Data Science on a Chromebook

Jeff Leek

About nine months ago I announced that I was attempting a Chromebook experiment for the 2nd time. At first I thought it was going to be a short term experiment just to see if it was possible to function with only a Chromebook. But in an interesting twist I got used to it and have been working exclusively on a Chromebook for the last few months since the experiment started.

I set myself the following requirements:

  1. I could only use Chrome OS - no installing/booting to Linux
  2. I couldn’t use another computer for any task
  3. I had to be “fully cloudy” in the sense that I didn’t run any additional hardware

One of the reasons I did this was I wanted to see if it was possible to be a functioning/day to day data scientist without using an expensive laptop. This is part of a broader experiment I’m just beginning on how to democratize data science education.

I’m not going to go into extreme detail on how I set everything up here (more on that in a second) but I thought I’d describe my Chromebook set up that I’ve been using for the last couple of months.

I have been using two Samsung Chromebook Plus computers, one of which I keep at home and one which I keep at work. One of the best parts about the fully cloudy/Chrome OS requirement is this means that from the user perspective everything is always in sync. I log off the computer at home, come to work, log on and its like I’m on the same computer.

I thought I’d just go through at a high level the software I’m using to keep everything running.

So my total monthly cost comes to something like $35 a month for various cloud services. At first doing this was sort of like writing a Haiku. I could still write, but the constraints made me think hard about how I did things. But after a while I have gotten so used to the form that it feels natural and I don’t miss my (really expensive) Apple products anymore.

The biggest headaches have been:

Beyond that it has actually been pretty straightforward to do almost anything I need. Stay tuned because this experiment has inspired a broader effort we are doing with Chromebooks here at the JHU Data Science Lab. If you want to hear about this effort as it gets underway, sign up for our weekly newsletter and you’ll be the first to hear new announcements.