Chrome OS for web mapping delivery

27 Oct 12 Chromebook usage intensifies — blogging suffers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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