Although I didn’t find the little Cr-48 on my doorstep until about 9 December 2010, some aspect of the machine have just turned two years old. I last used the bundled 100 MB/month Verizon data on 28 November 2012, and when it didn’t work on Friday 30 Nov., I had a word with the Verizon folks and learned that my two year Cr-48 data plan expired on 29 November.
It’s not like I rely on the Verizon plan very often, but I’m using 3G right now—at a mildly remote youth camp in Marin County that doesn’t have WiFi in the building. I realize how accustomed I’ve become to having that little backup of 100 MB/month, and although my phone is humming with Android 4.1.2 Jellybean, the T-Mobile data just doesn’t cover this area so hotspot wouldn’t help. But here’s how much I value the old plan: it was always there with no marginal cost. Now that my two years of Cr-48 pilot use is up, my only data options from Verizon are $20 for 1 GB over 30 days, and I think it’s $30 for 5 GB over 30 days and something even more. So it’s not like I use 3G often enough to even get much value out of the $20/month plan. Everywhere I use the Cr-48 the most, I either have WiFi access, or I have a wired connection that I can plug my router into. It’s these remote camp-out weekends where I might want to use either Verizon, or T-Mobile through Android mobile hotspot. I actually found one camp where Verizon data didn’t work, but T-Mobile did—and I was very happy to have the hotspot capability!
Anyhow, I really have gotten to like this Chromebook. When I’m teaching, it’s getting heavy use every week. In the past semester when I’ve had a teaching hiatus, I use the Chromebook to read manga almost every night—probably seen over 10,000 pages in the last four months. Basically, I’m using it like it was a Kindle ;^)
But I was so pleased to see that the Chromebook $250 price point has been pierced with the Samsung Series 3. I was bowled over to see Acer take one of their Windows chassis (Pentium, 320 GB local disk, and Windows-style keyboard) and blow it out as a $200 Chromebook. Perhaps best of all has been to see the Samsung show up with Verizon 3G for 2 years at $329—suggesting that the Verizon plan has a marginal cost of $35/year for two years. I truly wish that Verizon would offer something like an “extended warranty” where subsequent years of 100 MB/month for third and fourth years with Chromebooks.
Here’s my key observation about Chromebooks after two years on the keyboard: by turning over much work to the Cloud, and not relying much on the performance of the local hardware, the machine gets obsoleted more slowly. Where a power workstation is a fine candidate for replacement after about three years, and smart mobile phones are downright stale after just 18 months, somehow the Chromebook paradigm has got the little device in an “ageing gracefully” sort of state. Sure, I’m ready for something new (see below), but my Cr-48 is just about ready to start its new life as a kitchen internet appliance.
What should one call it if a (Cr-48) Chromebook is used to order a new (Acer) Chromebook through the Google Play Store? Is that how Chromebooks reproduce? Will the new Acer, already arrived, be considered a meta-Chromebook? So many angles to ponder. ;^)
The long-discussed convergence of Android and Chrome OS really seems like it would take a step forward in an interesting way when we start getting hardware that makes the transition from netbook-grade (like the Cr-48 and its descendants to date) to ultrabook-grade (as with a touch screen). Since as of this holiday season we are starting to see some nice Asus touchscreen 11.6-inch Windows notebooks at $500, just maybe the WiFi-only touchscreen Chromebooks can drop in at around $350. One can always hope!
Anyway, to maintain my ongoing logging, here’s where the Cr-48 has gotten to at this point:
Release: 3196.1.0 (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
Processor: Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU N455 @ 1.66GHz
Hardware Class: IEC MARIO PONY 6101
WebKit: 537.19 (@134183)
Build Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
So this is the dev channel, and now I wonder if Cr-48 updates will go on hold, in favor of a dev channel on the newer generations of hardware. I wonder, will there be something like a Nexus Chromebook to follow on the Cr-48? Will this be the touchscreen version?
One last thought this evening:
What will the next two years bring? At this point, we’re transitioning from pretty much having a single Chromebook device available, to having the first couple of ones from Samsung, and now there’s two new ones from two manufacturers. Think back to what this stage was like for Android and there’s a point that matches. I’ve watched too closely to believe the hyperbole that Android has been on track to stomp iOS since 2008. It wasn’t like that from my perspective—it was a really slow start with just the G1 phone. I got mine in 2009 and it was a piddling user share that we had. Then there were a couple of models, maybe the Motorola Droid to really boost popularity, and that was when, 2010? I guess my point is that these new $250 Chromebooks are analogous to the arrival of the Moto Droid in Android world.
‘Nuff for now.
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|
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? ;^)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
Chrome OS (Cr-48)
Google Chrome 18.0.1025.32
Platform 1660.34.0 dev-channel x86-mario
WebKit 535.19 (@107639)
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.
About a week ago, I experienced a system update after which I couldn’t read multi-page PDF documents. I stayed stuck on the first page. This turns my Cr-48 into a quasi-functional object that sort of imitates a black brick. I filed a bug report with Chrome OS team about an hour after I couldn’t find a work-around. I’ve noticed some blog postings elsewhere that suggest that Safari users may have had somewhat similar issues starting January 21 or so.
The built-in Chrome PDF viewer has actually been a mainstay of how my Cr-48 pulls its weight in class preparation. Without the viewer being able to handle multi-page PDFs, I can’t use the Cr-48 to display my lecture slides. Uploading from Libre Office .odp format to Google Docs has so many fine-tuned formatting items botched that it’s a non-starter.
This is sad, because it might be something bad with WebKit. Then again, it’s one of the more brittle aspects of Chrome OS that I can’t just install the Adobe PDF Reader plugin—although I admit that I haven’t taken time to approach this on the command line. Fact is, I don’t want to take time to make something work like it did two weeks ago.
At campus, our new Moodle installation is also reducing the degree to which Google Docs is involved in my distribution of files. It’s a new experience for most of the students, and a welcome return to Moodle for me. Anyway, the Cr-48 is now at:
Google Chrome 18.0.1017.3
Chrome OS Platform 1625.0.0 dev-Mario
WebKit 535.19 (@105663)
It’s the second week of Spring 2012 semester here, and those of us part-timers in the department have been moved into an adjacent office. I got a personal meeting with the campus IT folks when I installed the router on the second network outlet in the new office. Unlike the office of last semester, in our new office both network outlets wired into the private network; all I did was to test which one was private, hook up the campus-issued workstation to it, and I thought things would be going smoothly…
Campus IT folks were reasonable in accommodating us and hooking up the other ends of the cable to the appropriate switch to duplicate what we had before, and we’re off again. Turns out that with the new office location, we’re even better positioned to maintain signal on both 2.4 and 5 GHz in two faculty offices and two teaching labs. Nearby faculty who have laptops are pleased to have a connection. Turns out that for those of us using web apps, there’s very little downside to being on the public side of the campus network. In my case, I choose to use MS Outlook Web Access over the native MS Office Outlook app, so that my interface is consistent whether I’m here, at home, or at my day job.
And this semester, I’m choosing to use a mouse with my Cr-48 whenever I’m in the faculty office. Today I had another Chrome OS update, and the (Dell optical wheel) mouse was plugged in when I restarted the machine. On reboot, the pointer was VERY slow. I had to drag the mouse six times to move the pointer from one side of the screen to another. When I got to the settings, it was the second notch from slowest, and I moved it up a couple to get back to normal. I’m not certain, but there seems to be something a little bit different about the trackpad, too. Sadly, even after using the Cr-48 for almost 14 months I’m still hitting the upper corners of the trackpad and blasting my cursor off into oblivion in mid-sentence, at least once in a while. I’m hopeful that the pointer speed reset indicates that some updates to the pointer drivers have been installed.
As of this morning, the Cr-48 is up to (oh–I think that we got new fonts with this update, at least how it looks in WordPress)
Chrome OS 1625.0
Google Chrome 18.0.1017.3
WebKit 535.19 (@105663)
In terms of course documents, mostly quizzes and presentations for me, I’ve been learning to finesse multiple Google accounts to help partition my teaching documents from personal e-mail and documents. This has been an evolving experience, as it seems very possible to set up Gmail for multiple sign-ons (and Android 4.0.3 does a stellar job of providing a central switchboard for many Gmail accounts)—but things are a bit more partitioned with Google Docs. I never have trouble when sharing from one account to another, but sometimes I confuse myself dealing with multiple identities.
With Chrome 18 on Windows or Ubuntu, opening Gmail with a separate account will automatically spawn a new browser window, which really helps keep identity management cleaner. On Chrome OS, I am still learning to recognize what appears graphically like a Workspace switch in Ubuntu. Without having a desktop background, I need to think a little more about identity on Chrome OS. When there’s a desktop and the browsers are not maximized, the graphics sort of do the thinking for me. ;^)
And that just about wraps it up for January, 2012
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
WebKit 535.11 @103967
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.
Three days ago, I was pleased to update my phone to Android ICS 4.0.3, and I’ve been enjoying some of its new cool stuff. On my second attempt, I got a nice-looking panoramic photo of a sunset from my office. The first one was a head-to-foot vertical pan of a wiggly six-year-old sitting close by in a chair, and it was a little too cubist to share with the family…
Despite any technical gripes from typeface boffins, I do prefer the new Roboto font, and I’ve learned some new ways to use the updated browser efficiently. I still haven’t dug in deeply enough to learn the browser’s name yet. Chrome it ain’t. There have been a few cases where I really like the interface improvements, and a couple where I find myself stressed. Usually those circumstances are how I try to relate to Google Maps’ Traffic view while driving. One might say that I’m a little impatient with default start ups that forget my preference for Traffic-always-on-thank-you-very-much, and zoom levels drawn from random space. But somehow I just don’t seem to use the phone for maps when I’m at my desktop (go figure!)
But what inspires me tonight is an elegant technical solution to a recently created policy challenge at work. You see, the WiFi police from IT came by ready to confiscate the router because it appeared to be plugged into the private network. Well, with ICS on my Nexus S, the problem is solved—and I’m blogging with it right now. Although I like having 100 MB of Verizon to use out in the boonies, most of my life I’m well within T-Mobile coverage area, and as of tonight I’m happily using my Nexus S for the first time as a hotspot for the Cr-48. Works great, less filling of the Verizon data load. Doesn’t require a cabled router in hostile territory.
Admittedly the Nexus S is not as small and fast as a Verizon LTE MiFi; but you know, I’ve looked at my bill and decided that gosh, I’m really not using enough of my 5 GB monthly cap with T-Mobile! I really like this setup, although tomorrow I’ll be finding out how the Nexus S battery fares in its new augmented role as mobile hotspot support for the Cr-48.
The Cr-48 system configuration has been static since 2011 12 16. Probably going to have a drop in the next 48 hours.
I’ve had some anticipation of updating my Nexus S phone to Android 4, and that was part of the reason that I chose that phone earlier this year. The upgrade experience was very easy—I followed these directions, and once the update was on the phone, I was manually upgraded in just over 300 seconds. My Nexus S is now provisioned with Ice Cream Sandwich, a.k.a. Android 4.0.3
Things are more stylish, fonts weren’t bad before yet are easier to read now. I like the ability to open the phone either to its home screen, or directly to the camera. The camera is faster, and it can rotate with “up” in any of four directions. The search bar is more transparent and stays atop all five screen pages, and the new buttons along the bottom also let more of the wallpaper show through. The first reaction that I got when showing it off was, “the screen is bigger”.
The Cr-48 has had two updates this week. The first took it to Google Chrome 17.0.963.6 browser on CrOS 1412.18.0 and as of tonight it is:
Google Chrome 17.0.963.10
Cr OS 1412.24.0
WebKit 535.11 @102778
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)
One year on, and grearing up for the next, Happy First Drop Day, Mario (the day that FedEx dropped you on my doorstep)