Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cr-48 Touchpad - Growing on me?

I keep trying to use other laptop touchpads the way I use my Cr-48's touchpad when repairing laptops here at the office.  I found myself doing the same thing with my mother's touchpad the other day.  I think this thing is growing on me, now that I have the sensitivity and other settings configured just right.

I'm not switching from my Trackpoint anytime soon - I still miss it for my day to day usage on occasion.  But, for what it's worth, the touchpad on this thing is beginning to agree with me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cr-48 - Companion on a wintry day

The weather has taken a dramatic turn for the worse around these parts.  Unfortunately for me, I had to get to work.  On Monday.  In the snow.  On public transit.  Needless to say, I wasn't looking forward to my day.  Local public transit has a website that updates travelers on the status of any delays or reroutes, weather or otherwise related.  Attempting to access the Septa website from my beloved Palm Pre presented me with a bit of a problem.
Without the ability to scroll through the list in the alerts frame, finding out whether any of my buses are delayed is a bit of a problem.  ChromeOS to the rescue.
Thanks to my Cr-48, I was able to find out where my buses were detoured, and what time I should be expecting them, saving me from being stranded far from home in the cold.  Sure, any old laptop could do this, but the convenience of using my ChromeOS notebook - as my keyboard collected a fine layer of snow - was a welcome help.

An update on the 3g usage - I'm down to about 10mb now, after roughly 8 days of usage.  I'll probably be buying into the $20 for 1gb pay as you go plan from Verizon, at least for the next month or two.  I'm still getting a good deal of usefulness out of the unit, even playing some really intense games on the go.
All right, so its not Call Of Duty or anything fancy like that.  Still, catching up on my favorite MUD (and earning my in-game rent) during my commute has been fun, and kept my bandwidth down.  While connected to an SSH session, I use about 2mb/hr, which isn't quite as terrible as the normal forum browsing that has occupied my days up until this point.

Monday, December 27, 2010

ChromeOS as an advertising model.

I see this argument cropping up a lot around the internet.  Will Google use the degree of control over the ChromeOS  notebook to show you more ads?  Has this been the secret all along?  Will this model drive the price of the device into a range that people will put up with ad intrusions into their experience?

I felt that it was time to chime in on this argument.  I've been using my Cr-48 as my primary machine for nearly a week now.  In this time, I have not seen a single ad, aside from the general context ads that Google places within Gmail and their search engine.  These just don't bother me that much.  For the rest of the internet, as you will note if you look at some of my screenshots, I have a plugin called AdBlock ( that keeps me from seeing unwanted ads.  Google has subsidized some very impressive services with very unobtrusive ads.  Don't believe me?  Lets travel back in time a little bit.

The year is 1997....roughly.  Your reviewer, a young technology nerd, has just had his AOL service shut off.  Seeking his internet fix, an unlikely answer comes in the form of a Juno Online disk.  Free internet access?  I can live with this!  Or so I thought.  After installing the software and connecting, my 640x480 screen on my Packard Bell was reduced by nearly a third by a massive screen border, filled to the brim with ads.  There was no option to rid ones self of this ad menace, and loading the perpetually changing ads led to a horrifyingly bad web experience on a 14.4bps modem.  I was glad to get back to AOL a few weeks later.

Ads are part of life nowadays - highways have massive billboards, television often has more ads than content, and the information superhighway has become an enormous advertising medium.  Google's context ads are usually on point, filtered to be relevant to something I might care about, and occasionally point me in the right direction for something that I happen to need at the time.  If Google's current ad model can sustain some subsidization of services provided, and allow them to create impressive opensource innovations, then I'm not going to complain.  To those of you who do, would you mind installing Juno for a day or two?  Tell me what you think of Google's ads after just an hour.  I bet you'll change your tune.

This rant brought to you by not enough sleep.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cr-48 Day 6 - Cloud Printing, Part III

So, it does work.
ChromeOS's CTRL+P Menu
As it so happens, walking through the cloud print functions on my geriatric print server (Its a Pentium II, running XP) wasn't doing the trick.  I added cloud print capabilities to my primary desktop, and it was able to see the printer - which I connect to over the network, via the same XP box.  I printed out a seemingly appropriate test page to confirm that it does function.
Google Cloud Print Web Interface (Desktop Browser)

This web interface, viewable from anywhere, shows the status of current print jobs and connected printers.  It is a very slick interface.  There were no extra options to configure in Windows 7, just turn on cloud printing and forget about it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cr-48 Day 4 - General Musings

A lot of folks on the internet are speculating about the reasons behind Google's push of the "Browser as an OS" idea.  Especially now that a more sizeable userbase is actually experiencing ChromeOS for themselves, questions have certainly begun to fly.  Many question whether the concept is only for the lowest subset of user, and of no use to the power user.  As I happily continue with my Cr-48 on day four, I'd like to address these concerns.
My new tab screen, displaying apps "Installed."

I have used netbooks before.  I have been the unsatisfied user of an Asus EeePC, an HP MiniNote, and a Dell Mini 10v for moderately extended periods.  In each case, within hours I went running back to my full laptop.  I have not yet wished that I'd brought along another notebook, or thought that I should only use ChromeOS as a supplement to my main machine.  In fact, excluding my work computer, I have not used a full PC for any extended period of time since Monday.

A notebook running a standard operating system, by default, punishes you for using it on the go.  Microsoft Windows has been designed for a workstation, a system that is dedicated to tasks that take time.  While one can make it mobile, at least in my experience, suffering awaits every step of the way.  Sleep mode and hibernation go a long way, but they simply aren't good enough.  My commute to work is approximately 2.5 hours each way.  There are several connections, bus switches, layovers, etc, that I experience during these trips.  With a Windows laptop, boot-up times ate away at my usable time period, and I spent most of my time checking the clock to make sure I started a shutdown or suspend operation in time to catch my next connection.  The classic netbook suffers from the same issues, but in many cases the issues are magnified by the hardware that the machine runs.  Bringing up my former EeePC, for example, took a good 5 minutes - from sleep mode.  Suspending was often flaky as well, with random apps preventing the system from correctly completing the operation, leaving me with a very warm portable, and a very dead battery upon later retrieval.  This type of punishment has left folks like myself to rely on a smartphone, or other ultra mobile, quick resuming device, to fill the void during long commutes, for fear of damaging valuable PC equipment or data by powering it on or off incorrectly.

EA's Lord Of Ultima - Web based MMORTS.
The Cr-48 removes these concerns from the user's path.  Open the lid, and it knows what it's doing.  Before I even finish typing my password, it's checked for my memorized WiFi connections.  If it has not found one, it logs me on to Verizon's 3g service.  My screen is exactly as I left it - games and chat clients running in the browser, and even my SSH sessions via the terminal resume without a hitch.  Closing the lid immediately suspends the unit, with no local running applications to hang up the system.  The experience doesn't punish me for being mobile, in fact, it encourages me to use it on the go.  It's almost like my smartphone, except I can actually use it to get something done.

The standard netbook experience takes the laptop experience and makes it worse.  Having a full OS will encourage a power user to use it like a full OS - what begins as simply logging on to check email can quickly turn to frustration as a power user like myself attempts to run some software that the system simply isn't built for.  The ChromeOS model takes away that temptation, instead providing you with a perfect experience for the web.  While the experience could live in a netbook form factor, I think that placing the entire experience in a platform the size of an ultralight notebook gives it a degree of usability that no other competing platform can boast - tablets and netbooks simply can't do mobile, the way I want to be mobile, as well as ChromeOS.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cr-48, Day Three - Cloud Printing, Part II, and a 3G update.

Cloud printing is a bust for me.  At least from my home PC, its shot.  I know, I know, I shouldn't expect the old beigeness (HP Laserjet 5MP) to work with the new shiny......well, the new matte, if we're being literal.  I did manage to get the testing build of the Chrome browser to stop dying a horrible death every time I fired it up, but cloud printing is still a bust.  I will be sure to test with a more modern printer in the near future and report back - or as Google continues to bring more print drivers under its cloud umbrella, perhaps my humble HP will return to usability.

I did want to address the cloud print concept - and I'll address this to Google, in a sense.  This machine is for those who are ultra mobile, and need stuff on the go.  Imagine, if you will, cloud print services that operate within your local print shop - like the spots where you could have a fax sent back when people still used fax machines.  Wait.....people still use fax machines?  What is wrong with the world.  Anyway, imagine printing your document to a subscribed cloud service of some kind, and then being able to pick it up from your local printing shop.  Many big box business stores already cater to similar services, and Google should get in on this.

Now speaking of cool services that Google has provided - 3G is awesome.  No doubt about it, this laptop shows its strength.  Back when I had 3G service for my Thinkpad, via a Sprint adapter, I used about 150-180mb in an average 2 hour session.  I kind of expected to blow through the Google provided 100mb fairly quickly.  In the interest of testing, I've used it for the past two days as I would under normal circumstances - running an instant messenger (IMO - Available via the Chrome App Store) and my standard websites.  I'm avoiding running any YouTube videos or anything of the sort, but I have not turned off flash ads or image loading.  As of this writing, in 2 days and roughly 5 hours on 3G, I've still got 66mb.  Its not great, mind you, considering this is day three, but for casual hops between WiFi, it should be more than enough.  Power users can opt to turn off more services to save bandwidth or use a web based filter like Skweezer ( to decrease bandwidth usage.  I do think that the Chrome laptop has an edge over standard netbooks and laptops when it comes to this 3g dilemma.  Forgetting to disable a service or program such as a bittorrent client, or having a Windows Update kick off could gobble up 100mb in no time, but with ChromeOS only running what's in the browser, bandwidth usage is vastly decreased

If anyone has any suggestions or requests on things for me to test, please, feel free to drop me a line.  I'm always up for trying out a good suggestion - but save anything that has to do with rooting the unit for a bit down the road.  Once I sort out my real laptop situation and acquire a fully functional replacement for my aging X41, I'll jailbreak this little box and see what real potential I can unlock.  I'll be using it for a month as a normal laptop - and even doing the first two weeks worth of my Psychology homework via the unit when classes restart in the new year.  I'll keep reporting regularly during this process - I'll try to keep up daily updates, at least until school gets in the way, so please keep visiting!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cr-48 Day Two - Playing with printing, Part 1.

Day 2 - Cloud Printing

For day two's test project, I decided to set up cloud printing.  I didn't have time to play with settings before I left the house, so I started a bit blind.

Pressing Ctrl+P on the Cr-48 brings up a popup that explains Cloud printing, and provides you with as a link to get started.  Needing to configure this on the PC that has a connection to the printer was going to be an issue, or so I thought.  Knowing that I don't have my VPN available on this unit, I decided to try my old fallback method, Logmein.  The interface works splendidly on the Chrome notebook, and I was connected to my print server at home (an ancient Windows XP box) within moments.  I fired up the link from the popup, only to be prompted to download chrome to my print server.  The version of Chrome provided by the link is a early testing build, and the installer warns of this.  Once I fired it up, I navigated to the options page, and at the bottom of the "Under the hood" page, found the Cloud Print options I was looking for.
After enabling this option, Chrome promptly crashed.  Subsequent attempts to reenable it were met with the same result.  As I was running out of waking time, I shuttered it for the time being,but I'll pick up on it over the next few hours and see how far along I can get.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ChromeOS Notebook - Do I need more than just a browser?

I came downstairs this morning, headed out the door to work, only to find a box waiting downstairs with my name on it.  I knew for a fact that I hadn't ordered anything recently, with the exception of a power cable for my mother's Dell laptop - and that had arrived already.  Running late, I hurredly sliced open the packing box to reveal schematics for a rodent powered rocket scrawled hastily on the side of a box.  Wanting to play with my new rocket propelled rodent toy, I tucked the box under my arm as I dashed out to catch the bus.  Imagine my shock and disappointment when I opened the box on the bus, only to find some kind of silly laptop device....OH WAIT!  SWEET
I never get picked for anything, so this came as a complete shock.  The Cr-48, Google's unstable isotope, in my hands.  And after all the unkind things I've said about Google in the past.....

Being that I was on a septa bus, when the laptop's glowing screen asked me for a wireless access point to associate with, I was unable to do so.  Once I arrived at King Of Prussia mall, my midpoint 1 hour layover in my nightly commute, I fired up the little unit and after a few quick steps, was logged in and browsing.

This little unit really shines in this kind of a mobile environment.  Unlike with my trusty Thinkpad, which has to wake from hibernation, resume my virtual machines, and finally chug to life, the Cr-48 powers on seemingly by thought.  No, really, I still haven't used the power button on the unit.  The attractive interface immediately loads a browser, which I felt would limit the experience greatly.  In the few hours I've had with the unit, I have "Installed" a half dozen apps from the ChromeOS App Store which, aside from a few very specific power user type functions, have made this quite a functional unit.  I am resisting the urge to play with the device in developer mode yet, but the shell may yet draw me to flip that Dev mode switch.

As of right now, I do have a few gripes.  The touchpad is horrible.  I think that all mobile mousing devices aside from the venerable Thinkpad Trackpoint are horrible, though, so this is hardly a valid concern.  I have also seen some instability when dealing with Pandora, my workplace lifeline.  I need my music, and occasionally, due to flash's nature within Linux, Pandora will freeze, become choppy, etc.  This has happened twice in the 2 hours I've been using the unit, and a refresh takes care of it and gets the tunes flowing again so I'm not too bent out of shape on this point either.  Finally, just for the sake of convenience, the lack of a network jack bugs me a little bit.  A very, very little bit.  Less now that I've found sufficient wifi.

The form factor of the unit is perfect.  Unlike with the HP Mini and the original eeePC, the system does not feel cramped or compromised.  The screen is similar in size to my X41's 12 inch 4x3 screen, and matte, which improves usability greatly.  The resolution is far better than my aging IBM, with a 1280x800 resolution.  Text is crisp and readable, far moreso than on most larger screened laptops sporting a similar resolution, in my opinion.  Pages respond quickly, and without the overhead of running apps on the local machine, the responsiveness is never dulled by a memory hogging application running in the background.  The keyboard takes some adjusting to, coming from the best mobile keyboard in the business on my Thinkpads, but still outclasses the keyboards on most consumer grade systems.  There are no F keys at the top of the board, Google has instead opted for a slew of function keys.  (These keys can be made to operate as F keys if the user so wishes when in Developer mode, from what I understand.)  The "Caps Lock" key, hated by your reviewer, has been replaced with a search function key, which I found odd at first.  I've found more function in this key as time goes on, so I do approve of this switch in the end.  Caps lock functionality can be turned back on.......but why?  There's a perfectly good shift key just south.  But I digress.

There are still many functions that this system will not be able to accomplish.  A netbook, regardless of how limited it is, always leaves me with the temptation to try to perform such tasks, with dismal results.   ChromeOS leaves no question about what it is there to do - it provides functionality, without unnecessary overhead.  Google's push for innovation behind this unit has resulted in some very slick offerings in the app store - which isn't really a store in my mind, seeing as all of the useful applications I've come across thus far have been free.  The fact that Google is throwing in 100mb of free 3g web access per month with the unit for the first two years of ownership (A function I have not activated yet, but expect to make great use of during my commute) is a very, very nice perk.  None of these functions will deter me from purchasing an actual laptop computer, as I do have needs that can only be met by that type of hardware.  However, its a 90/10% split in usefulness.  I am not in power user mode 100% of the time.  90% of the time, I guarantee, the ChromeOS notebook will fit my needs without question.

When I return home, my X41 will go into its docking station.  It will remain there until I find some sufficiently compelling reason to return it to my bag.  I'm willing to bet that the need will arise later, rather than sooner.