Tuesday, December 28, 2010

12 days with Chrome OS

Wow, I feel bad. I've been really bad about posting any sort of updates here. Sorry about that.

I've had the CR-48 for 12 days now, and I feel like I'm getting a handle on what I like and what I don't, in hopefully a more perceptive way then just first impressions.

First of all, connectivity. This computer is still really pretty great when I have internet, but it's really rather silly when you don't. I finally activated the 3g a few days ago while I was on vacation, but that was just to check for new emails. For the most part, it seems silly to really try to use it when you don't have wifi, if for no other reason then I hate trying to count bytes. There are no notable offline apps yet, although I've been using Scribble to write offline. It's a good app to have around, for really any portable computer, chromeOS or otherwise, if just because it can be always available and one click away for quick thoughts and notes and stuff. I use mostly evernote for in depth stuff, but Scribble is nice to have too.

I really cannot wait for more offline apps, that have actual features, too. Reader and Gmail really need offline access, as does of course Google Docs. Yeah, we know it's coming, but that doesn't make me want it any less. Get here already.

Secondly, and in a related vein, media. Media is the suck. Youtube sucks, and netflix is non-existant. That is the fault of flash, which is supposedly being worked on. I'm not really sure why it was that it sucked in the first place, but I can't wait for that to get fixed. Silverlight or some other change will be necessary for netflix However, flash video aside, there really needs to be some sort of concession for media access. It's kinda absurd that I need to a second device to listen to music when I'm on a computer. Whether that is this mysterious Google Music service that we all keep hearing rumors about or whatever, we need a way to listen to our music. It sure would be nice if that allowed for offline access of at least a gig or two at a time, too.

The hardware honeymoon is wearing thin. Chips on the external corners of the case are starting to appear, which is odd, considering the plush pocket this thing rides in when on the go. I have a Timbuk2 messenger, and I really cannot think how this has hit anything hard enough to constitute chips.
The track pad is sometimes awesome, sometimes infuriating. Two finger scrolling is just not smooth, and will bounce you all over the place. Two finger-right clicking hardly ever works properly, and just right pisses you off.
Yeah yeah, it's not a consumer machine, it's for testing. Regardless, the trackpad ought to be working better.

I have yet to find a single way to activate my webcam besides gtalk. I mean, what the heck. Maybe I'm missing a trick here, but I doubt it. And I'm kinda following a method of refusing to actively hunt the internet for solutions to things like that. If I have to google around to use a major feature for anything other then gtalk, then something is not right.

The lights on the mute button or the caps lock light on shift dont work. Who knows why.

I really really really really love power management. I have an ipad, as well as an android phone, so I'm used to/in the habit of being able to instantly have the device ready to go, rather then entering passwords and unlocking or powering on or resuming. Having a full keyboard available instantly is really great. I'm actually preferring to have my cr-48 as my "google stuff while watching movies" device.

Fonts could use some love on here. They're not terrible. Just not good.

I love love love love love love love love love love persistent gtalk. Great idea, great implementation, done. awesome stuff. They need to open that up to facebook and other services, though. that'd be great. Calling works well, although I had trouble at successful file sending on it.

As a whole, it's an impressive little machine, but it's not displaced my iPad just yet, at least as far as portability.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 3 - Internet Outage

Today I got the interesting privilege (trying to be an optimist here) of having my internet go out, which meant that I got to see, in a real life sort of situation, what it would be like to try to use ChromeOS without being online. I could still connect to my home network and such, just no internet.

Well it sucked. I knew it was going to suck before I even tried to do anything. The only app that I could do anything at all in was the Scratchpad, and that is obviously limited and not very much fun. However, webpages that are already loaded, like this blogger window or Docs, allows me to continue typing until I am connected, which is nice. Gmail, especially surprising, allowed me to go from my inbox to a new mail, which I then wrote (my contacts were even available) and then I just had to connect to send. Cool!

Not wanting to delve into my 100 mbs of 3g yet (we'll get to that later), I instead packed up and headed out to a Starbucks.

This, too, led to a mildly frustrating experience. Naturally, for your computer to authenticate and allow you to log in, you have to be able to connect to Google's servers. This is a good thing for security, as the computer being stolen does not in any way at all affect your files. Unfortunately, with Starbucks and their free AT&T internet, you have to connect, and then accept the terms of use to get online. This is also how many schools, libraries and other public WiFi spots are designed.

What this means for ChromeOS is that you have to sign in as a guest to authenticate, and then log out and sign in on your normal account. That's annoying. Or I could use a megabyte or two of my 3g and go that way.

However, tomorrow morning I'm going out of town for 3 days. Part of that trip is going to be measuring how well ChromeOS will stand up on a trip, especially given that I'm going to a remote-ish area of the Oregon coast and there's no telling if I will have a connection of any sort at all.

No pictures, I'm stealing internet from the neighbors and it's iffy at best. Also no OMG post tonight, although I'll try to draft something up and maybe drive into town to post it or something.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 2 - Digging in

Now that I've had a full day on the system and a bit more time to get familiar with it, I'm able to spend a bit more time using it as an actual computer, instead of just getting excited about touching it.

Today I got rid of my other laptop, trading it for a new desktop. The lack of familiarity with this laptop made this quite a frustrating experience, although technically it was my own fault. My USB stick had been corrupted, and so I had to format it and clean it up, which meant I lost my Live Disc that I had intended to use to install ubuntu. This laptop, obviously, could do nothing, so I ended up having to install Windows and go through that whole process so that I could create an new Live Disc and delete windows. Definitely frustrating, but I should have done more then a spot check before formating.

This led me to realize just how many limitations are currently in place. While I can still access things like Transmissions web interface on this computer, I cannot remote access into my home server, or use it for any real diagnosing of issues on other machines. Unless it involves googling something online, this computer is no help in a situation where there is a technically difficulty. Bummer.

My hand is starting to cramp up from using the touchpad, but I think that's probably because I haven't used anything besides a standard desktop mouse for 6 or 7 months now, and I'm just out of practice. I still like the feeling of the touchpad; I'm just unused to it. 2 finger scrolling is starting to get annoying, though, as it either lags and then jumps or is simply jumpy in the first place. Hopefully smoother scrolling drivers will be released, as well as the addition of momentum.

Reporting bugs is easy as pie. The settings pages and other 'system' pages show a high level of polish and simplicity that make them easy to use and get back to what you were doing.

As of yet, I've made no use of being able to open multiple windows, which behave like Workspaces. It just seems almost silly to do so, at least when I'm just doing basic browsing and internet stuff. I mean, when it's all in the browser anyway, the I can just ctrl-tab through them, right? Alt-Tab scrolls through the other open windows, if you're using any.

I haven't charged it yet (although I haven't used it a whole lot up to this point) and I've only dropped it to 70%, which is pretty cool.

Other then that, I'm starting to get into the app store and figure out some solutions for consuming media. My sort-of personal goal is to try to get it to do all that my iPad does for me, like reading books and playing music and video. I doubt those will happen well, but I'm going to try.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 1 - A few more pictures and thoughts

I'm really enjoying this laptop.

In spite of some of the hate that it is receiving, I really think that this laptop and change in style of computing is totally possible. If nothing else, the freedom that Google has given themselves with ChromeOS is going to lead to some cool solutions. I love that they got rid of traditional Fn keys, and things like num lock and scroll keys or whatever. I know some people will miss them, but the fact is, Google has made a clear statement that they don't mind changing anything and everything to come up with a good experience.

Now, again, many people have realized that, and many aren't happy. But guess what guys? You're not losing out on anything. Google isn't breaking anything by experiementing with something totally and completely different. So chill.

A couple more pictures of the hardware:

Day 1 - The Good, the Bad, and the Broken

I just got my CR-48 delivered to my front door step. I have been waiting for it to arrive all day, and have been strung along all day by any moderately loud vehicle that drove by, fooling me into thinking it was the delivery truck.

Opening the box was a few moments of untempered bliss. The clever drawing on the box, the packaging itself; it was opening a Christmas present, and it was good.

The pictures you've all seen (here or elsewhere) don't do the hardware justice. This laptop is thin, much, much thinner then I expected. The bottom half is almost exactly the size of the VGA jacked into it. This laptop looks amazing and feels amazing, no doubt about it.

I had my phone out, video taping it for your viewing pleasure.

 I set the battery in, turned it over, opened it up.... and nothing. There was a light on the power button, and nothing else.

Well, it's been out in the cold, right? I decided to let it get to warm temperature and plug in the power, to get it fully charged.

I finally managed to get it running on an external monitor, but hopefully this will only be termporary. It would be a shame to only use a laptop on an external monitor until they send me a new one or whatever they will do.

That said, the hardware feels and looks good, hopefully I can get it all working. The OS itself? I've only had a few minutes, but it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect: Chrome, full screen. I haven't really dug in yet, but everything's behaving well and snappy.

Anyhow, that's all for these first thoughts. I'l write some more in a few hours.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day -2 - The Ghost of Computing Past and Future

The anticipation for teh CR-48 is killing me. Not quite literally.

I've been giving quite a bit of thought about the "Future of Computing." I guess the launch of the CR-48 has brought into focus a lot of trends going on, so I wanted to get it down as text.

Guessing Games

Hypothesizing in this area is really a strange thing, because it is...random. I don't mean random like a 15 year old girl means random. I mean there are so many variable's in play, that beyond basic market prediction, there is no real solid way to predict computing more than a few years ahead.

In a practical sense the whole idea of electronic computing was one of the most unforeseen events in human technological history. Airplanes and helicopters were sketched out by da Vinci centuries ago, because the basic principles once understood, were fairly elementary physics. It was just a matter of time to manufacture the correct materials for it to become a practical application.

Furthermore, it is a pretty basic system of advancement. Faster thrust + lighter materials + cheaper manufacturing methods = cheaper and more widespread air travel. Thus the last 100 years of flight were just waiting to happen for the longest time, and it's not a mind boggling concept.

But computing? Computing was totally not seen. No one expected it to happen until it was literally right on top of us. And while tech like Aviation progresses at a fairly linear (although technically not totally linear) rate, computing as a whole is progressing on a ridiculously steep, out of control curve. Moore's law states that the number of transistors placed on an integrated circuit can double every two years, limited only by bare physics in the sense of ability of certain materials to conduct (and we are finding better ones all the time. It's just about cost for them to enter the market). This same basic principle applies to pixel density, storage capacity, cost, network capacity, and the list goes on.

Things are getting way more powerful way quicker all the time.

The phone I have on the desk in front of me has more computing power than the desktop I went to college with-.... 4 years ago. 4 years.

Now, when it comes to the future, we can look at a couple things. (I should note, by the way, that I am not a developer, or manufacturer, or programmer, or anything -er except blogger. I just like tech, that's it. So take what I say with a hearty grain of salt and don't jump too hard on technical mistakes, although if you know something I don't tell me!).

The Players

First off, see where all the major players are going. The two long time big dogs, Microsoft and Apple, are going in two slightly different (although somewhat related) paths; as they always have. Apple is moving towards a new version of OSX which will contain modular computing in the interface, and heavily threaded multi-core in the background. There goal is pretty much the same as ever; show you the simplest things possible, and make it easy to do complicated stuff (whether they actually accomplish this goal or not is another discussion). Meanwhile Microsoft is banking quite a bit on the cloud, opening up new services for online access, and also taking point from some of Apple's software successes like iLife with their own Live suite. Frankly, I think Windows live is actually a better implementation, if nothing more than because it lets you use it how you want, or not at all, and it's not adding bundled cost. They aren't charging for things like Apple's MobileMe, and are instead giving away 25 gigs of online storage to anyone. Now, that isn't all that super to Linux users or heavy techies, but for mom and pop, it's good stuff.

On the other side of their plates is non-personal computer, or perhaps para-personal computing.

iPad's and tablets and smartphones and music players. Apple has a huge lead in this area, but Microsoft is doing some things right. The Zune users I know are far more addicted than most iPod users. Windows Mobile 7 looks slick, and is getting rave reviews. However, the iPad is the killer device that everyone and no one saw coming. It has ravaged the market. It is pillaging money all over the place. Deservedly so. Microsoft has nothing to match it.

Although Microsoft has this little thing:

called the Xbox 360 and the Kinect. Apple has nothing even moderately comparable. iPhone games? Give me a break. Not even in the same category. The Kinect, in particular, is Microsoft's iPhone, in the sense that this will change so many things. This is the technology that will give us real life interfaces like those that wowed in Minority Report. If Microsoft plays it right, it will kill. Kill. Absolutely kill (I can't say it enough).

The thing about those big two, is that no one stays big forever. I mean, they might. But IBM used to be the big guy on campus. They were dominant and massive and unassailable. In case you didn't know, they've been around since 1911, and had roots 15 years deeper then that, making cash registers and such. They were around a while and they were huge. They were the go-to guys during the computing rush.

Where are they now? Uh... I guess Lenovo bought them out for laptop designs, basically? They're kaput. Gone. Not important.

So yeah, the big guys have some ideas. But who knows how long they'll be big?

The Contenders

Meanwhile we have young spry little Google and it's step brother, Linux. Linux, as we all known, has been hanging around, mocking everyone else's subpar software for ages. I do it, you do it, Stallman sure as heck does it, and it's all gravy. The last couple years have been interesting for Linux, as it's been pushed in a few different directions, in some ways a compromise of what it originally stood for, or at least some would say. Embedded in E-readers and tablets and phones, not to mention many much weirder devices, Linux goes everywhere that has chips and memory. The last few years have seen the rise of Ubuntu as being a huge player in the Linux world for doing what no one else thought would happen: being a standard consumer operating system for people that didn't know what Sudo meant. People were using it. For real. Before this, the only real way Linux had been used by more than the experimental nerd was in huge server installations and the like.

But now it was real game time.

Well, sort of, anyway. Linux was still barely noticeable in most figures. Really, until Google got involved. Now, we have millions of Android phones all over the place, and they're easy to use, marketable, desirable, and actually good smart phones. Linux has proven that normal people will use it, so long as it's done up the right way.

And now? Google Chrome OS. Duh, it's at the top of the blog, right?

I think Google's right, sort of. When I got my android phone, seconds after the guy at the carrier place activated it and handed it to me, I was chatting with Benjamin Humphrey on Google Talk, and texting my girlfriend on Google Voice. All I did was log in and install an app or two and there was everything I need as far as Contacts and accounts and people. It was a breeze. I, of course, tweaked it quite a bit, but only because I wanted too and like too, not because it was necessary. A few days ago I had to send it off to get the antenna repaired, and they gave me a replacement. SD card out, in, log in, good to go. The clerk tried to take my phones back to transfer contact info and texts and stuff and I laughed and told him he didn't need too. He was a little confused but believed me.

It was awesome. Still is. If there's a problem with my phone, I could restore it to factory and have it back to what I need in only seconds longer then it takes to restore.

And now Google wants the same for the computer.

Is it possible? Probably. The only reservations I have is music and video and the like (the SD card I swapped from phone to phone) as there doesn't seem to be much for Chrome OS. But for the real stuff? Email and documents and accounts and all that? Easy. Done. Solid. I believe it now without even using Chrome OS, because it's just as easy with Chrome itself.

Even if the future of the operating system is not entirely in the cloud, there is some serious strength there.

Bring Us the Cloud

So listen up Ubuntu: you have Ubuntu One already. Why is it not built in to automatically save all the pertinent info and pull it down on a clean install? I mean seriously, install ubuntu, log in, put credentials into Ubuntu One, and then it syncs up Evolution, Gwibber, and Empathy accounts, Compiz settings, panel settings; pull up a list in Software Center of all the installed software and give me an option of what I need back and what I don't, and then what I do install, sync up all the settings. Theme, icons, everything.

Why not? I mean, yeah, there's a few difficulties here and there. But at least a significant portion of that should be there already. Windows and Apple should do the same. It should all be tied to You, so that your stuff gets put where it needs to be. Later on down the line when bandwidth is faster, then we can worry about music or pictures or whatever.

So the future? Half the cloud, at least. All devices tied to You, not the service it's on.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day -3

Well, Monday's done, and only 3 days until I get that shiny little (or, I suppose, flat black little) laptop on my doorstep.

Today I made a decision for my tech needs: I'm selling my iPad. I have a couple of reasons for doing so.

First of all, I own way to many different devices, and I've been trying to figure out the most cost effective way for me to downsize for some time now. Here's the run down of my devices:

HTC Desire on US Cellular (Sadly, in for repair. They gave me a piece of crap samsung acclaim as a loaner)
Apple iPad, 16 gig, wi-fi only
Dell Studio 1458, i7, 500 gig, all the goodies. Plugged into 22 inch monitor. Ubuntu. Hasn't left my desk since I got my iPad
Dell Inspiron e1505, into a 17 inch full screen. Windows 7. Has been custom mounted as a desktop for over a year now, since I got the other laptop. Plugged into my Marantz and plays all the musics, off an internal 250 and external 250 gig hard drives.
HP ... really old desktop. Runs Ubuntu as a headless server, with 500 gigs of storage.

Now that I can add:

Google cr-48

to the mix, I'm realizing that I'm on way to high of an overlap. Since I got the android phone, I've realized that my iPad stays in the bag most of the time, unless I want to read on it. So there's redundancy. In addition, as I've mentioned, I haven't used the Studio 14 as an actual laptop since I got the iPad/graduated College.

I should probably mention that the Dell inspiron e1505 was given to me by friends when I had no computer, and has a problem that makes it unusable as a portable computer. The HP I'm using as a server was given to me by my brother as a project, and I'm using that monitor for the e1505. The iPad was given to me when I graduated college as sort of bribe to the seniors to be happy. The Studio 14 was originally purchased as the Dell Studio XPS 13, but it had a whole series of problems that ended in it getting replaced and 'upgraded' to a more powerful, but heavier and less cool machine. I bought it for myself post-e1505 problems and pre-iPad, and had to work my tail off to pay for it. The HTC Desire was just bought 2 months ago, so that I could give my girlfriend the iPod touch I used to have.

Back to the story.

Unfortunately, I'm going back to school for my masters in the spring, and the iPad is too little for class, and the laptop has become strangely heavy since using the iPad regularly. I was kinda stuck on trying to figure out what to do. I've played with the idea of getting the bluetooth keyboard for the iPad and trying to make that work for class note taking, but I wasn't looking forward to it. I like the full computer experience of multitasking (real multitasking, not iOS multitasking) for school, so that I can have multiple documents and sources and calenders and all that in view. I also played with the idea of selling this laptop and getting something smaller, but this thing is a beast with the i7. I like the power, but I can't afford a power desktop and small laptop in addition to the iPad.

Now, the problem is more or less solved. The CR-48 will take over portable-coffee house stuff, not to mention being my primary computer for the testing stuff. I'll sell the iPad, buy a hard drive, copy off my Studio 14 hard drive, sell it for a desktop with better power, and then when the iPad2 comes out eventually, I'll buy that.

So I'll end up with big fat desktop which will retire the e1505 to be donated, the Chrome laptop for Grad School portability, the iPad2 as backup portable/coffeeshop (if I actually feel like I need it in a few months, we'll see) and the phone for... phoning.

Anyway, my main thought is that since my iPad is not really for apps so much as internet when I'm out and about, even beta software on the chrome will do that just fine, and give me the battery life I need.