Own a poky old PC or Mac—desktop or laptop? You might be able to turn it into a speedier Chromebook for writing, e-reading and other purposes.

The trick? Use CloudReady software from Neverware. In some cases, your older machine can still run the older operating system, through a dual boot arrangement.

Neverware is selling perpetual licenses to schools at $59 per computer and also will be selling enterprise plans to businesses (the above video is K-12 oriented). But as long as you don’t expect tech support other than through a community forum or other online assistance such as this installation video, you can download the software for free.

Here’s a list of certified PCs and Macs. Not all can do dual boot. Read the caveats very carefully, especially the need to back up your data, before you go ahead.

On the download page or in a PDF or a separate Web page, you’ll find the basic setup. The company estimated “20 minutes for USB installer creation, 1-2 minutes per machine to trigger the 20 minute installation process.” I needed more than an hour. I worked with a cheapy 8 GB memory card and an econo-card reader, so perhaps that slowed me down.

I’ll tweak this post with my latest impressions as I explore the software. Beyond the longer-than-expected install—very possibly not CloudReady’s fault—I am finding that my old Acer notebook is faster than before with Ubuntu. But it is not blazingly fast. Let’s see what happens when the my reborn Acer has a chance to finish installation of various apps.

Yes, I’ll welcome TeleRead community members also experimenting. Is this what it’s cracked up? Ars Technica is excited about CloudReady but notes some negatives compared with the “real” Chrome. You can’t read Word documents directly from the file manager; you’ll need Google Docs. Study a Neverware page comparing CloudReady and the actual Chrome. CloudyReady does not offer all the special security features of the usual Chrome, and at least for the moment, you can’t run a Netflix app on it.

If CloudReady lives up to expectations, I’ll be curious about possibilities in developing countries, where we send lots and lots of toxic computers. What if at least some could find new life with Neverware and the right apps?

This will depend on the availability of WiFi and other factors, so I’m hardly billing this as a panacea, but perhaps things will improve a little as Google and partners, along with other companies, spread connectivity in remote areas.

Here in the States, Neverware opens up all kinds of possibilities for recycling programs to aid low-income people (assuming this would count as individual use). Remember, Chrome is similar in many ways to Windows and pretty easy to learn. Plus, you won’t need to keep shelling out money an anti-virus scanner.

Writing apps to check out

Google Docs would be at the top of the list. It works both on the Cloud and offline, and it can read and convert to Microsoft Word and publish directly to the Web or, via another app, to WordPress. For that matter, you can also use the Chrome version of WordPress.com’s publishing tool.

If word-processing will be a major app, I’d suggest making sure you like Google Docs before you Chrome-ize your PC or Mac. So far—this may change—I’m not thrilled with the selection of word-processing apps for the Chromebook. You can run LibrieOffice and OpenOffice Writer, but to save and edit files beyond a trial period, you’ll have to subscribe to a paid service for $6.99 a month or $71.88 a year. Of course, given Chrome’s good security record, you still might want to make the switch for that reason rather than just to save money (but once again: CloudReady lacks all of the real Chrome’s security features).

Are you into scriptwriting? Then see about Amazon Storywriter. For the budget-strapped aspiring screenwriter, this and an old computer turbocharged with Neverware could be the cat’s meow. Like the $50 Kindle, Storywriter is cheap technology for the masses. Better than cheap. Free.

Here’s one issue I need to look into. What about CloudReady and printing? If Chrome is already part of your printing setup, that won’t be a challenge. I’m under the impression that CloudyReady-enhanced computers will blend into existing Chome environments for printing, but I won’t take this for granted until I’ve checked it out.

E-reading apps

But how to read e-books on your reincarnated machine, especially a laptop? I haven’t tested things, but I’d be shocked if Amazon’s CloudReader didn’t work for Kindle books.

Among the choices for ePub nonDRMed books is Readium, an open source app from the Readium Foundation, an offshoot of the International Digital Publishing Forum.

The downside is that the feature set is limited and some users have suffered such bugs.. Readium will display light letters against a dark background, but it lacks the wrinkle I cherish, optional all-text bold.

Still, you might find this one just right for you. 1,394 reviewers have given this one rating of four out of five stars.

“Just what I was looking for!” writes one user. “After searching and installing/uninstalling several ePub readers for PC’s running Windows 7, I came across a comment that said this was a good choice. It sure is! It allows you to download an ePub, then, if the publication has links to additional material included in the download, just click on them and they come right up! Love it!”

Another reading-related app of interest in the Chrome world might be dotEPUB, which can turn Web pages into e-books for easier reading.

To find other reading apps, just go to the Chrome store and try keywords such as ePub and ebook app.

Update, 6:36 p.m: Alas, CloudReady is just too slow on my Acer ZG5 laptop (about eight years old, with a 1G of RAM). The Kindle cloud app is usable but barely. The Chromium browser app is a bit snappier.

But CloudReady still isn’t my cup of tea, at least on the Acer. For other people and other machines, CloudReady might be terrific, so don’t let this discourage you from giving it a try. I myself may check it out on an older desktop.

For now, however, I’ve given CloudReady about as much time as I can spare.

Oh, and finally, no, so far I have not gotten the Acer to print with CloudReady installed even though I have other devices able to talk to my printer via the cloud. I know there’s a way. But wouldn’t it be nice if Google and CloudReady required less detective work?


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