Tag Archives: chromebook

Writer Duet: A Great (Free!) Solution for Screenwriting on a Chromebook

When I first got my Chromebook, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a screenwriting app that would let me write plays and screenplays as easily as Final Draft. (Final Draft, for my non-writer readers, is the industry standard for writing in either format.) While there were a few online environments that allowed you to write in screenplay format, they were a) expensive and b) unwieldy.

A quick refresher: because Chromebooks operate in an online, Linux-based environment, it’s difficult to find software that’s compatible with special formats. While most well-known screenwriting software has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, so far there’s been very little in the way of creating specialized software for Chromebook. At one point I heard that Google was working to make any app available for their ultra-lite notebooks, but to date there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on that front.

Anyways. I’m working on a sitcom pilot, and one of the practical challenges I’ve had to work with is making my edits to the text. My Windows laptop, which is limping along with the help of both external mouse and keyboard, has my copy of Final Draft on it – but at this point, the program runs so slowly that it’s frustrating to use.

I printed out and edited my script the other day, and was dreading finding the time to break it down into manageable chunks to input the changes.

Enter this morning.

I decided it was worth taking another look for screenwriting software that was compatible with both Final Draft and Chromebooks this morning – after all, the software scene is constantly evolving – and after some searching, discovered two things:

  1. My initial Chromebook write-up is one of the first page of results on the topic of screenwriting on the platform (yay!) and
  2. There is now a workable – and highly functional – Final Draft alternative for writers who are familiar with how that software functions but want to write in an online (Chromebook-compatible!) format.
A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

This alternative is called Writer Duet. And it’s unbelievably powerful, incredibly well-designed, and completely intuitive for anyone who’s already used to writing in Final Draft. It imports and exports to multiple standard screenwriting format, doesn’t require knowledge of markup or formatting, and best of all?

It’s FREE.

That’s right. FREE.

Sure, there’s a paid version (which, at $99 for a lifetime membership is a bargain) but so far the free version looks and feels just like writing in Final Draft.

This morning, while lying in bed icing my back, I was able to edit a 46-page script in a fraction of the time it would have taken on my laptop. There was no lag inputting or processing commands as the document got longer (which has been an issue in Final Draft), the formatting is highly intuitive (perhaps more so than FD), and the output is easily downloadable and back-up-able. Signing up took less than a minute. Imports of documents in .fdx were flawless (.pdf imports less so, but you shouldn’t be saving in-progress docs as .pdfs anyways). The program was so easy to use that I almost immediately recommended it to a friend of mine who’s taking his first shot at writing for the stage. (He was confused by it, but it took me a few tries to get used to FD, so I’m not counting that against Writer Duet at all.

If you’re interested in writing in stage or screen format, and don’t want to shell out $125+ for Final Draft, check out Writer Duet. If you’re on a Chromebook and despairing because you can’t find an elegant solution to the issue of formatting your stageplays or screenplays, check out Writer Duet.

I don’t think you’ll be sorry.


Please note, this is not a sponsored blog post, I am endorsing this program because it’s amazing and if you want to write in screenplay format for a Chromebook, it is far and away the best solution I’ve found to date.

Samsung Chromebook Update


It’s been a few weeks since I brought my Chromebook home from the store, and I’m not gonna lie – I am completely and utterly in love with this little machine. It’s light to carry, easy to use, offers comprehensive access to what I need my computer for, and (with about an hour of preparation when I first bought it) puts all my work at my fingertips. I’ve encountered one or two hiccups since booting the Chromebook up for the first time, but have found all of them supremely navigable.

This comes with a couple of caveats: I don’t play computer games, I have above-average knowledge (if we’re talking the average of the general population here) of how a computer works, I haven’t yet used the Chromebook for screenwriting, and I’ve maintained a primary desktop that runs on Windows 7, which I use when I need to save large files or print a document.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some of my favorite things about my Samsung Chromebook:

The Keyboard
99.9% of what I use my Chromebook for is typing. Whether I’m tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, novelling, emailing or a dozen other -ings, words are at the center of most of my computer usage. The Chromebook’s keyboard is close enough to full-size to be comfortable and easy to type on, unlike the Asus EEE netbook I bought (and ultimately discarded) four or five years ago. The keys are low to the surface of the laptop’s lower casing, and give a satisfyingly mechanical click when struck. I can’t stand silent keyboards. They make me feel like I’m fooling myself. One reason I picked the Samsung over the other models of Chromebook available at the Best Buy I visited was the tactile experience of testing its keyboard and mousepad before purchase. Given the importance of the tactile experience in my writing process, I think I made the right choice.

Living In The Cloud
Dropbox has become a more important part of my storage life for the last few years. I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way of mirroring files from Dropbox to Google Docs, and since Google Docs can’t open direct from Dropbox, I’ve had to use a roundabout process of downloading, converting and opening files to get my documents across, but I’ve now started saving my work directly to my Google Drive. Almost every service with a web interface is accessible from Chrome, so I’ve been able to keep watching my shows on Hulu Plus and listening to music on Spotify. I’m also (as I’ll discuss next) really growing to enjoy — not just tolerate — the experience of using Google’s productivity suite.

The Software Experience
My biggest point of hesitation when it came to moving away from the Windows OS was my reliance on Microsoft products. All my writing (with the exception of screenplays) has been done in Microsoft Word since around 1993, and being able to access those files is critical. I knew that moving to Google Docs was going to be a transition, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the casual use of image editors. And even though my phone is an Android, the idea of my choice of OS having a substantial impact on my organization and planning hadn’t really occurred to me.

Where its office suite is concerned, the Chrome OS is a winner. Google Docs (the company’s replacement for Microsoft Word) and Sheets (for Excel) make it possible to import Microsoft files (though you have to be sure to use the “import” command rather than just “open,” or you won’t wind up with an editable file. On top of this, Google offers Forms, which may be the easiest way to set up a survey and collect simple data that I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Access, Surveymonkey, LJ Polls and more). On top of this, Google has added offline mode for everything from gmail to Docs, which means I can keep up with my work even when I’m not online.

Managing Appointments
At the moment, thanks to a plethora of doctors’ appointments, my calendar isn’t as uncomplicated as you might think. Since getting my Chromebook, I’ve noticed a jump in the up-to-date nature of my calendar. Suddenly, putting new items on my agenda has become a seamless process, since I no longer have to navigate the default options put into place for me by Microsoft. Any time I get the option to “add to Google Calendar,” I click it, and presto – my calendar is updated the way it always should have been, but wasn’t, when using my Google Calendar from a Windows machine. It also carries over to my phone’s Google calendar – again, this should have been happening before, but there was some kind of hiccup taking place when I tried to do this from Windows, and I never took the time to fix it.

Photo Editing
Thanks to an article I read early in my research process, I had learned about Pixlr, touted as an online alternative to Photoshop. When I got caught needing to make a picture for my first blog post about Chromebook, I tried it out – and I am happy to say, it works exactly like a replacement for Photoshop – right down to the functions of different tools and where they’re placed. It may not be a twin to the most recent version of that software, but it’s certainly showing the level of functionality I need.

Battery Life
The Samsung Chromebook advertises as having a battery that holds a charge for over six hours. I haven’t timed it yet, but so far I haven’t been dissatisfied with the amount of continuous use I’m getting out of the machine. I can sit down and work and not worry too much about having to plug in again – plus, when that time comes, it only takes a couple hours before I’m back at 100% charge.

The Downsides

  • I don’t play video games, and that’s just as well, because the only ones I could play on the Chromebook would be browser-based games. The downside here is that I really want to play Actual Sunlight and I just haven’t had a chance to play it on the Windows computer I’m using as my base.
  • I can’t watch Netflix from the Samsung Chromebook. This is something to do with site compatibility and what the Chromebook won’t run (I want to say Java?).
  • Skype doesn’t work on the Chromebook (I hate skyping, so I don’t actually consider this a downside, but if there were a situation where I needed to discuss something face-to-face with a family member, friend or client who was geographically distant, it would be Google Hangouts or bust.
  • The keyboard is not a traditional QWERTY setup. There’s no “home” or “end,” no “page up” or “page down.” That row of familiar F-keys along the top of the keyboard has been replaced by a series of icons, the meaning of which isn’t always immediately clear. Right-click is non-existent. Caps Lock has been replaced with a “universal search” key that acts much as the start-menu search in Windows. That said, there are easily-searchable lists of keystroke commands. You can summon the right-click command menu by following instructions on trackpad use. There are alternatives, you just have to be ready to investigate them.
  • Inexplicable technical quirks. The first two times I turned on the Chromebook, my mouse pointer disappeared after a few minutes. Both times, it re-appeared once the computer was restarted. I suspect that I inadvertently triggered some kind of keypad command, but haven’t followed up to see what it was. More worrying was the sudden drop-out of any ability on the part of the computer to connect with my home WiFi network. My Android was still connecting just fine, but despite numerous refreshes and restarts, I couldn’t get the computer to connect to the home network (which it could still see). I went to a friend’s house intent on performing a complicate reboot — and if that didn’t work, mentally preparing to send the whole thing in to Samsung for a replacement under warranty — but when I got to my friend’s the computer connected to her home WiFi network without a hitch. Once I got back to my own place, it was as if the problem had never been there in the first place. These technical glitches are worrying, mostly because figuring them out wasn’t possible and now the problems have passed, and if I’d been under a deadline they would have been extremely distressing – particularly the one about the WiFi not working, since the Chromebook is designed to function at full capacity only when connected to a network.

Overall? I’d still recommend the Chromebook over a Windows laptop for anybody who doesn’t need to game or program with their system. The price is right, the capabilities seem more than adequate, and the experience of use has been more or less friction-free so far.


Divorcing Microsoft, Dating Chromebook: Conscious Uncoupling & Your OS Of Choice

download (2)I don’t like Windows 8, but without the cash or desire to spring for a Mac and without the technical know-how to use a Linux machine, I’ve been a little stuck as to what to do when it comes to upgrading my current machine. Why do I need a new laptop, you ask? Well, my current laptop has developed an affinity for knocking over pints of water because it wants a bath.

Yes, it’s the laptop making these decisions.

After its first bath, the keyboard got a bit gunky but the mousepad still worked, so I just hooked up an external keyboard and kept going. It was far from ideal, so I soon bought a cheap (very cheap) Windows 8 desktop from HP, and realized within a few days that I hated it.

Hated it.

The hatred intensified when I realized that I had to upgrade every time Microsoft pushed a new version of the OS, or risk having all my apps (because we don’t call them programs anymore, and we have to get them through the app store, and by the way, can you give Microsoft your credit card details pls k thx bai) become unusable. Literally unusable. Can’t-open-a-PDF unusable.

I looked into rolling back the machine’s OS to Windows 7 — which, incidentally, would have run lightning-quick on a machine that slowed Windows 8 to a crawl — but the process was going to be either complicated or expensive, so I’ve been left with what is essentially a large, expensive paperweight that I occasionally use to print documents. (Though since I’ve hurt my back, I can’t sit at a desk anyways.)

In the midst of all this, my laptop took another bath and the touchpad stopped working. Now, in order to use my Toshiba laptop, I had to plug in an external mouse and an external keyboard.

I’ve been making do with my Windows 7 laptop and external peripherals, but the other day I hit my limit. I can’t stand in one place for long at the moment, and the thought of all the productive time I was losing by not having a laptop that acted like a laptop was enough to make me decide to use part of my tax refund to treat myself to a new, functioning laptop.

At first, I had decided to get a larger Windows laptop — there are still version 7 operating systems that come pre-installed — but a Twitter follower pointed out that Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 would end in 8 months (extended support will continue till 2020, but that won’t include security updates or other features that would keep the computer running smoothly).

All of which brought me to seriously consider a Google Chromebook.

What’s a Chromebook, you ask? It’s an ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-lean and ultra-cheap laptop that runs on an operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser. Most of the entry-level Chromebooks cost between $200-$300, and the intention is for them to be used while online. (There are some options for working off-line, as well.) They won’t play video games, mine doesn’t run Java, and you can only access Google Hangouts, not Skype. (Note: I’ve also noticed that they don’t use the now-familiar “pinch” motion to zoom in or out, and there are some keyboard changes that took me off-guard, but none of those have been dealbreakers.)

In the past, I had dismissed Chromebooks because the OS won’t run a lot of the software I’ve liked to use. There aren’t alternatives for Photoshop or InDesign, there isn’t a Final Draft (scriptwriting) alternative, and there’s not an option for Microsoft Office. But this time around, with light Windows 7 laptops clocking in at over $500 and significant security support for the OS ending soon, and more Google and web-based apps available every day, I had to ask myself the serious question: could I compromise on a few comparatively insignificant features if it meant a small, light, cheap laptop that I could write on while lying in bed?

After a few hours of really thinking about it, I was pretty sure that I could.

So far I’ve been using my Chromebook for a little under a day and with the exception of a disappearing-mouse issue that happened the first two times I booted it up (which takes 7 seconds), it’s been the best technology purchase I’ve made in quite a while. At $250, the Samsung Chromebook has a keyboard I can type on with fast accuracy. Google Docs (Google’s version of Microsoft Word) is easy to use and offers a much smoother experience than I’ve had using it through Chrome on a Windows machine. The speakers on the Samsung Chromebook, compared to my old Toshiba, are a revelation. It features a webcam and microphone, the battery is rated to last over six hours, and since almost everything can be accessed via a web browser these days, I even have options for screenwriting software that I can later import through Final Draft on my main machine.

If you’re into graphics, video games or heavy video processing, Chromebooks probably aren’t the way to go, and I might not recommend it as a primary machine just yet – if only because of the software limitations. But for a cheap secondary laptop that lets you travel and type, particularly for those without wads of cash to spend on an ultra-light laptop, I don’t think I know of a better computer.

Have you tried a Chromebook? If so, what’s your experience been like? If not – go to your local tech retailer and check one out. You might be surprised!



Nov. 8, 2014

Since publishing this blog, a plug-in/add-on for Google Docs has come in that supposedly does screenplay formatting. I only tried writing a few lines with it but it was fairly cumbersome.

Also since original publication, I’ve tried getting hold of a few games via Steam, and haven’t been able to figure out whether the Linux version would work on the Chromebook. Granted, I haven’t put much time into it. But if anybody has looked into this at all…?