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Chrome OS for web mapping delivery
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27 Oct 12 Chromebook usage intensifies — blogging suffers

 

It’s surprising to note how quiet my writing has been since August.  The Cr-48 did a fine job on the road, receiving an update and returning to functional use of Verizon 3G along the way somewhere in southwestern Colorado. A few days later, the Cr-48 took in a beautiful sunrise from the Cal-Neva Inn on Lake Tahoe, and then came home.  There, things got intense.

But it wasn’t for work or practical use!  It was the diversion of reading free Manga from a variety of web sites.  Where chapters might have page counts between 12 and 30, from the time the Cr-48 got home until now it’s served up 640 chapters of one, 340 chapters of another, and 250 chapters of another (which averaged 32 pages per chapter).  In short, the Cr-48 has had more hours of use as a content delivery system than ever before in the past three months!  Yes, the hinge is a little wobbly on the right-hand side, but the machine gets taken everywhere but in the shower, so it gets set on its side at times.  It’s also gotten regular treatment with sanitizing wipes.  ;^)

Fact is, although the usage is sort of monotonous (it’s mostly been serving up content through free websites) the physical treatment has been intensive.

Cool apps have appeared like Camera, and the upgrades to system have been very regular.  I continue to use dev-Channel for Chrome OS.  As of today’s update, I’m up to

Google Chrome 24.0.1305.3 (Official Build 163672) dev
Platform 3083.1.0 (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
WebKit 537.16 (@132013)
JavaScript V8 3.14.5
Flash 11.4.31.300

Holy cow, that is soooo much easier to share than it has been for the past 22 months!  I’ve been quietly appreciating and not blogging about the UI updates that have become a steady stream as Chromebooks become more properly commercialized.
Where in the past it’s been a copy-and-paste exercise for each feature, my favorite status items to share have been stood up on a new
chrome://version/ page and the information there can be copied readily.

Other new stuff that I really like:  On the login screen, a pressure-touch on the touchpad will focus on user for password input, rather than the full button click.  The concentration of system status icons in the lower-right is evolving, and I look there with the same frequency I do in Ubuntu’s Unity interface (in the upper right) on my main workstation at home.

The collection of favorites along the lower left reminds me of system tray items that I look at in Windows 7, and they are really useful to the extent that they’re my most-favorite destinations.   The nine-square icon down there to launch an apps pop-up reminds me of the apps button in Android—and it even has scrolling windows that mimic a graphically flattened version of what I see in Jellybean.

It’s not purely Chrome OS, but the performance of Google Drive has ramped up noticeably in the past three months as well.  I am using G Spreadsheets to handle much of the logging tasks in my regular work that involves spatial data engineering.  In that, multiple tasks are set up and run, and progress or failure noted for each workflow thread.  At capacity, I make use of 15 threads on a (Windows 2008 Server) server through RDP and 12 threads on a (Windows 7 Pro) workstation with a dual-head display.  The problems that need to be solved are vague and mostly related to capacity issues of the ESRI Desktop software that I’m using, so I never really know what will work when I start out, and then I break things up in a quadtree to make them small enough to fit through all the limitations.

Tracking input data, output data size as items make it through a work flow, and logging completion is quick and easy.  I’ve been a major fan of Excel keyboard shortcuts since the mid 1990s, when I had to learn them to work spreadsheets on laptops during airline flights; to this day they continue to be so fast that its actually painful for me to watch people mousing their way through a spreadsheet.  Of course, having all my favorite Excel-style keyboard shortcuts working and functional within G Spreadsheets just melted my heart—Spreadsheets are my favorite Google Drive item at this time.  (Presentations will return to the fore when I’m back teaching next semester)

Did I mention that on my 12-thread Windows 7 workstation, I can launch Chrome Canary browser, then open Drive, and then open my G Spreadsheet and make a new entry within it faster than it takes Excel 2010 to launch on my workstation?  Well, I can. YMMV.

Details aside, I’m using G Spreadsheets for more than 80% of all my spreadsheet uses now, and that’s because I started using them with Chrome OS.  I’m using G Documents to contain text that needs to get pasted into web apps, so that I avoid the heartbreak of lost writing and also to keep a record.  I expect to return to use of G Presentations to set up class slides when I get back to teaching next semester.  And finally, I’ve make use of G Forms for something completely different: the Household Technology Grant Program (HTGP).

The HTGP is how I’m dealing with the chatter around the house by certain individuals of diminutive stature who now desire Chromebooks of their own.  Using some questions adapted from a college technology grant form found on the web, we simply ask the interested parties to fill out the form and justify their desired technology.  Without specifying how much support they might be getting for any acquisitions, in the attractive and simple-to-format G Form they spell out the Hows and Whys of their need for funds to augment our household computer herd.

It’s been a blast watching the Chromebook advertising campaign as we keep an eye on baseball’s World Series progress.  For as long as I’ve been pounding away on the Cr-48 it’s seemed as though $250 would be a catalyzing price point for a browser-centric system.  But in the past three months, I’m excited about Chrome OS’s interface evolution more than just the price.

The assemblage of UI styles from Unity, Windows 7, and Android reminds me of that long-ago time when I saw an amalgamation of desktop shortcuts and UI phrasing in NeXTSTEP.  I really liked it then, seeing how shortcuts from the Mac and early Windows and X desktops were all there on the NeXT screen at the same time.  (And in a first for Steve Jobs, there were two mouse buttons!)  Sure, Chrome OS is not as complete an OS as NeXTSTEP, but my point is that there was strength in that amalgamation.  Anyone who doubts that need only examine OS X and start counting the NeXTSTEP features that have persisted for 20 years.  I think that there’s something very solid about Chrome OS’s UI changes that have taken place in the past couple of months.

So I’m getting the sense that Chrome OS is taking a polish that suggests its ready for the larger world, and I’m seeing devices for sale that hit the sweet spot where even those who (probably wrongly) imagine that they use browsers only 30% of the time would still see the economics work versus a $1000 MacBook.  Perhaps?  If not, then how about versus a $1600 MacBook?  ;^)

30 Apr 12 Dude, where’d my browser go? ChromeOS desktop on Cr-48

I was intrigued by news items related to the appearance of a desktop behind the Chrome browser in Chrome OS, but for the past few weeks it seemed like only those with the latest hardware would be enjoying it.   No longer.  Today’s update brought that change to those of using Cr-48 hardware, a.k.a. Mario.

Dude, where's my browser window?

Chrome OS has assimilated the desktop metaphor

My new desktop features a default screen background with a suspension bridge and stunningly beautiful tidal channel with a very low sun angle.  The Google Chrome browser will maximize and restore with double-clicks along its the upper edge.  System notifiers like time/date, network connection strength, battery charge icon, and user account avatar thumb are now parked at the far lower-right corner of the screen, which means that they will get covered up by the browser when it is maximized.  All those icons that were large on the New Tab screen now show up in as thin ribbon of icons along the bottom—certainly reminiscent of NeXTSTEP screen layout in color from 20 years ago!

On the Cr-48 now:
Google Chrome  20.0.1105.0
Chrome OS  2153.0.0
WebKit  536.8  (@114338)
V8   3.10.2.1

There is a minor annoyance where an About > Chrome OS leads to a two-minute cycle of “updating Chrome OS” stuck at 0%, and ending with a “Chrome OS is up to date”.   I can live with that for now, as it’s just a treat to see such a big change to the feel of Chrome OS.  This surely is the biggest modification to the interface that I’ve seen over the past 15 months!

In other versions, on my Windows machines (XP and Windows 7)
Google Chrome Canary  20.0.1122.0

on Ubuntu (12.04 LTS x86_64)
Google Chrome   20.0.1105.0

On mobile, Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) (IMM76D)
Google Chrome  18.4409.2396
Web Kit  535.19 (@108031)
V8  3.8.9.15

Android  3.2   (Honeycomb)  Google TVs
Google Chrome  11.0

So there have been updates to Ubuntu (which choked on grub and had to get a new partition—seems like that happens every two years or four upgrades), and Google Chrome version 20 is getting everywhere on desktops and laptops.

All my Google accounts have received their Google Drive conversion, although I haven’t realized any profound changes versus the way that I was using Google Docs before; there’s a new icon, to keep up with the rebranding of Android Market as Google Play.

Maybe that is enough for now; time to get back to work.  It’s a College day for me.

15 Feb 12 Five modes of Chrome – some fairly current

It’s been out and about for a week, but only yesterday did I dive in to Chrome on Android 4.0.3 / Ice Cream Sandwich / ICS.

Monday’s lecture class went swimmingly, and I lectured for three hours with the Cr-48 displaying three different slide sets.  Everything back to normal, performance-wise, with multi-page PDF display.  Cr-48 battery performance continues to be excellent.

Today at work I reached a threshold of need where I truly just wanted to compose a multi-page PDF out of a pile of single-sheet map graphics, and I finally made use of PDF Split and Merge from pdfsam.org — after downloading from Sourceforge and finding it clean with AVG virus scan.  It was awesome, and motivated me to create a cover page in a presentation program (OK, it was MS PowerPoint 2010) and then printed the single page in B-size (11×17 inch)  landscape by using Cute PDF Writer to control the layout size.  Thanks to PDF Split and Merge, I could easily work out an arrangement where two-sided color 11×17 landscape printing made a very fine booklet to allow side-by-side comparison of related analyses (present and future viewsheds).  The prints were pretty good when stapled into book form, but the multi-page PDF display was extremely effective thanks to the precise scale control afforded by geographic information systems (GIS) software.  With the multi-page PDF, a simple PageUp / PageDown flick of keys flashes the two analyses for current and future visibility, and allows one to study the changes in considerable detail.

Enough with the PDF viewing thing.

The latest efforts now are to keep up with the Chrome updates.  At work and at the college office, I now use Windows 7 machines; one is a mighty nice new Xeon W3680 with 12 threads and 12 GB of memory, the other is a nine-year-old Pentium 4 HT 2.8 with 2 threads and 4 GB of memory.  One of the home machines is a Windows XP (Media Center) SP 3 with a seven-year-old Pentium D 820 with 2 threads and 3 GB of memory.  Throughout each week I either manually update or let background updates happen to Chrome Canary build.

A bit bigger home machine is running Ubuntu 11.10 x86_64 on a five-year-old Core 2 Duo E6550 with 4 GB memory, overclocked at 3.3 GHz now, although for its first four years it ran fine at 4.2 GHz with air cooling.  It’s wired up to run the latest unstable Google Chrome build that gets pushed out on dev channel for x86_64 Linux.

And now this week,  my ICS phone has a beta channel Google Chrome running on it.  It’s pretty sweet getting a straight-up tabbed interface that is fairly consistent among the various Google services.  I really like the simple way that Chrome on Android is handling the dismissal of deprecated tabs.  Overall it might be slower for some page loads than Android Browser, but its consistency of interface makes me more than happy to use it in preference.  Today I dumped Android Browser and Messaging from my action bar (whatever the best name is for the five icons along the bottom of the Android screen) and replaced them with Chrome Beta and Google Talk.

Also in the mix are a couple of Sony Intenet TVs runing Android 3.2 (Honeycomb)

And as typically, my Cr-48 got an update today.  So here’s the whole spread:

Windows (7 and XP)
Google Chrome Canary   19.0.1042.0

Ubuntu (11.10 x86_64)
Google Chrome  19.0.1041.0

Android (3.2 / Honeycomb) Google TVs
Google Chrome 11.0

Android (4.0.3 / ICS) Nexus S
Google Chrome  16.0.912.75
App Version  0.16.4130.199
WebKit   535.7 (trunk@104610-dirty)
V8  3.6.6.18

Chrome OS (Cr-48)
Google Chrome  18.0.1025.32
Platform   1660.34.0  dev-channel x86-mario
Firmware  Mario.03.30.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit  535.19  (@107639)
V8  3.8.9.5

So there’s ever more company in my  Chrome world.  The Canary builds might not sound too interesting, but they pull my interest forward and often provide helpful improvements to my usage.  Another aspect here is that I’m running four different user profiles, as a means to separate work from teaching from personal / hobby usage—not to separate platforms!  So I’m making almost daily usage of three Google accounts on all platforms.  In fact, I use yet other profiles to set up Google TV, but those are fairly static.  Since my phone got up to Android 4.0.3, I’ve been really pleased with the way that multiple Google accounts are handled by the Gmail program, and I’m getting very used to the way that Chrome 19 will spawn a new browser to handle different accounts open at the same time.  Google Docs still drives me to log out of the less active profiles to get write access.

After my phone upgrade to Android 4.0.3, but before Chrome arrived there, I was already appreciating the way that my photos and (with WiFi) videos just appeared up in Google+ and that took care of a lot of sharing.  All the same, in the past 10 days I’ve started to make much more use of Dropbox.com for sharing work product.  That experience is pretty good across Android and the places where I use Chrome browser.

 

12 Feb 12 Back on track with PDF viewer! The Cr-48 heads to the woods…

My Cr-48 got a weekend trip to the mountains, and
I experienced the slowest connectivity that I’ve ever had with it…

But first, my thanks to Ken for posting a work-around for last week’s viewer.  When I use the Cr-48 to show slides during a lecture, I only give attention enough to the machine to push one keyboard button for the next slide.  Usually that’s a right-arrow key.
This afternoon I returned from a couple of nights in the barely-snowy Sierra and was happy to find an update staged.  After downloading and a restart, I’m able to view the PDF slide shows that I’ve got locally and open through FileManager.  It’s an enormous relief to know that I can have the Cr-48 back as a tool for classroom use!  The latest build numbers:

Google Chrome  18.0.1025.29
Platform    1660.20.0 (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
Firmware   Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit   535.19 (@107116)
V8    3.8.9.5

For reference, this afternoon’s current build of Google Chrome Canary on Windows is 19.0.1040.0

Up in the mountains, I took the Cr-48 with me to a cabin by a lake at about 1600 meters elevation.  It’s not far north of I-80 so it’s a very easy drive.  Most years it would be nice and snowy.  Last year, I’m told, there was more than 2 meters of snow accumulated by Spring, and people had to dig down to get to the cabin door.  This year, there was barely 10cm of snow when we left this morning.
Normally, I wouldn’t expect to use the Chromebook up in the hills, but last night some conversations turned towards things that my mapping colleagues and I have posted, and I tried to bring up a public site that we have  to help folks.  (MarinMap.org)  It was very difficult.

In all of the lower 48 states, the coterminous U.S., a.k.a. CONTUS for federal folks, there must be only a tiny handful of locations like the one where I took the Cr-48 this weekend.  We were blacked out for Verizon coverage, but both T-Mobile and ATT worked, although only at GPRS speeds for data.  So after noticing that we had no WiFi to scavenge (no surprise there) and nothing detectable from Verizon on the Cr-48, I confirmed with folks who had Verizon phones that they couldn’t even get voice connectivity. Since my mobile phone is on T-Mobile, I was able to power up the Nexus S’ Android 4.0.3 hotspot and connect the Cr-48 to it, and the phone’s meagre but existent GPRS data link got the Chromebook online.

That worked fine for Google Talk, but when I connected to the map viewer applications, I recognized at once that we were in the slow lane.  I had plenty of time to chat and reflect on days perhaps 15 years ago when I worked in Romania and moved to a select apartment just to get an “International” direct-dial phone line.  I used that so that I could call dial-up Internet services and also have an answering machine in my apartment.  Ordinary phone lines were coupled in pairs, effectively as two-unit party lines—a very bad scenario when an unsuspecting foreigner hooks up an answering machine!  Anyway, in mid-nineties Romania, I was able to get at best a transfer rate of 7 MB/hour.  Plenty good enough to develop a habit for reading the fresh new nytimes.com site, but not so good for downloading software updates.

Those were the days I thought of as I watched my mapping application, which has an interface tuned for broadband, image its screens.  I opened another tab and saw Google Map draw far faster, but it did not have the overlays that I needed, so I was stuck trying to make something work on a bandwidth shoestring.  I gave up after an hour, but by then I’d had some nice oblique views of the site in Google Maps, and a much greater sympathy for those who still rely on dial-up and its associated connection speeds.

Back at home, Comcast is stomping out about 5 MB/sec right now (40 Mb/s).  I like it that way!   Never before have I had a reason to use the Android ICS (4.0) WiFi hotspot where T-Mobile worked for data and Verizon did not.  Always before I have used the ICS hotspot to avoid local WiFi policy restrictions or to listen to a streaming radio channel so as not to burn through my monthly 100 MB of Verizon data in a single afternoon.  This was a case where Android 4.0 had the Chromebook’s back covered.

09 Jan 12 Cr-48 updates – Chrome Canary numeric threshold reached

The Cr-48 is trucking along with its every-few-days updates.  Currently at

Google Chrome    17.0.963.27
Platform    1412.64.0   dev-x86-mario
Firmware  Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit     535.11   @103967
V8          3.7.12.12

That’s all well & good, I continue to have an even better Cr-48 experience being able to use scavenged WiFi, or Verizon 3G data,  or T-Mobile 3G data via my personal Android 4.0.3 hotspot. That extra little bit of connectivity, plus making use of the data plan that I’m already paying for, was a nice boost on the road around California during the holidays.

The Cr-48 hardware is fitting into an ever-clearer space in my usage.  Yes, it’s been about 13 months now for me to figure it out, but in that time I’ve grabbed a new Android phone and installed 4.0.3 on it, and had the big workstation upgraded as well, so there are a few moving parts to my use case.  Now, the Cr-48 has platform as become a useful intermediary between my phone and my dual-screen workstation.   The Cr-48 helps me keep school or personal communications off of the work computer in a more productive way than the touch-screen keyboard can handle.

But back on Windows 7 workstation this morning, I saw a Chrome Canary threshold that I’ve been keeping an eye on for the past few days (possibly missing a build over the weekend).  It’s now at:

Google Chrome  18.0.1001.0  Canary

Chrome builds have surpassed the 1000-mark.  Meanwhile there’s already

Chromium  18.0.1002.0  dev-116865-Windows

and its Google Chrome derivatives to look forward to.

10 Dec 11 The first year with the Cr-48 — perspective on how Chrome OS makes sense

About a year ago, I filled out some fortuitous web page, was one of the first two in my Zip code to do so, and bang!  The next afternoon, there was this awesome little package on my doorstep.    This morning, I found myself contemplating cosmic alignments both large and small.  First the large:

 Then the small: with great good fortune, the Cr-48′s arrival coincided with my returning to some part-time college teaching responsibilities, on top of a regular full-time job with our local county making maps.  As a geophysics graduate student, I started building customized hardware about 25 years ago; the insights gained then through some strenuous effort have rooted into a deeper-than-average understanding of desktop, workstation, and small server technologies—specifically when related to physical modeling of geospatial phenomena, digital cartography and imaging, and applications of photogrammetry or the measurement of quantitative things from photo images.

Thanks in part to my mix of paying work during 2011, I’ve found reason to use Chrome OS, Ubuntu, Android and Windows nearly every single day.  My workplaces do not provide them, and I choose not to afford Apple products beyond an iPod Touch; I spent my time in the Reality Distortion Field between 1990–1994 using, promoting, and being trained to develop for  NeXT workstations—and it’s those innovations that I perceive add most of the value to the OS side of OS X and iOS.  I saw how much Apple focused on getting their products into the hands of students, and supporting the app environment; I’m not writing about the iPad that my kid’s using in Kindergarten—I’m writing about the Apple II and the lock it had on educational software.

I was there, watching a Super Bowl game with friends and fellow students at Stanford, when Apple aired the flagrantly copyright-violating “1984″ TV advertisement announcing the Macintosh.  It was an innovation, and its interface was attractive even while its performance echoed my Osborne 1 dual-floppy system.  But that was a different time, when professors still had secretaries to do their typing, and the Macintosh, when it was embraced by someone besides a grateful administrative assistant, was the first choice of those who were uncomfortable with computing devices of the time.  Apple built on this market to bolster the confidence of its Macintosh users  with advertising images that conveyed how hey, even if you’re still a bit uncomfortable with computing, you’re really cool because you’re using a mouse!  From those years to the present day, my oft-validated perspective is that mainstream users of Apple computing devices (professional graphics, music, and video editors aside) are spending their way to consumer coolness rather than building their skills to output creative greatness.  I can understand why people want to have the computer get out of the way of their communication with friends and consumption of media; for most of my work, it’s important to have strong facility with the device, and be comfortable with several platforms.  ’nuff said.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time scratching my head about what Chrome OS is for, what it’s all about, and why the Cr-48 should exist.

For about a year before the Cr-48 showed up, I’d been using an Android reference platform, the T-Mobile G1, migrated up through Froyo using Cyanogen Mod.  About eight months ago, I grew tired of stability challenges on the modded G1 and bumped up to another reference platform, the Nexus S on T-Mobile, now rooted but not ahead of T-Mo release versions of Gingerbread.  My use of Android phones, and appreciation for how the feature set has grown from excitements about Cupcake updates to now were a source of interest in the Google TV platform.  So I got first one, then a second of these Android Eclair devices with big screens.  They are both updated to Honeycomb at this time, and we’ve kept the cable subscription at the sub-basic level with only local broadcast and public access channels.  Everything else, content-wise, is from Netflix, Sony Qriocity, Amazon Video, or a few DVD and BD discs.  I don’t sense a lot of overlap between the TV and phone device uses of Android, but I do recognize that related versions of the same OS are doing moderately different things pretty well in both cases.

But it’s my college teaching job that has really catalyzed my understanding of how Chrome OS makes sense.  There, I sometimes need to create maps for lecture slides.  In a few local cases, there are specific county data sets that I’ve already worked up  using Windows 7, some maps I make at home using ArcGIS and Windows XP, some Google Docs presentations prepared on my home Ubuntu workstation, and last-minute changes from the Student Union using the Cr-48.   Depending on the lab I’m teaching in I’ll either use the Cr-48 itself hooked to a projector, or install Chrome SXS / Canary on the instructor Windows 7 workstation that is already hooked to the projector and either run Google Docs from there, or download a PDF and present from that if there’s any problem with connectivity.

So thanks to my teaching work, and having to fit it into spare moments around a regular full-time job, I have really come to appreciate how the cloud makes me more efficient at preparing lectures.  Whatever workstation or machine I’m at, I just use it for whatever it does best, and the results quickly build toward my final lecture.  I believe that it takes me only 1/3 the time to prepare a lecture than it did when I was exporting presentations in various MS Office formats, and carrying them around on a thumb drive, or posting them for download, or e-mailing them to myself as attachments.  Now, using Google Docs, I am effectively collaborating with myself when I’m working from various different contexts.

And although it’s not concise, that context is why Chrome OS makes sense to me.  Sure, when I think of the folks at the Googleplex and around the world working to move Chromium and Chromium OS projects forward and product-ize it into browser and OS forms, there is a warm spot in my heart, for the insight and rationality I sense in the directions chosen that makes me think back to Stanford where some sense of tribal affinity is felt, a sense that I do not hold in a comparable way for teams centered at Cupertino or Redmond.  I’m reading or at least searching news items related to Android and Chrome OS daily, and I try to maintain a current sense of where at least some voices think these projects are going.

But my take seems just a bit different.  Perhaps it’s the affinity that I mention above, where I’m really expecting some underlying insightful if not brilliant architecture to emerge.  That’s the template that I fit news items against.  Sometimes things related to Chrome OS really aren’t all that great.

Like why, after all the agony caused by the oversized track pads, haven’t Samsung and Acer developed trapezoidal ones, rather than rectangular ones?   Seriously, even if the touch sensors aren’t denser at the narrower top end, the response could be adapted in software by an affine mapping of the narrower-at-the-top trapezoid into a rectangle for feeding the OS touch events…

But I’m immersed in at least a weekly cycle of Windows XP, Windows 7, Ubuntu, Chrome OS, and Android.  In all but the phone environment, the Chrome browser is the common thread.  And that’s where it all makes sense to me.  My insight was piqued within the last month when one day (and it was really only there one day, as best I can tell) the Chrome Canary browser displayed a little green up-arrow icon by its wrench telling me that it might be time to update.  Whoa.  That little icon broke down a mental barrier that I’d been holding up between my use of Chrome OS and the various contexts of Chrome browser use.

Then it all came in a cascade of “oh yea…” experiences.  Like the day that I had a technical support challenge at work and wasn’t configured for  VNC access yet one of my colleagues, knowing me as a Chrome chauvinist, suggested that we solve the problem using Chrome Remote Desktop.  I installed the extension and it worked perfectly.  I’ve since used it behind and through firewalls.  And Google Cloud Print has been important enough to my use of the Cr-48 that it has attenuated my use of Chromium browser.  I’m willing to be 72 hours behind Chromium and running Chrome SXS just so that I can run Cloud Print.  In a way reflecting all of the cloudy goodness that makes it possible for me to fuse graphics from many different platforms into lecture slides, having any old machine that I’m logged into and running Chrome able to serve up its printer connections is wonderful in an over-the-top sort of way.  I mean really, I’ve never ever had a seamless cross-platform, cross-site unified list of output devices before, and yet there it is, all available to me with the Cr-48.

In the past year, I’ve never had the Cr-48 plugged into the home network via cable—because I can’t!  But there it is, whether it’s using a personal router at the college, some sort of wireless connection at work, or is just in the vicinity of the home network, it’s as if I had Unix CUPS running on the Chromebook.  But I don’t need to.  As long as I’ve worked out the printer settings for whatever machine I’ve got going at different workplaces, they are ready for me to use from the Cr-48 whenever I’m close to the printer.

The last piece of the puzzle that helps me feel that Chrome OS makes supreme sense as a reference platform is multiple Google Account profiles.  Again, this was prompted by my teaching work.  Of course the college has a Learning Management System (LMS) that offers e-mail, class web page, and the ability to post files.  But I wanted to help the class learn more about using the cloud, so I have strongly encouraged them to create their term essays not just in electronic form, but in the cloud, shared with me rather than sent as an e-mail attachment.

This meant that I encouraged some students to try out Google Docs who had not used it before; they were not required to use Docs for its document-composing applications if they did not want to, as long as they uploaded their report to their Google Docs account and shared it with me before the deadline.  Those using MS Word 2010 were sometimes uploading their reports in .docx format, but over the past couple of weeks, those are now just opening inline within Google Docs, almost no matter what their size.  In this way, I was able to accommodate students using lab workstations, home Windows machines, home Macs, or even home Linux.  But to manage the deluge of reports, I created a separate Google Account for myself, specifically to interact with the students and their reports.
(There’s much more to be said about what that means in terms of Google Voice for each account, and the way that Android provides a control panel for the multiple accounts’ Gmail and Google+ streams, but that’s for another day)

And that brought me, in the last month, to a much clearer awareness of the nature of multiple login profiles, the partitioning of services among different Google Accounts, and ways to architect free cloud services into a system that supports my needs as an instructor, as a county worker, and even as a household member.    With Chrome OS, I can get some functionality across accounts for viewing, but write permissions are most reliable when only one Google Account is logged in on all tabs.  With Chrome SXS browser, each different Google account opens in its own browser window with its own set of tabs, and to a greater extent each window is its own sandbox across the workstation’s dual screens.

To summarize what feels like insight, a common-sense perspective from my specific use case, Chrome OS makes infinite sense as a reference platform for the OS that is growing inside the Chrome browser.  Remote Desktop, Cloud Printing, and multiple simultaneous logins mean that the basic Chrome OS is evolving within the latest browsers.  In case “latest” browser doesn’t make specific sense, for the last three weeks or so I’ve been running updates in the range of Chrome 17.x.x.

To me, it seems rather profound to have OS-style functionality growing inside the Chrome browser.  After all, aren’t there perfectly good versions of the Chromium browser in OS X, MS Windows, variations of Linux, on x86, x86_64, and ARM processors?  The memory footprint of Chrome is not so heavy that it screams “sandboxed OS!” to most users.  But as web sites grow the functionality of their apps toward desktop-grade  product, as Javasript runs faster each quarter, then what happens?

I’m suggesting that what happens is that most of the functionality that I’ve been living with as the Cr-48 has evolved over the past year will be existing, implanted in the most popular desktop systems worldwide if the desktop has Chrome browser installed.  That means the Cr-48 is not so much a reference platform for Chromebooks as it is the reference platform for the OS-in-a-browser that will just be there, all over the place, ready to consume upgraded web apps.  Right now I experience it with WebGL in Google Maps, but what of a browser-embedded OS able to run Native Client apps?  Then as functionality of cloud web apps grows, performance may grow right along with them in a very appealing way.   This week I saw the amazing work at architectstudio3d.org being used by third-graders—and it gave me great hope for children learning spatial literacy, but it required the Unity game engine plugin; if NaCl in Chrome makes that happen, I will be a happy camper (and parent).

Downsides could be that the Chrome browser runs away with fancy functionality that won’t track with WebKit or V8 alone.  I really enjoyed reading the post last week by Nexx positing Chrome browser as the next IE6 and it made sense.  IE6 was disruptive in its time because it was fast and capable, but became a problem when it diverged from standards supported by other browsers so that web sites contorted themselves to work well in IE6 at the expense of working as well for most other browsers.   I’m not certain that all angles of Nexx’s analogy are equally sharp (in the sense of being pointedly applicable to Chrome), and yet I’m not seeing any bright line separating Chromebooks in total as a reference platform for Chrome the OS-in-a-browser.

Product-wise, I’m still of a mind, same as six months ago, that a  transformative and necessary price point will be to have at least a two-threaded, 16 GB, 3G wireless Chromebook available at $249 including the 100MB/mo “free” 3G data.  That is a space where wallets will open, popularity will swell, and Chromebooks will find their place in the world of devices.   It’s also a space that could be invigorated  by student communities who want to produce cool stuff more than flaunt a cool and pricey device—and who are knowledgeable enough to gather their thought-nutrition from the Internet directly.  In that world, at least from where I write, iTunes would be on its way toward looking like Prodigy of the early 1990′s, yet another attractive walled garden where the price of admission is an open tab on your credit card.

This post, like most of the ones before it over the past year, have been pounded out on a Mario keyboard.  As of today’s update, its tagline reads:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; CrOS i686 1412.7.0) AppleWebKit/535.11 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/17.0.963.2 Safari/535.11

Or as I’ve usually posted it:
Chrome OS  1412.7.0  (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
Google Chrome  17.0.963.2
WebKit   535.11 (@102287)
V8     3.7.12.6
Firmware   Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d

One year on, and grearing up for the next, Happy First Drop Day, Mario  (the day that FedEx dropped you on my doorstep)

23 Nov 11 Closing in on a first year with Cr-48; Chrome convergence

In the US, this is the start of an odd sort of holiday weekend.  Elementary schools might extend the holiday early through Wednesday, some employers provide a holiday extension on Friday, and most people get Thursday—with reasons for its timing vague and, at a continental level, homespun.  The more aggressive households pull kids out Monday and Tuesday, glom together the weekend before and after, and declare a nine-day hiatus.

However it works out (and for me there’s college class today and it’s been a busy work week already), there’s a sense up here in North America of the year sliding down toward its true close at the shortest-day solstice, followed by a coda of holiday events both de jure and de fides, most phase-delayed by the frailties of human calendar-keeping.  That said, in the northern hemisphere outside the tropics, it’s a fine season for reflection as daylight squeezes in on life’s activities.

This season’s days’ shortness echoes the words of Gilmour/Mason/Waters/Wright “…one day closer to death.”  Though for us using Cr-48s it’s not necessarily a morbid thought—the little machines are getting long of tooth.  Mine is about two weeks shy of its first year of use, and it’s holding up fairly well.  It’s gained a couple of stickers that stick (as opposed to those making just an ephemeral appearance), and it actually has an ironic scar on its face.  The irony of the scar is that it is from a brand-new industrial strength HP Z400 workstation, a twelve-thread Windows 7 machine from which I had removed  the side cover in order to add two USB 3.0 adapter cards.  While I was getting my first look at the Z400′s guts, and before I had set the cover down, an inside corner of the cover touched  the upper-left corner of my Cr-48 screen, and a razor-sharp edge from some Chinese sheet-metal stamping factory caused me to make a five-cm scratch on the display.  Of course, the Cr-48 was open and in use at that moment as a third screen at my desk…  Anyway, the Cr-48 display wasn’t cracked, and I chalked it up to character-building for the little proto-Chromebook.

On topic, In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping Chrome SXS (a.k.a. Google Chrome Canary) updated on four different Windows machines that I use, two flavors of XP and two of 7.  These are usually just a couple of versions shy of a Chromium nightly build, and I update them at the start of most days.   Well, in the past two weeks I had the intriguing experience of seeing  the little wrench icon on SXS display the small green up-arrow annunciator that tells us Chrome OS folks that an update is available.  That small item really drove home for me how much convergence I’m feeling between the versions of Chrome Browser that I work with and the Chrome OS on the Cr-48.  The other hints of convergence that I’m noting are the functionality of Web GL in Google Maps that makes me look forward to a future Chromebook making use of integrated graphics as might be power-friendly with an Ivy Bridge-generation processor, and the Google Remote Desktop that has provided me with some stunningly useful alternatives to centrally controlled installations of VNC that aren’t given out.

Anyway, as I complete a second semester, and total of three classes that I’ve taught while having the Cr-48, the downloads section at chrome://files/  is really filling up and I’m making use of the Ctrl-F search function to locate stuff.  I haven’t yet run out of local storage ;^)  I carry around the wireless router in my Cr-48′s sack in preference to a mouse, and I very seldom use the plug-in mouse.  The touch pad still gives me random annoyance, and my cheeky palms hit it about once every 1500 letters, which is way too often, but the multi-finger gesture responses make up for that, at least in my experience.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of seeing a certain household member in a Kindergarten class photograph this week; they use MacBooks for computer class but have access to iPads during certain other activity times.  I mention this because in a photo of his group with iPads, he was the only kid trying to use multi-touch—with one index finger from each hand ;^)  Again, it might be a small thing, but the Cr-48 has introduced useful new interface paradigms and use-case experiences not only to me, but also to my colleagues at work, my fellow instructors at college, some of my students, and even those at home.

‘Nuff said.  After at least three updates since my last post, the Cr-48 is now at:

Chrome OS      1324.0.0
Google Chrome  17.0.942.0
Firmware     Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
Webkit         535.8  @100508
V8                 3.7.7

So, after a 10-day to two-week lag, my Cr-48 has joined the ranks of Chrome SXS and the more recent Chromium builds, and sits at version 17.x   It’s welcome.  I really like the subtlety of the new add-tab button along the rightmost tab, and look forward to more updates as this first year with a Cr-48 draws to a close.

 

01 Nov 11 New Month, new version — and Google Maps GL Viewer goodness

A couple of new versions have dropped through in the past 10 days.  Tonight’s bump took the Cr-48 up to this:
Firmware  Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
ChromeOS  1193.20.0
Google Chrome  16.0.912.50  with WebKit 535.7 @98493  and V8  3.6.6.6

During the daytime, I’ve had an annoying hassle with uploads on the web site management interface Web Host Manager (WHM), in just its newly updated File Manager’s upload page.  Normally, a little dialog shows progress of the upload in text form.  In the latest versions of Chrome, be that beta, Canary / SXS, or Chromium in the 15+ version number, the File Manager upload does not complete, and might even invoke a memory leak.  When I left a page open and failing on the Chromebook, later that day I actually had to take the battery out to get the poor thing back to the normal state.  I’ve opened a but report at Chromium, but it’s hard for me to provide the right environment to those who need to see it fail first-hand.  All in a day’s beta testing!

Also during the day, I’ve made use of the new Google Maps Map GL interface that mediates between plain (2d) map views, the “45 degree” view, the Google Earth plugin view, and Street View.  Sounds like a lot until you’ve seen it in action–smooth as silk!  Just a scroll of the mouse wheel and it slides from one to the next to the next.  The transitions between different 45-degree views are mediated using a surface model from Google Earth.  One gets a virtual reality effect in seeing the landscape, with trees and structures modeled as 3D shapes, spinning to the next view.  It is really elegant.  When popping from a 45-degree view into Street View as well, there’s a 3D shape mediating the transition.  Really elegant, and I’ve been working it for several hours a day, extracting information into a GIS system where I have a lower-resolution image that I’m decoding using the sharper views in Google Maps.

20 Oct 11 ChromeOS versions return with new dev update

This morning my Cr-48 decided it needed an restart to complete its new version push.  And version numbers have returned!

Now at ChromeOS dev channel 1169.7.0  featuring Google Chrome  16.0.906.1  with WebKit  535.7 @97251  and V8 at 3.6.6.1 for now.

In the past week, when plugging the machine into a projector, which I tend to do three  to five times a week, I’ve had the Cr-48 appear to balk at syncing with the projector.  It could have been the projector, but I’m rather certain that it gets fewer firmware updates than my Cr-48 gets OS updates ;^)   In any case, it always resolved itself by my unplugging the projector for a few seconds then reconnecting.

It could be that I’m impatient and am inadvertently testing different startup sequences.  Plugging in the to the Cr-48 always makes the onboard screen dark (perhaps this is a power savings for the Cr-48 battery?) No matter for me, as I just position myself so that I don’t strain my neck while looking at the projected screen along with the class.   Anyway, the glitches appear to happen somewhere between my opening up the Cr-48 screen and having it wake up, connect to my wireless router (which is always booted up and has received its DHCP address before I open the Cr-48), and sometimes even get myself logged in.  The Cr-48 hardware continues to do a fine job of negotiating the highest possible undistorted resolution possible from any projector it’s met.  Pushy little Chromebook, it is. ;^)

Whenever my screen is not quite ready to be projected (like it is showing a full list of Google Docs items, or the class grade list) I just disconnect the projector.  In many ways, it has been a helpful safety catch to have the screen go dark, as it utterly prevents me from looking at my screen and inadvertently projecting some grading details to the class.  Chalk it up as a feature, IMHO.

During the day at work, I really enjoyed a beta update to Google Maps+Street View integration, mostly run with Chrome Canary build.  It has really gotten slick and the transitions between vertical orthophoto (“satellite”), oblique imagery (“45-degree”), and Street View are extremely fluid in the new GL interface.

The new interface is really helping me to extract certain public infrastructure features *in bulk* running standard GIS software on an adjacent screen, with both GIS and Google Maps running full screen.  Yea Maps team!

On Ubuntu, this evening Chromium browser has attained version 17.0.915.0 — so there’s something to look forward to in the next week on Chrome OS, perhaps?

15 Oct 11 Lost post – And why stop…

I’ve realized that  a post I’ve written has gone missing.  I might have stumbled onto the Trash link with the Cr-48 trackpad, late at night.  In any case, I’m intrigued by the version number on the Cr-48 dev channel that came in about 10 days ago.  I’d thought that I put up a post about it this past week, but it’s just not there!   No matter that,  Allons-y!

The Cr-48 is running Google Chrome 16.0.898.0  with WebKit 535.6  @96469 and V8 3.6.4.1 — but the ChromeOS version has the moniker ’0.0′ which is quite a curiosity.   Is the dev team on an extended vacation?

Ubuntu is taking form once again, in a fresh partition and a proud new Linux kernel that has crossed the 3.0 threshold!
It’s actually kernel 3.0.0-12 for goodness’ sake.  It feels like I’ve been in the land of 2.x Linux kernels since back at Red Hat 5.1 maybe 13 years ago, so this seems like a fairly big deal, kernel-wise.  Please say that they weren’t holding out for Dennis Ritchie’s passing to release it. ;^)

My biggest hassle right now is giving up Ubuntu’s Evolution install.  The e-mail client has been quite fine for a couple of years now, and the transition to Mozilla Thunderbird means that I’m setting up a half-dozen e-mail accounts all over again, and lacking some connections with piles of old e-mail.  Maybe it’s time to move on from piles of old e-mail?  Some fraction of important stuff gets echoed through Gmail to reach my phone, so it’s like my backup situation, a matrix of solutions where some loss does not mean total loss.  The UI on Thunderbird feels a bit beta-ish, just not as snappy as Evolution had become.  But the Unity desktop has fleshed out well.  I just need to ensure that my latest Nvidia drivers and display resolution start to stick.

I did get Google Chrome updated to the dev channel. but I had to use this

sudo dpkg -r 'google-chrome-current'

to first remove the standard-fare version, and then I could download the .deb and install as I learned to last night.  I haven’t yet got it together to install the Chromium build.  It used to be quite simple on 11.04 where I’d unpack the archive and my Launcher button would just keep working.  So far, I haven’t got that happening.  And it does seem that the Ubuntu Software Center has not yet come to terms with Google about making Chrome available.   That’s too bad, because Chrome feels about four times faster than Firefox under 11.10 right now.

Anyway,  the Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot desktop, over Linux kernel 3.0.0-12, is now set up with Google Chrome 16.0.904.0 dev channel.  In this way, there’s a lot more consistency between my Ubuntu, Cr-48,  Windows-7-at-work, and XP-at-campus environments.  The Windows platforms are easiest to keep current with Canary Build, so they’re usually within 72 hours of the dev channel.