Using the Pixelbook as a primary development machine

My new Google Pixelbook has arrived, and I’ve been testing to see if it’s usable as my main developer machine (moving away from the MacOS platform). My intention is not to convert it into a Linux machine, nor to use Crouton for the chrooted Linux setup, both of which mean switching the machine into developer mode, losing some of the signed OS verification at boot. Instead I want to see if pure Chrome OS can work for development of Ruby on Rails and React based apps.

First off, the hardware. Whilst a bit chunkier than my 12″ Macbook, the hardware is for the most part gorgeous. The main body of the laptop is ultra-thin. The keyboard (particularly after the gen-1 Macbook keyboard) is a delight to type on, with a better feel (and quieter keystroke). The back lighting does the job, but is not quite even on quite a few of the keys – it’s minor, but the ‘e’ at the end of backspace doesn’t light up for example.

The trackpad is a glass pad, and should be ultra accurate. I’ve struggled with it initially, both with tap to click (it missed some clicks) and a laggy feel to some of the tracking. This seems to be getting better over time though, so either I’m learning how to best use the new pad, or it’s bedding in.

The screen is beautiful, except for the oversized bezel.  It helps a little when holding it in tablet mode, but I think they could have been far smaller, and the usable screen much larger, without impacting on the size of the laptop.

Using the Pixelbook in tablet mode is great for when you’re on the move and want to catch up with some content from something like Kindle.  I still find it strange to feel the keys and trackpad click as I’m holding it that way, but they are disabled so have no effect.

The key to using the Pixelbook as a developer machine is its built in support for Android apps. In particular an amazing app called termux can be used to run all manner of Linux server software, and a variety of languages.   A great guide to configuring termux and Chrome OS can be found at https://blog.lessonslearned.org/building-a-more-secure-development-chromebook/ .

What has surprised me is how useful Chrome OS becomes with Android support.   I now have all my favourite apps pinned into the shelf at the bottom of the screen – Slack, Dropbox, Spotify that work great as I carry on with my web based life in Chrome.

What I’m really missing at the moment is an editing environment like Atom or VS Code.  There are ways to getting this working in a developer version of Chrome OS, but I’m going to see what I can do in standard Chrome OS first.

My next step is to get ReasonML working.  If anyone has this installed in Termux, I’d love to know the steps to getting it working.