Chrome OS for web mapping delivery

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

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.

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.


02 May 11 Welcome the Chrome OS FileManager!

Zowie, the dev builds are flying out fast and furious.  As of this evening, Chrome OS on the Cr-48 is up to 0.12.433.22 and Google Chrome is up to 12.0.742.16—which is precisely the same Google Chrome that landed on the dev channel for X86_64 Ubuntu this evening.  All the major Chrome browser builds are in synch, all the ducks appear to be paddling in line.  Perhaps this is the final bake of Google Chrome 12.   Chromium browser, as usual, has moved on and sits at 13.0.754.0 and I’ve had some troubles at work with Chrome SXS at around 13.0.749.0, so it’s not up to today’s current build of  13.0.753.0 yet.

Anyhow, Chrome OS 0.12.433.22 started up with a very intriguing new tab—a file system browser.  Maybe it’s been there lurking for awhile, but I hadn’t seen it in its full-page glory until the update sort of hung up there.  It was interesting—not fully populated with a view from up at C-ROOT, but intriguing none the less and really fine for what’s likely some sandboxed JavaScript.  It’s a little like the download mini-window, only a full tab in size and with a cool preview pane.

Thanks to this post, I learned how to invoke this puppy deliberately.  Just drop a Ctrl-M and you get a cool new tab with a Globe icon and a forward slash.  So what should we call it, Root?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Oh, yea, I’ll hit Shift-Esc and see what it’s called.  Gosh, it rings in as “Extension: /”.  OK—how about a view-source: on that puppy?

Gak.  I haven’t looked at a file system browser written in JavaScript before, and I’m thankful that Chrome will read it for me!

Looks like the best-fit name for this item is going to be FileManager.  Works for me.
I hung ChromeOS trying to save a screen shot; it’s been awhile and the Ctrl-F5/Next Window grab led me to a mini-FileManager that I couldn’t recall that I needed an Esc to escape from.  Go figure.  Second time around, it seemed obvious.

First look at the '/' FileManager in ChromeOS

Enjoying access to FileManager in ChromeOS

At first glance, it don’t look like much, but the File Shelf, a.k.a. /Downloads is what I’ve seen with, um, downloads. This translates to URI  file:///home/chronos/user/Downloads/

Also, the External Storage directory looks like the answer to the long-desired access to USB device browser.  I haven’t tested this yet, so why not?  I plug in a 32 GB USB drive, and I see the same mini-window that has shown up for the last couple of builds for no apparent reason at that time: “Notifications — Removable Device Detected — Scanning Content”.

POW!  I get four new tabs auto-opening, one for each directory on the USB drive that was descended by the scan.  These all show up within “External Storage”—which itself seems to be an alias for file:///home/chronos/user/media/

This is an answer to desires posted by various folks back in December.  It’s a first glimpse at a more desktop-like future.  Here’s another screen shot.  Hope that the ChromeOS team doesn’t  freak out, it’s still inside sandbox—it’s just that the first external drive that I grabbed was a recovery drive.

External drive plugged into Chrome OS and browsable

Not a broken sandbox: just a recovery drive in the USB port

I seem to recall some little action drop-downs last week in the Downloads mini-window, but can’t find them now.  I can make new directories, but I can’t delete anything.   The breadcrumb list along the top is a nice touch for navigation.

All in all, a fairly exciting update to get, and good hints of more fun stuff to come—most likely before Google IO 2010

26 Apr 11 Waiting for Google Chrome 13

Hey, in the browser space, Chromium and Google Chrome SXS (Canary) are there as of today.

But tonight’s update has brought the Cr-48 to 0.12.433.9 Chrome OS and 12.0.742.9 Google Chrome.

I’ve got access to a Windows 7 workstation now that has a Windows Experience Index of 7.3—and it would be closer to 7.5 except for its “slow” X25-M SSD for system.  Anyhow, that machine does a decent job of running Internet Explorer 10, which I experience to be as fast as Google Chrome 11.  With the exception of IE’s apparent links to Direct X, made clear by their Fish Bowl Speed Test on an HTML5 page, for my use, Chrome SXS or Chromium are faster for JavaScript map viewers than even IE 10.

With Fish Bowl, IE 10 managed to get two bowls running at once, each on a 1600 x 1200 screen of its own, where each one had 2000 fish and both were managing 31 FPS.    Interestingly, the Fish Bowl HTML5 page crashed Chrome SXS 12, and ran well on Chrome Dev 11 browsers where I saw the animated blue ripply effect behind the bowl.  In contrast, although IE 10 was stomping out fish, it failed to draw the blue ripply backgorund and either showed solid static blue or red—so maybe those FPS were cheating?  ;^)


17 Apr 11 Another week, another Chrome OS update

Pushed the update-related restart button tonight, and 15 seconds later I was back with a fresh version of Chrome OS.  The new flat-look Chrome logo comes up on the splash screen, in all its tri-color glory for the official build.

I’m up to 0.12.397.0 on the dev channel for my x86-Mario; Google Chrome browser is up to 12.0.733.0 which is nice and fast.

10 Apr 11 Another Chrome OS update arrives (twice in one night!)

Just restarted to get myself running on — with some late-600′s version of Chrome 11 browser.

Oddly, I seem to have lost my user photo this time around.  Maybe I’ll shut down and start it up again to see if it’s really gone.

It’s like an old song goes: “He’s gone, gone, and nothing’s gonna bring him back.”  I’m intrigued by the file system-like path that I was searching, though.   chrome://userimage/
And I can’t seem to find buttons to either upload a photo or shoot a new one.  Rats.

Bof.  No sooner was I blogging this annoyance then I note another update icon in my Tools menu’s About Chrome OS item.  Twice in one night?  Hasn’t happened before, but that’s OK.  I’ve generally been keeping up my browsers close to nightly trunk build state both on Ubuntu at home and on Windows XP at work.  Recently, I’ve posted a Chromium OS bug with my experience at work having the AVG virus-malware protection suite killing off nightly Chromium builds when I use the embedded SWF plugin to watch Flash content.   Anyhow, I’ve learned how to invoke the Google Chrome Task Manager when need be (or when curiosity strikes) and do unto AVG what it has been doing unto me, at least long enough to finish watching my Flash content!

It’s rather odd to have AVG misbehave at those moments, as I can always scan the nightly trunk build .zip for malware with AVG, and when I do, it has no complaints.  And neither the dev beta of Chrome browser, nor its Canary Build SXS browser have ever had an AVG throw a conniption fit quite the way it has been doing with Chromium.  Some days Chromium and SXS are barely one version digit apart, too—but when I look at their package loads with Chrome Task Manager (for SXS) or Chromium Task Manager (for Chromium) I do see different SWF plugins, so that’s probably where an important difference lies.  The Chromium SWF plugin has a comma-delimited name, like German decimals.

Anyway, I want to get back to browsing, because the second version of Chrome OS tonight brings me up to 0.12.362.2 — which features Google Chrome browser 12.0.723.1 which passed through Canary earlier this month.  The JavaScript engine is running on all eight cylinders with version 12!
Oh, and the upload and new user photo buttons are there in all their former glory.

Plus, here at home I’ve upgraded my cable modem to a Motorola SB-6120 and with the same Comcast subscription, I’m getting 30 Mb down and usually 3 Mb to 8 Mb upload speed, testing with the Flash interface at

And in connection with Chrome Task Manager, I’ve enjoyed the view to be found at about:memory

Back to regular Cr-48 usage now!

20 Jan 11 Cr-48 plays to a packed house at meeting

The Bay Area Automated Mapping Association ( hosts an educational meeting about every two months for the geospatial community near San Francisco Bay.  This week’s meeting was graciously hosted by the Microsoft Campus at their prime location on the seventh floor above Stockton and Market in San Francisco.   In the past, whenever I’d spoken at these meetings, I tended to show up with a thumb drive (or before that, a CD) and scavenge use of someone else’s laptop to make a presentation.  But not this week!

Following my six-week trend of  making increased use of Google Docs,  I decided to try crafting my two 25-minute presentations in the cloud.  At first, the concept was a bit uncomfortable, in principle.  I wanted to be certain that I had a PDF backup on a thumb drive.  But things changed once I started creating the presentation, in ways that I wasn’t expecting.

First off, after blogging enough on the Cr-48 to really resonate with the keyboard (even as I strive to keep my pudgy palm cheeks off of the trackpad…) I really enjoyed just sitting down wherever I was and brainstorming talk stuff directly into slides.  I enjoyed it so much that I really became more productive.  The core of the talk I let take shape as numbered lists—bad technique perhaps but for my topic it was efficient and arguably appropriate.  I chose two different themes for the two talks, which I was to give back-to-back in a 50-minute window.

I didn’t even once think to try the Ignite style, although I was positively influenced by what I’ve seen done in that mode, and perhaps subconsciously I was striving toward that pace and essential nature.  But the way that Google Docs Presentation format changed my style was this: I wasted much less time goofing around with formatting than I always used to spend with PowerPoint.  If there was some nifty format that I attempted to use, and I couldn’t find it—I was pretty much at peace with that and rapidly moved back to the content and onward through the presentation.  At the end of the effort, I completed the list outlines for both talks in less than half the time I would have expected to spend on one of the talks has I been working with PowerPoint.

Then came time for graphics.  Here again, I wasn’t much troubled by file management.  I’d written the outline on the Cr-48, but then I scavenged my own graphics from wherever I could find them, logged in to Google Docs through a browser on that machine (typically a latest Trunk build of Chromium) and added the graphic to a page.  Some of the images came from home machines, some from work.  Finally, I opened up ArcGIS Desktop and created a couple of custom maps to illustrate just what I wanted, exported those to JPEG and had them into a slide in a few seconds.  Then I grabbed a Google Earth screen shot, scaled it in Photoshop, and uploaded that from another machine.

By grazing on whatever machine was easiest to produce the graphic, and then creating the new slide that used the graphic directly from that machine, my talks were built from efforts from four different machines—and never once did I copy a file from one of my machines to another.

A few formatting changes, one fancy hand-built facsimile of the Chrome logo as it appears on Chrome OS boot splash screen to mark that final slide, and I was just about finished.  I’d made two presentations in less time than I’d expected to spend on one with my old technique.

As I write this, it seems almost silly to say that I made life easier on myself by not moving files around between the machines.  Obviously I was uploading the files to Google Docs.  But having a cloud destination meant that every machine was equally easy to use, and their interfaces as well were very comparable.  This masked any wasted time on my part where I might reflect, say, on the relative merits of Chrome OS, Ubuntu 10.10 or 10.4, Windows XP or Server 2003, and how they share files with each other.  None of that!  The browser interfaces were nearly identical, the appearance of the presentation was consistent, and in the end, that helped to make the source machine’s OS sort of fade away from my consciousness.   When it comes to completing slides for a talk, that’s a good thing.

So as measured against the clock, the talks came out fast.  But there’s more.  The streamlined formatting options in Google Docs Presentation meant that I found myself a step closer, with less gap between having thoughts and expressing them into slides.  This more intimate connection helped me to deliver the talk because many thought nuances were right there, somehow, in the design or wording of the slide—probably because I’d not distracted myself much with formatting.  It’s not like one couldn’t be rigorous and do the same with PowerPoint, and some people (you know who you are ;^) might find the same synergy using MS Office Live.  But the big boost seems to come from NOT using local fancy applications to prepare the talk.  Instead, a cloud-based web app to prepare slides makes it easier to gather from sources on many machines, mitigates risk of not having the talk available when needed, and saves both time and distractions relative to local-app-and-file based methods.

The last elements of the talks were tweaked as I sat at the counter of Mel’s Diner back on Mission Street, eating a breakfast before the start of the session.  Having the Verizon 3G connection bulked up with a GB has been very settling.  I don’t need to graze WiFi every time I sit down and open up the notebook.  Also, in the (really very nice and generously provided) Microsoft campus meeting room, there were so many people using laptops that the WiFi connection was a bit  slow for them.  (Total audience for BAAMA was 90, and an adjacent meeting the next room over looked to have 50 or so).  In that crowded setting, I found myself far more settled using the 3G connection—with no risk of facing an access logon screen to reach my presentation just because my laptop had been quiet for a couple of minutes.

The Microsoft room had what seemed to be a high-end A/V console at the lectern, with two VGA cables, a fixed microphone, a wireless handheld mic, and a wireless lapel mic.  When I hooked up the Cr-48 to the VGA cable, I saw my display change its aspect somewhat, and the image started projecting and remained on the Cr-48 screen at the same time.  I hadn’t encountered this mode before.  When I first used it with a projector, I had to use the top row “F5″ equivalent key, and had my display switch over to the projector or TV.  But with the fancy stuff at Microsoft, the projector appears to have negotiated with the Cr-48 and took its best resolution for display, while leaving my screen running—which was very convenient for moments when I was standing at the lectern.

In a mostly unrelated matter, I’m getting ready to teach a course at the local community college.  This has involved a bit of orientation learning this week, including a new e-mail address, campus class portal system, and a lab full of GIS workstations.  It’s also meant being out of the office for a couple of hours on several occasions in the past two weeks.  During these visits to campus, having the Cr-48 has been a welcome change.  With it, I’ve been able to maintain access to work e-mail and campus e-mail through two tabs (both use MS Outlook Web Access) and the class portal system (from SUNGARD) appears to be browser-neutral.  Although I could use 100% of it with IE, I could run everything except the live chat client plug-in on ChromeOS.

Again, having the 3G connection in a way that I’m not spending any time grazing for local WiFi has been a blessing, especially when I show up for a training just in time.   During the regular class session, where I’m in the lab for three hours straight, I might prefer the WiFi.  But for e-mail, presentations, spreadsheets, and low-bandwidth stuff, the 3G has been really nice to have.

09 Jan 11 Four Weeks With a Cr-48 Chrome OS Notebook

Today finishes the fourth week that I’ve had a household Cr-48 notebook.  It arrived on December 9th the very afternoon after I’d filled out a late-night web form describing my interest in exploring Chrome OS as a medium for delivering web mapping applications.  Apparently that, and perhaps being the first in my Zip code to ask for one, was a good enough reason for Google to send an early Winter Solstice present.  I hadn’t even mentioned to anyone else in the house that I filled out the form, and so I didn’t hear until Friday morning that a box had arrived for me the previous day.  Oh, the magic of overnight delivery!

As a mapping person, I’ve been a big consumer of custom workstations with industrial operating systems and rather generous memory, network, display and storage resources.  When it came to mobile devices, for 15 years I have been disdainful of the value of laptops relative to the same money spent on a tower-sized workstation—at least when it came time to perform data development, analysis, or bulk processing.

The last laptop that I bought for myself was one that I’d waited years to see: the glorious Toshiba 100 MHz Pentium with 24 MB of memory and CD drive, circa 1997.  Sure, I’d used, enjoyed and occasionally admired the various corporate devices I was loaned.  My Toshiba logged quite a few trips to Europe, and went to the field around the US including Hawaii.  For several years, it was the last device I had with a serial port that let me download GPS tracks from my Garmin Vista.  But after 10 years of use, it finally went up on the bookshelf and hasn’t been down since. In the past couple of years, I’ve seen the value gap between laptops and desktops shrinking.   From 1990–2005, it seemed that a very decent workstation could be had for about US$3000 in any given year.  For much of that time, a higher-end laptop of the same price would have fairly diminished processor power, storage, or battery life relative to its tower-sized cousins.

But a couple of years ago the price of all components seemed to start dropping at once, and processor power had become so saturated once the ~3GHz clock speed was reached, that things just started getting cheaper.  So now I see very decent workstations for about $1000, and modest laptops at half that price.  This price drop actually turns attention away from hardware, and where should it turn to but the OS and the actual use case served by that interface. In the past five years, mobile devices have become recognizable computers too.  At the end of the dot-com boom, I experienced the heartbreak of being laid off; that very day I got myself a mobile phone of my own to replace the corporate one I’d been relieved of.  I went from an iDen team-player special to a more basic Motorola feature phone on Verizon so that any potential employer could reach me.

When I moved across the Bay, the best coverage in the Marin countryside had been inherited by ATT, so I switched carriers and in 2006 bought an unlocked Palm Treo 650.  With that GSM/EDGE phone, I was able to enjoy Google Maps when visiting Hawaii and in places like Netherlands and Romania I could grab inexpensive pre-paid SIM cards and get a useful local phone number while visiting. When I changed jobs two years ago, I continued to be happy with the Treo 650 until one fateful day its use case caught up with it.  In August 2009, an air conditioner in the office started pouring condensate out of our drop ceiling, and I moved some furniture around to mitigate some of the damage.  In the process my shoe soles were unusually wet, and I strode out into our tile-floor lobby to contact the building manager and slipped—Treo in hand.  Well, the device gave its all, breaking my fall, but it was fatally damaged by having its charge plug broken out.  The phone was fully functional, but could never be charged without repair.  It was at this time that I admitted to myself that I really wanted to try out an Android phone. Ah, it was a simpler time, 16 months ago… For there was but one Android phone to have, the G1, and it was good.

T-Mobile wasn’t my first choice of carrier, but by having a GSM network, I was willing to give them a try.  Like I had a choice!  At first, they were a bit less coverage than ATT here in Marin, but now they have become much closer to comparable.  So suddenly I had GPS in the phone, and I no longer needed to fix the Garmin Vista that had been battered on bicycle handlebars a bit too much.  When I learned how easily I could share my travels with the MyTracks application, the whole business of downloading GPS files, processing them into GIS form, and doing stuff with them seemed so barbaric—relative to uploading and sharing the link to Google My Maps.  To save monthly costs, I eschewed any SMS plan; instead, with Google Talk I could still chat with most people who I wanted to reach that way.  A bit later, I installed Google Voice and very quickly got used to having voice messages transcribed and e-mailed to the phone.  Add in a WiFi sniffer app, and I quickly got the house set up with a wireless router so I could watch YouTube videos from any room.  Lots of nerdy fun.

So its been quite an experience for me to watch the expansion of Android adoption since then.  I sure knew that much of all the fun stuff I wanted to do on my phone involved free apps and wireless service that was $55/month.   Seems like I wasn’t quite as cool as some slick folks with an iPhone, but I had more than enough to play with, and it wasn’t sucking quite so many dollars out of my wallet each month as Apple folks get soaked for.  I still recall a conversation with a Linden Lab employee who noted that in their company, “all the engineers have Android phones, and all the marketing people use iPhones.”  It still rings true today, only the divide is edging closer to (and leaving less room around) the Apple camp.  Months ago I noted that Android new activations in the US had passed up Apple.  Now I note that total installed US base of Android phones has exceeded Apple.  I still like the feel of the Apple phone interface, but I view it with the same skepticism that kept me from purchasing a laptop in the past 13 years: I see the iPhone as poor value relative to competing choices. And so, with long deeply personal description of the background I bring to this tale, I find myself today blogging from wherever I feel like (except when I’m driving) thanks to a new device.

It’s too big to be a phone, and don’t call it a netbook, but it is not nearly as big as the laptops I see most people around me using.  The Cr-48 has a 31cm diagonal screen, and a keyboard that is a worthy facsimile of a 13-inch MacBook Air.  The machine weighs in at 1650 grams, and has a fairly beefy hinge on its screen.  When I’ve picked it up or handed it over to people to check out, I often pinch it with my thumb in the apex between keyboard and screen, and three fingers behind it, passing it around with one hand.

It’s no tablet, but it’s not that heavy.  I’ve gotten more than seven hours of use on its battery today, and the icon is just starting to turn red.  I can blog till the cows come home, and type just as fast as on a full-size workstation.  The keyboard is a very clever design, the best new design I’ve seen since the NeXT machine in 1988.  All the keys I want (with the exception of a numeric keypad option) are accessible with combinations of Ctrl- and Alt- and those two keys are available in oversized form near my left thumb.

I’ve taken the Cr-48 to the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco and happily used it among thousands of other laptop-wielding earth scientists.  I saw scores of netbook users, many of them grimacing and squinting, hunched over too-small keyboards while watching a too-small screen.  I saw scores of USS Enterprise-sized 19-inch laptop users who were generally clustered around power outlets.  I saw a few happy Mac users with 15-inch screens who were likewise looking for power outlets, and all the while I felt very balanced, knowing that I found my keyboard big enough, my touch pad kind of large with its fledgling multi-touch senses starting to develop, and an ability to graze WiFi or not sweat it and use Verizon EVDO 3G.

My screen requires me to use reading glasses, but I need those anyway these days for my workstation screens. The app experience has been fantastic.  Before the Cr-48 arrived, I made occasional use of Google Docs, but now they make sense in completely deeper ways.  In the past month, I’ve been regularly collaborating on documents and spreadsheet with a colleague at work who is a part-time hire and who does not have a fully personalized e-mail account. They do, however, have an Android phone and make regular use of Gmail.  After watching my Google Docs collaborators type their changes in real time on my screen, whether that be a workstation browser or my Cr-48, I find packaging an MS Word document as an attachment to an e-mail composed in MS Outlook and sending for review via an MS Exchange server to be an antediluvian approach to collaboration.  After all, I didn’t install any app to make my Google Doc collaboration happen.

New experience: I just ran the Cr-48 into the ground after 8.5 hours of use today (it is getting late).  I  had six tabs open in Chrome OS, and WordPress open on my site.  The battery icon was hollow and red for about the last 20 minutes.  No lost data. As much time spent going upstairs to get the charger (90 seconds) as it took to hook up the power and get something more to drink.  One minute later, the Cr-48 is powered up and complaining that Chrome didn’t shut down properly and would I like to Restore.  Why, yes I would.  Two seconds later all my tabs are open, all my content is refreshing, and by 15 seconds all tabs were back to operation.  I’m not sure that I could reboot my MS Windows workstation in that time frame, but if I did, I wouldn’t have any of my applications running, much less restored to their state at the time of power loss.

Still reading? By now you probably realize that I keep running Google News searches on both “Android” and “Chrome OS”, and in fact that’s part of how I knew within hours on 8 December that it would be prudent to fill out a Cr-48 request form.  As I follow the relentless march of the Android army up Highway 85 to the Gates of Cupertino, I’ve reflected on how a clever truce could help the two Silicon Valley behemoths Just Get Along better.  Part of the cool factor here with the Cr-48 is the hardware.  It’s black, as black as anything created by Steve Jobs in his NeXT days.  I’ve made some careful calculations, and by my estimate, if one were to take 12.5 Cr-48 notebooks and stack them atop each other, they would form a reasonable facsimile of the size and color of a 12-inch NeXT cube.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple, just on a whim, were to make a special black edition of the 13-inch MacBook Air chassis, keep the display, gut the Mac hardware and OS X and its storage, and use Apple engineer savoir-faire to craft a Chrome OS-capable device?  Chances are, you could take six Apple hardware engineers, one Weber grill, a dozen steaks, two cases of beer, and a pile of chips with napkins and Sharpies and get a brilliant design sketch in one weekend.  (I’m assuming here that some other approach was used for the design of the Cr-48 itself ;^)  There would probably be enough space left over in the Air chassis to increase the battery enough to put the Cr-48 operating time to shame.  Imagine, if you will, Apple being willing to sell a non-Mac on Apple hardware, but having that occupy the Luxo end of the Chrome OS notebook space, and doing so for $495.

Chances are, that could be the upper end of what Chrome OS notebooks are like.  For goodness’ sake, if you have anything more in the way of hardware, then use your operating system of choice and perhaps the Chrome browser, and have all the same apps, plus bells and whistles that you see fit.  But there is a slice of the future that really makes sense for Chrome OS, and I feel that ever more clearly after a month behind the keyboard of the Cr-48.

In news items, blog posts are quoted where there is a muddled distinction between Android and Chrome OS.  There might be some overlap, but so far, the difference is obvious to me.  I poke the Android screen with my fingers, but I use pointers and keyboard, plug in a mouse and plug in a VGA cable to a TV or projector with Chrome OS.  I could collaborate on some documents with Android users, but I’d feel sorry for them if they wanted to punch in spreadsheet formulas, make a complex selection to change formatting in a document, drag items around in a presentation, or even begin to free-hand draw something.  In my daily work with mapping, I learn how dependent we are on very precise pointers; thus far, fingers on screens do not precise pointers make.

When I see the sales folks at an Apple store walking around with an iPad attached to their wrist, I see future repetitive-strain lawsuits and I see Really Slow Typing right now.  It’s one thing to have a tablet and a stand and a cool roll-up full-sized Bluetooth keyboard with one’s iPad.  But by then, the Cr-48 starts to look sleeker.

In 16 months I have seen Android evolve from the G1 obscure niche device for techno-cognoscenti to Samsung Galaxy S on all five carriers, plus a 7-inch tablet, even with a Galaxy Player to besiege the iPod Touch market—in this same way I am picturing this Cr-48 being followed by many Chrome OS devices.  These could be cheap enough to get attention; think of them as One Laptop Per Human devices.  Like my speculation above, picture an Apple 13 inch ChromeBook Air for $495 on the top end, many players selling full-price devices in the $250 range, and mobile carriers offering them for free with $40/month data-only two-year contracts.

As I write, I feel we may be approaching an echo of market situations that led to my earlier disdain for laptops as poor value against tower PCs.  Perhaps what will truly distinguish Chrome OS devices from smart-, super-, or ultra-phones will be value.  For where an unlocked no-contract high end Android device may well cost $750, a very respectable Chrome OS device might cost less than $300 and support much more productivity and business relevance than many tablet solutions.   Meanwhile, the tablet may have a larger screen than the phone, but its cost will probably stay closer to the phone—and both of these are Android devices.  With Chrome OS, one is likely to experience more performance, more laptop-like hardware features, and more business processes served with less disruption than with phone-only or tablet-only mobile solutions.  No doubt there will be places for both phones and tablets, but I suggest that these will shake out to be either personal communications (like phone) or specialized field work (meter reading, field condition recording, or filling out forms) for the tablet.

If one can have much of the basic functionality of the PC: e-mail, written documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and drawings, in an environment that is robust enough to have minimal loss of documents, lost productivity due to file management issues—then how awesome to do so on very low cost hardware with familiar keyboards, reasonable screens, a very green low-power footprint, and an almost throw-away commodity-like sense to the hardware.  Remember: while typing this I learned that my Cr-48 won’t quite make it to nine hours on a battery charge, but I lost less time than a Windows reboot and lost nothing from my in-process work. This is very good, and it seems likely to be very big.

It is also fully distinct from Android, at least at this time.  But the distinction is not exactly a continental divide.  Case in point: while working on the Cr-48 this afternoon, I’d left my Android phone in vibrate-only mode from a meeting, and I had set the phone over on a shelf nearby.  I missed a call, and the caller rolled over to Google Voice, which is not hooked up to my office phone.  They left a message, which was transcribed and mailed to me—showing up in my Gmail tab.  I got a sense of what was in the message from the transcription, but I wanted to hear the tone of voice that the speaker used: was she really stressed, or just sharing information?  So I played the message on my Cr-48, and I returned the call with a headset from my office phone.  Android passed the call off to Chrome OS, and tried to help me with the transcription, but ultimately I just played the message back.  My phone stayed on the shelf the whole time…

Enough for now.  Suffice it to say that I’m having a blast, and I’m feeling fully experienced enough now to take the random blog posts that make the news with a grain of salt.

Oh, one more thing.  It’s that Open Source thing.  The Cr-48 comes with an internal switch that allows one to boot Chrome OS images that are not signed by Google.  That means that folks like myself, who assemble (either by just having one or in my case, imaging an older version to-purpose) an x86_64 Ubuntu 10.4 Lucid Lynx workstation can compile their own Chrome OS image for the Cr-48.  Last month, as a matter of principle, I did this.  I ended up running an hours-old version of a nightly build and it was all possible using standard search tools and a modicum of patience.  The open source site provides a Developer’s Guide and lots of information.  The forums are typically timely, and the only issues I had involved certain steps of the build bot relying on network path information that works within Google, but needed a tweak to work for those of us in the outside world.  By the third evening of my attempts, I had a successful build, and was given key supportive advice that the things I was having happen really shouldn’t have been like that, so I felt ready to keep at it.  And things got fixed within a day so that us out here can actually make our own Chrome OS builds using Ubuntu 10.4 LTS  x86_64 as the standard development platform.

After all that development joy, I’ve also started running Chromium browser (it’s been version 10 for a couple of weeks on Ubuntu) and both Chromium and the Google Chrome Canary Build (just a version or two behind Chromium nightly) browser on Windows.  So now on Windows, I run three variants of the browser: Google Chrome Beta, Google Chrome Canary Build, and Chromium.  This gives me three icons: red-gold-green with blue dot for standard and Beta, all yellow for Canary, and all blue for Chromium.  So far, I don’t have much preference, although only the Google Chrome variants support Google Cloud Print, so that my Cr-48 can scavenge Windows printer use both at work and at home.  Sort of like Google Docs, or plugging in a wheel mouse to the Cr-48:  Cloud Print just works.

One of the Chrome OS posts that I enjoyed recently was titled The Cr-48 running Chrome OS is so dull as it captures an essence of how many aspects of Cr-48 use are complete non-issues, and that is not a bad thing at all!