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Chrome OS for web mapping delivery
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30 Apr 12 Dude, where’d my browser go? ChromeOS desktop on Cr-48

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

Dude, where's my browser window?

Chrome OS has assimilated the desktop metaphor

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

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

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

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

on Ubuntu (12.04 LTS x86_64)
Google Chrome   20.0.1105.0

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

Android  3.2   (Honeycomb)  Google TVs
Google Chrome  11.0

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

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

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

15 Feb 12 Five modes of Chrome – some fairly current

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

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

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

Enough with the PDF viewing thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Windows (7 and XP)
Google Chrome Canary   19.0.1042.0

Ubuntu (11.10 x86_64)
Google Chrome  19.0.1041.0

Android (3.2 / Honeycomb) Google TVs
Google Chrome 11.0

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

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

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

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

 

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
    18.0.1017.3
Firmware    Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit      535.19 (@105663)
V8       3.8.7.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 Jul 11 Cr-48 keyboard tweak – YELLING IS EASIER NOW

I’ve been working through a couple of class syllabi this weekend, and spending quite a bit of time in Google Docs spreadsheet working out what stuff will be covered which weeks.  They are semester-long classes and so there’s a quite a bit of cut-and-paste going on.  I’m not using a mouse right now because I’m on the dining room table with a tablecloth and it’s just not conducive—or really necessary now that the touch pad is less skittish.

But somehow in the process of moving stuff around this afternoon, my Cr-48 STARTED YELLING which is a bit disconcerting if one doesn’t have a Caps-Lock key  ;^)   I noticed that there was an up-arrow ‘A’ icon showing  next to the clock in the Crome bar along top.  Hovering over that advised me that Caps-Lock was active.  A little poking around quickly helped me realize that this was a feature, not a bug.   All the same, this feature does not yet appear on the keyboard map that shows up with Ctrl-Alt-/ as usual.

The “secret” is simply to punch both Shift keys at the same time.  The Caps-Lock annunciator should appear and AWAY YOU GO blasting into the cloud…

 

26 Jun 11 Three more updates in two weeks

Now sitting on the restart from the third update.  Chrome OS 587.40    Perhaps this is what would have been called “0.13.587.40″ using the naming conventions of earlier this month.  Maybe by dropping the “0.13.” I should take it that the post-2011 06 15 epoch means that we’re no longer in beta?

Google Chrome 13.0.782.34
WebKit 535.1   and  V8  3.3.10.14

Time to take the Cr-48 on a little trip.   The plane probably won’t have WiFi.

I’m pleased to reflect on the past six months with the little Cr-48.  It really has fit in nicely to my computing world.  Sometimes I use it at work to stream audio to some noise-cancelling headphones, to focus on some work while technically remaining in compliance with a “no streaming audio” policy.   I think that I’ve actually bought a Verizon GB two times in the past six months.  When I do, I am well and fully in compliance with the policy.  I remember one month, close to the end of my 30 days, when I tried so hard to listen to audio and use up the prepaid data that it became a distraction.

In the months that I have had the Cr-48, I got a pair of Nexus S phones for the household.  Those are fun to have—and not just for the streaming video calls that they can make to each other.  It’s been refreshing to upgrade my G1 running Froyo to the Nexus S with Gingerbread; very little interface disruption, but a lot spiffier responsiveness.

But for all I read, and read almost every day on the news search terms “Chrome OS’ and “Android”, there seems to be a couple of portals of awareness that people pass through on their way toward a bit clearer understanding of this Chrome OS world.

  1. No OS?! Approaching the Cr-48 as it were a black obelisk, the “there’s no apps” quip evolves as one gets closer, until one shrieks the classic Dave Bowman memorial observation “the thing’s hollow — it goes on forever — and, Oh My God — it’s full of stars!”  That pretty much sums up my first six months with Chrome OS.  No apps? OK, it’s hollow.   Cloud storage and (for me, at least) Google docs?  It goes on forever.  Being able to pop the Chromebook open and “def” a word  in a new search window in 10 seconds, or update a spreadsheet, locate some nagging lyrics or maybe find a video that validates a memory from decades ago—in the kitchen, at the office, or yes, even read news in the bathroom?  When you’re working the Web, sometimes it’s full of stars.
  2. Chrome OS vs. Android The distinction between Chrome OS and Android might seem vague when first viewed from the “neither one is Windows” or “neither one is Mac or iOS” perspectives.  But it’s easier to make phone calls with Android than Chrome OS right now.  It’s easier to run the GPS when you can turn it on and feed it into MyTracks on Android.  Although I don’t use one right now, it’s surely easier to connect a Bluetooth hands-free device with Android.  When one plays Angry Birds, there’s more versions for Android and yet I sort of prefer using a mouse on a bigger screen with Chrome OS.  Want to review and reply to e-mail, create a blog post, or craft an impassioned response to someone else’s writing?  Give me a keyboard with Chrome OS.  Want to collaborate with documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or drawings on multiple tabs or screens?  Chrome OS over Android every time.  So while sure, there’s gradation between the two, whenever I’m away from the Windows or Ubuntu workstation scene, there’s not much confusion—there’s just a smaller, more mobile and gesture-physics interactive Android, and a larger screen with more precise pointer and more detailed content with Chrome OS.  Start making use of Google Docs, and they are really complementary, with input and editing on Chrome OS, and review-on-the-run with Android.
  3. It’s gonna thrash some other OS I suppose that it could happen, or it might not; does not seem to be the point IMHO.  There’s a long legacy of lightweight computing endpoints: paper-tape TTY, Tektronix or Wyse terminals to mainframes; PCs or Macs with terminal emulators, laptops.  I’ve seen all of those in action and each made sense in its own place and time.  Right now, I’m finding that my Chromebook has filled a space that I hadn’t bothered making time for: a portable with a keyboard that doesn’t pretend to be a full system.  For years, I’ve been disdainful of laptops that cost 3X or more the price of comparably-spec’ed tower hardware.  Even then, they had meager screens, and the ones with big processors seldom could pass up a power outlet.  By cutting out the fat, and getting a color screen to run for about 8 hours on a charge, Chromebooks take me back to a level of portability that I haven’t seen since ’386 laptops with grayscale screens (those lasted seven hours on a charge to make a coast-to-coast trip in the US).  When I got the Chromebook, I started using Google docs for all that was not work, and a bit of some that was, and in a couple of days, I grokked it all.  When I prepare a lecture presentation with Google docs, I use whatever device is at hand to create a graphic, make an edit, or review—and it doesn’t matter that Windows, Ubuntu, Chrome OS and Android are all involved.  I get to focus on the content, and I get the presentation done in about 1/3 the time.  That’s because my Chromebook made me do without an OS at one point, and then I realized that I wasn’t really getting benefit from copying files, passing stuff around on thumb drive or e-mail attachment or private network file server and converting it.  And the Chromebook is often a great choice for the delivery of the presentation, too; it does a good job of negotiating with digital projectors.   So in six months it’s become rather plain and clear that Chromebooks fill a gap in my computing world.  I expect that others will realize in the next year or two that they have this same gap—and it might be that gap is waiting silently in a blind spot until one turns one’s head to sees it.  Fear not—the gap is friendly, even if there’s not a cute little hybrid of R2-D2 and Kermit to iconify it quite yet!

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  3.2.10.5

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!

03 Mar 11 Updated to 0.10.156.46 — and trying out trackpad

Thanks to a news item in Tech Crunch I took an opportunity to check for , and apply an update to my Cr-48′s OS this evening.

The actual announcement is here of course on the Chrome Releases Blog.

I’ll be looking for the improvements in the trackpad, and I think that it really does seem less sensitive on the upper-right and upper-left corners.  It’s vastly better than the cut-out sheets of stiff plastic that I was contemplating to cover them up with.

I’ve moved my hands back toward a normal typing position, and after several sentences, I haven’t yet had a cursor bop around on the page to unwanted places.  YEA!  It really is different, and better.  My wrists are going to feel better now.  ;^)

Today I had a chance to use the Cr-48 to make a last-minute presentation while chewing some food and drinking some tea.  I am not certain how exactly it works, but I find that when I use Google Docs Presentation, I get my job done faster than when I use MS PowerPoint.  How that happens has perplexed me for nearly three months now, but the experience remains consistent.  Somehow I must spend a lot of time creating local files that I then insert into a PowerPoint and resize, and tweak formats, and so on and so forth.  With GDoc Presentation, especially if I don’t allow myself to plug in the mouse and struggle through the trackpad (which as of dinnertime this evening hadn’t been updated yet) I just finish the talks faster.  Like 3X faster.

I wish I knew why it is so, but so far, I’m just happy to enjoy the benefits, and I won’t get too philosophical about it.  I have, however, ceased my use of PowerPoint for anything except block diagrams, where I prefer it as a more efficient alternative (so my reasonably simple diagrams) than MS Visio.  Even there, I’m making some exploratory use of GDoc Drawing in that regard.  And GDoc Spreadsheets have taken over 3/4 of my spreadsheet usage.  There are a handful of Excel forms that I use at work, and some collaborative use where an Excel sheet on a file server is used to accumulate project hours from various team members—but that seems like a legacy approach.  Why?  Because we find ourselves locking one another out all the time.  If we’d be using a GDoc Spreadsheet, we’d avoid that and watch one another make edits.

Well, now I’m a couple of paragraphs into usage, and my wrists are straight while typing on the Cr-48 for the first time in 12 weeks.  It feels great, is more productive, and I’ve had no cursor jumps while typing from my palms brushing the corners of the pad.  Kudos to those or they who hacked the touchpad driver!!