Terminals are not enough (personal edition)
Over the years I've used any number of things at home to get access to the outside world, and as you'd expect I've developed some opinions on the whole area (to go with my sysadmin-side opinions). Because I love giving names to things despite being not very good at it, I'm going to divide all of this into four levels:
- pure terminals not only depend completely on the Internet (or
the outside world in general) but they restrict you to accessing
it via a fixed sort of connection. The canonical terminal is a
(dumb) serial terminal, where you type characters to the remote
end and that's it. Chromebooks are sort of modern examples of
this, at least in the version of them where you're restricted to
the web and SSH.
- terminals with local apps are still entirely dependent on the
Internet (if your Internet connection goes away, they're
paperweights), but you can run a wide variety of local clients
to talk to things over the Internet in various ways. While you
might think that this is not a big change from pure terminals,
a terminal with local apps at least feels a bunch nicer and is
often much more responsive and a richer experience.
(Chromebooks with Android apps are going to mostly fall into this category.)
- devices with local data let you have data locally so that
you can still read something, listen to music, look at your notes,
consult maps, or whatever when you're completely disconnected
from the Internet. It's better than nothing, but you're mostly
or entirely going to be a passive consumer of things while
My smartphone is essentially in this category today, because I saved a few free books and other things for offline use just in case (and why not), and of course people put music collections on them.
- computers with local workspaces allow you to actively and more or less fully work when disconnected from the Internet. You don't just have local data and local storage, you have the tools you need to work on it much as you would if the Internet was available. You'll probably miss the Internet, but it's possible to be productive and get interesting things done; you can write code or blog entries or the like in a full-featured environment.
These levels are points on a continuum, especially now that so many resources even for things like programming are found online (eg, documentation). And certainly nowadays which level something goes in depends partly on how you use it, although some usages are more natural than others on various devices.
(An iPhone is an example of this. In theory you can probably use one at all levels, even up to the local workspaces level for certain sorts of work. But in practice it seems that it's mostly designed for something in the area between terminal with local apps and device with local data. If you use an iPhone without apps, you're missing out; if you try to do a lot of active work instead of passive consumption while totally disconnected, you're probably at least a bit out of the mainstream and not all apps will readily support that.)
For home use, I'm no longer willing to be completely dependent on the Internet and, while the local data approach is okay in a pinch it's not what I want for my primary home machine. Even if I only rarely use the possibility of working locally when the Internet is completely out, I know myself and I'm much happier when I know it's at least a possibility.
In addition, there are times that I deliberately choose to do some work locally even when the Internet is available. Sometimes this is because of interface issues covered last time around but sometimes this is for other reasons; I just feel like doing things locally, or working locally makes a convenient way to separate experiments from upstream work, or I'm (only) going to use the results locally as private versions of apps like my syndication feed reader.
(Of course, I wouldn't buy any sort of laptop as my primary home machine, Chromebook or otherwise, because I value a good display, a good keyboard, and a good mouse much more than I value portability. As a secondary machine for taking places and using in emergencies if the main home machine explodes, Chromebooks have the useful property of being inexpensive, and in an emergency it's true that much of what I care about in day to day usage is on the Internet. But if money was not a consideration, even my 'carry places and use in emergencies' laptop would be in the full local workspace category and so probably not a Chromebook.)