Chrome OS for web mapping delivery

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)

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.

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)

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.  (  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 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.

30 Jan 12 A New Semester – and Chrome OS updates; better mouse action?

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
Firmware    Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
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

05 May 11 Another night, another update!

This evening, as if 0.12.433.22 wasn’t cool enough, the Cr-48 went for another update.  Google Chrome was 12.0.742.16.

There’s a new network annunciator pop-up to tastefully inform users that wireless 3G will get used when WiFi is not available.

During the update, two new FileManager tabs blasted open.  I closed them to keep an eye on the update’s finalization.

Twenty seconds to restart; 30 seconds total to be logged in to a restarted Cr-48.  I get a yellow warning band pointing at the world icon in the address bar of chrome://settings/about after it reopens on the restart.  I close the tab, re-open it with tools, and the yellow bar is gone.

Now at 0.12.433.28  Chrome OS,  Google Chrome 12.0.742.22, WebKit 534.30, V8

The folder icons in FileManager seem tan with a yellow base now, instead of basic blue.  PNG files show up in the Preview pane, but PDFs don’t image.  No big deal for me.

Tonight, instead of placing a 32 GB USB stick, I used a 16 GB full-size SD card.  It was blank, and I was able to make a new directory in it, but I can’t figure out how to copy a screenshot from the File Shelf/Downloads area into this new directory, without going through Google Docs or Picasa.  Those would work, but seem inelegant now that I can browse local storage.

It’s all fresh and ready for work tomorrow!

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