. Now, I’m settling down into another single-company ecosystem: Google’s.

When I began my “I’m Not a Mac” series in summer 2009, after 15 years as a Mac user I had gotten tired of Apple deciding for me how I was allowed (and not allowed) to use my own computer, phone, and the software contained on both. First I dumped Apple software. Then I decided to dump OS X entirely and went in search of other operating systems. That didn’t sit well with Mac fanboys, who took me to task nationally for daring to dislike Apple.

My journey out of the Apple ecosystem included my phone. First I jailbroke my iPhone, then I ditched it entirely and moved to Android (and made sure my iPhone wouldn’t live to tell about it, either.) Eventually I adopted Windows 7 as my desktop OS, and more than a year later still had no regrets. More recently, I moved to Linux. The common thread through all four years of my OS transition has been moving to solutions that would let me use my hardware and software a.) as conveniently as possible and b.) as I see fit.

That’s how I ended up back in another single-company ecosystem. Ryan and I had been discussing upgrading our Android smartphones and buying Android tablets for couch-potato use for months. This summer, we were finally able to upgrade our older phones to fully modern, Jelly Bean (i.e. Android 4) phones. The same week, we also brought home two Nexus 7s. It took less than a month to realize that everything I used my traditional laptop for except word processing I could do more easily and conveniently on our tablets.

That was fine for Ryan. He wasn’t very heavily invested in his laptop. But the 60 gigabytes of documents, music, photos, and movies on my laptop made me feel a bit odd about not actually using the machine where they were stored. And then it hit me. It was all in the Google cloud already, anyway. I thought Windows 7 and Linux were the main points of my Mac migration. But as it turned out, the most consistent thing about the past four years is how steadily I have moved my personal files into the cloud-based care of Google.

Where are my documents (old and new)? On Google Drive and in Google Docs. Where is my music? Mirrored in Google Play. Where are my photos and videos? Fully archived in Google+. And where was I spending nearly 100 percent of my laptop time? In my browser.

In the end, the outcome of my OS migration was deciding to drop the endeavor entirely. With all of my files in the cloud, what did an OS matter anymore?

Last week, I bought a $250 Google Chromebook. (This one.) You can’t pry it out of my hands. It only runs the Chrome browser. It only has 16 gigs of solid-state storage. And with my life synced with Google cloud to the extent that it is, that’s all–and exactly–what I need. I have never felt so on-task before with a laptop on my lap in my life. (The six-plus hours of battery life don’t hurt, either.)

Yes, I know much higher end Windows laptops can be bought for not much more money. So what? Do I need them? No.

Yes, I know I’m trusting Google not to lose my files forever. Though almost all of them are backed up on my legacy laptop, again, so what? It’s much more likely that I would lose my laptop and its files to a mechanical failure or mugging than Google–who has a financial interest in not losing my files–will lose them. Or suddenly go out of business, for that matter.

And no, of course a Chromebook does not become useless just because you don’t have an Internet connection at all times. But to the people who would claim that as an alleged liability of using a Chromebook I would ask how often they are ever–ever–not connected to the Internet in their daily lives. In 2013, unless you’re a Jewish adolescent spending the summer at an overnight camp where they turn off the wifi on Shabbat, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve got web access 24/7.

The convenience of living completely within the Google ecosystem–hardware and all–is familiar. It feels like all the promises Apple ever made about how easy it would be to use MobileMe, or iCloud, or any number of walled Apple gardens that never quite panned out. Except Google’s cloud actually, you know, works. (Neat trick, that.) I can go from smartphone to tablet to laptop and seamlessly access my entire electronic life. (The Siri-whooping power of Google Now to stay one step ahead of me all day and display my searches and reminders across all of my devices at once could be a blog post in itself.)

Yes, I find it completely, almost absurdly ironic that it took me four years just to migrate from one corporate computing garden into another. But here’s the thing, and it’s the punch line which I think makes a fitting end to this now 13-part series. There’s a big, fat, huge difference between Apple’s garden and Google’s garden. A difference that explains how I left there and ended up here, why I feel supported here, and why I’ll likely remain here for a long time.

Google’s garden isn’t walled. It’s a shame that for Mac users, the only way to learn why that matters is by climbing laboriously over Apple’s walls to see what lies beyond them. Let me tell you what lies beyond the Apple garden.

Freedom.

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