Tag Archive | Google

Chrome OS matures, but it’s not a Jedi-level operating system yet

The good: Chrome OS continues to mature, as regular updates bring rapid improvement to the browser-based operating system. New changes we like include Google Play integration and 100GB of Google Drive storage for free.

The bad: Chrome OS continues to be hamstrung by familiar limitations: popular cross-platform programs like Skype don’t work, Chrome is terrible with large numbers of tabs, and non-Google sites can’t be easily integrated as apps.

The bottom line: Chrome OS struggles with the delineation between apps and Web sites, even though they are fast growing together. Great for students and casual home use, the day is coming when it’ll be competitive, but it’s not yet a replacement for a more mature OS.

Installation
Installation is not an issue for the Chrome OS since it comes preinstalled. There is a simple setup procedure, however. When you start up your system, it’s recommended that you sign in using a Google account. You’re not required to, and if you’d prefer, you can opt for the Guest mode.

Guest mode in Chrome OS cleverly uses the Chrome browser’s trackless browsing mode, called Incognito. Incognito prevents guest users from leaving any traces of their session, as well as keeping them from making any changes to your apps and other settings.

After choosing your log-in method, you’re asked to read through and accept the EULA. This will only appear for the initial log-in; it won’t show up for subsequent uses and users. Next, you can take a photo of yourself with the Webcam, use a provided icon, or use your current Google account avatar. Gone from previous versions is the mandated Webcam photo. It took our avatar about 30 seconds to synchronize our existing account avatar from the cloud.

Chrome then takes anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds to synchronize your Google settings, if any, and then the computer is ready to be used. There’s no doubt that the EULA is annoying, but we’ve never seen another new, unused operating system start so quickly.

Interface
Google has clearly spent some serious time developing the new interface. It looks and feels like a personal computer, finally, where before it was little more than a full-screen browser. There’s an actual desktop that looks a bit cribbed from Windows 7, with Chrome-the-browser pinned to the far left of the Launcher, and other apps pinned right next to it.

While most of the desktop has been designed to feel like modern personal computers, the App List brings a more mobile flair to the new Chrome OS layout.While most of the desktop has been designed to feel like modern personal computers, the App List brings a more mobile flair to the new Chrome OS layout.(Credit: Google)

The desktop itself shows only your background by default, but a Tic-Tac-Toe-style icon on the Launcher reveals all your installed apps over the desktop background. When you install an app, it’ll appear here. The lower-right corner shows the time, Internet connection status, battery status, and shows your Google account avatar to indicate who’s logged in. Click the avatar to show shutdown options and reveal more information and settings.

You can customize the background with one of several dozen options, or upload your own image. However, it must be either locally stored or in your Google Drive — it won’t pull in an image from a service like Facebook.

All the Settings have been moved to open in their own tabs, but you probably knew this from using Chrome-the-browser. Changes made in the browser tend to be reflected in Chrome OS about a month or so later.

The look of Chrome has changed remarkably little since its surprise debut in September 2008. Tabs are on top, the location bar — which Google likes to call the Omnibar — dominates the minimalist design, and the browser has few visible control buttons besides Back, Forward, and a combined Stop/Reload button.

On Chrome OS, the upper-right corner of the browser hosts a square icon and an X. The X is to close the browser window. Drag the box down to minimize the browser, drag it to the edges to “snap” it to the side and make it half the width of your screen, or click it to switch from windowed mode to full-screen mode. The window snap is another cue taken from Windows 7, but it’s a clever and intuitive one, and works well in Chrome.

The interface’s strongest point is also its weakness. What works well in the browser works well here, but the faults of one are reflected in the other, too. Some controls, such as page zoom, are readily available from the “wrench” options menu. Others, such as the extension manager, are hidden away under a Tools submenu. Hiding essentials like that remains an odd design choice to make. As is true about every aspect of this operating system, updates are much more likely to tweak the layout and design of the interface.

Chrome’s extensions are fairly limited in how they can alter the browser’s interface. Unlike Firefox, which gives add-on makers a lot of leeway to change the browser’s look, Chrome mandates that extensions appear only as icons to the right of the location bar. The benefit maintains a uniform look in the browser, but it definitely restricts how much the browser can be customized.

Even with its limitations, the browser interface design has remained a contemporary exemplar of how to minimize the browser’s screen footprint while remaining easy to use and versatile. The new desktop, on the other hand, finally brings to Chrome OS a sense of familiarity that is essential for any new PC experience.

Features
Chrome OS isn’t quite as reliant on the Internet as it was before, but it’s still reasonably crippled without it. This is a vehicle, first and foremost, for leading a Web-based existence. As such, what Chrome OS does is create a space where Web-based applications can function and thrive. The operating system itself doesn’t do much — it’s a browser.

Chrome has made great strides in the past year bringing console-quality games to the browser via HTML5 and Native Client.Chrome has made great strides in the past year bringing console-quality games to the browser via HTML5 and Native Client.(Credit: Google)

However, it’s a heavily modded browser, and it achieves its main goal of getting you on the Web as fast as possible. This comes from both the solid-state drive (SSD) on your Chromebook or Chromebox, and the various optimizations that Google has been building into Chrome. This is where the second bit of genius in the Chrome OS comes in: because everything is Web-based, you can log in to any installation of the operating system and instantly have all of your apps, settings, and other personalizations at your fingertips. That’s still an incredible feat.

It’s an important one, too, as Chrome OS improves with each regular iteration of the operating system. In Chrome OS’s first year, it updated eight times. Things that were buggy originally, such as touch pad support on the demo hardware Cr-48, started to work properly. Many Chrome-safe extensions that wouldn’t install on the Chrome OS beta, but would on the browser, now work in Chrome OS. It’s currently on a six-week update cycle.

Google has also leveraged its successes in other departments to benefit the Chrome OS. Google+ Hangouts, for example, come as a preinstalled app so you have video conferencing as an option right off the bat. Google’s notorious for not always having good integration between its services, so this — and solid Google Play integration for Books, Movies, and Music — are welcome improvements.

Also welcome is Google’s decision to expand everybody’s Google Drive to 100GB when it detects a Chromebook associated with your account. The $250 price for the latest Samsung Chromebooks is nearly worth it for that upgrade alone.

The Chrome OS has a usable file-browsing system, accessible via Control-M or under the Tools submenu of the Options wrench. When you take a screenshot using the Ctrl-Next Window button, for example, you’ll find it saved locally via the File Browser. It now supports a wide range of popular file formats, including PDF, PPT, DOC, ZIP, XLS and RAR, and the newer Microsoft proprietary versions of those formats like PPTX.

Famously, Google has killed the Caps Lock key and replaced it with a dedicated Search key. Tap it and a new tab will open, with the cursor ready in the location bar. What’s less well-known is that you can remap the Search key to Caps Lock, and that Google makes it easy to do through the Settings menu under System, then Modifier keys. Here you can modify the bindings of the Control and Alt keys as well. But also missing is a dedicated Delete key to remove characters to the right of the cursor.

The default settings for the hot keys are among the best things about the Chrome OS. Hold down Ctrl and Alt with the question mark key to bring up a color-coded map of combinations that you can use. The map and colors change depending on which key — Shift, Control, or Alt — you’re pressing.

Google is to be commended for building an operating system that goes from sleep to fully functional in what feels like a second. There’s simply no lag time, and the updates have fixed previous lagginess in logging in and out. Your Chromebook or Chromebox may just be the fastest PC you’ve used when it comes to booting, shutting down, and logging in and out.

Two other low-profile but well-executed features in Chrome are autoupdating and translation. Chrome automatically updates when a new version comes out. This makes it harder to revert back to an older version, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to downgrade this build of Chrome since this is the stable build and not the beta or developer’s version. You can toggle the build among the three under About Chrome. The second feature, automatic translation of Web pages, is available to other browsers as a Google add-on, but because it comes from Google, it’s baked directly into Chrome.

Google Plus hangouts now come as a default app in Chrome OS so you have video conferencing pre-enabled. The company doesn't always have good integration between services, so this is a welcome improvement.Google+ Hangouts now come as a default app in Chrome OS so you have video conferencing pre-enabled. The company doesn’t always have good integration between services, so this is a welcome improvement.(Credit: Google)

Already mentioned a little bit, the biggest OS hang-up in the operating system is offline support despite the improvements. Chrome OS will support the core Google apps of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs offline, but for most of your other apps, you’ll be left in the dark. That might not be an issue on the Chromebox, Google’s answer to the Mac Mini, but for the portable Chromebooks, prepare for a severely hamstrung experience. Anyone outside of the cloud crowd likely won’t be comfortable with it.

You can print with Google Cloud Print, accessible via the common printing hot-key combo of Control-P. Google has anticipated the problems that still plague cloud printing, and so it offers instructions on how to do it. Still, most people will probably find the process way too fiddly because what’s simple to print off a basic Windows 7 Netbook will take effort to set up properly from a Chromebook. Cloud Print does now come with access to FedEx stores in the United States, which is a nice improvement for remote printing.

Google says that security will not be a big concern in Chrome OS and that it’s the most secure operating system ever shipped. There are some toggles via about:flags and the Settings menu that will allow you to restrict content that requires plug-ins. Cookies, image management, JavaScript, plug-ins, pop-ups, location information, and notifications can be adjusted from the Content Settings button. This includes toggling specific plug-ins, such as the built-in Adobe Flash plug-in and the Chrome PDF reader.

Google is basing most of its claim of a secure operating system on a new feature in Chrome OS called “verified boot.” Chrome OS will check its own integrity when booting, and if it detects any changes, it will allow you to restore a last-known good configuration.

Performance
The following benchmarks are of the original version of the Chrome OS that shipped on the Cr-48. There have been significant improvements since then, and CNET will update the results below as soon as possible.

 

Chrome OS beta cold-boot benchmarks.Chrome OS beta cold-boot benchmarks.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

Benchmarking the first beta of the Chrome OS proved to be a bit tricky. It’s hard to measure the impact of various essential programs, such as a productivity suite or media player, on the operating system because they exist largely in the cloud. However, because the operating system is also the browser, we were able to run browser benchmark tests against it and compare them against the same version of Google Chrome, but running on a Windows 7 laptop.

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the WebKit SunSpider v0.9.1 test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

These tests are admittedly not a direct apples-with-apples comparison. Google has not yet released the specifications of the Cr-48, saying only that it’s running an Intel Atom processor. The Windows 7 x86 laptop we used is a high-powered Lenovo T400 laptop, running on an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 at 2.53GHz, with 3GB of RAM. However, they do provide a snapshot of what the Cr-48 with Chrome OS is capable of at this time, and we can expect these numbers to improve as Google continues to upgrade both the Chrome OS and Chrome browser. The two laptops were running nearly identical versions of the Chrome browser. Tested in December 2010, the Cr-48 was running Chrome v8.0.552.341, whereas the Lenovo was running Chrome v8.0.552.215. (By comparison, the version of Chrome OS available in early June 2012 is 12.0.742.77.)

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the Mozilla Kraken test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

What we can see from these tests is that the hardware will have a massive impact on the performance of both the browser and the operating system. This isn’t news, but the fact that the Cr-48’s version of the Chrome browser was so dramatically affected in all three tests tells us that what hardware future computer makers choose to support Chrome OS on will almost definitely change how well the public receives it.

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the FutureMark Peacemaker test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

We were also a bit surprised that the full cold-boot and log-on procedure, not counting the time it took to type in the log-on password, averaged to nearly 30 seconds. Some Windows 7 computers have, anecdotally, been found to boot up cold in similar times. As mentioned earlier, this time had been cut in half by early June 2011.

Of course, the real time-saving feature of the Chrome OS is the resume from wake, which is practically instantaneous. As long as the computer isn’t shut down, it will wake extremely quickly.

Conclusion
Although Chrome OS does update regularly, the current iteration is more usable than where the operating system was even six months ago. The quirkiness of a PC without the traditional touches of a PC desktop have been replaced by something recognizable and usable. As long as Google continues to support the project, Chrome OS will keep improving. One day, and perhaps sooner rather than later, it might even be ready for all.

Google Lets Photographer Into Secretive Data Centers, Beautiful Photos Ensue

Look around on the web, and you’ll find plenty of photographs of Google’s colorful offices in Mountain View (AKA the Googleplex) and around the world. Finding images shot from inside the company’s tightly-guarded data centers is much harder, since only a handful of employees are allowed to roam the spaces where the “web lives.” However, Google recently invited photographerConnie Zhou inside a number of its high-tech data centers. Gorgeous photographs resulted — images that show incredible scale, mind-numbing repetition, and quirky colors.

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The massive server rooms house tens of thousands of servers that handle your searches and all of the services offered by the search giant.

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Google says that the rainbow-colored pipes aren’t just for show; the colors help the employees quickly determine which is which.

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Wired’s Steven Levy was also invited to tour the data centers, and has written up a fascinating piece on his experience. In an interview with Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep, he states,

What strikes you immediately is the scale of things. The room is so huge you can almost see the curvature of Earth on the end. And wall to wall are racks and racks and racks of servers with blinking blue lights and each one is many, many times more powerful and with more capacity than my laptop. And you’re in the throbbing heart of the Internet. You really feel it.

Want to roam around the buildings yourself? Check out this Street View page that provides a virtual tour of the buildings:

Google Calendar for Android becomes stand-alone app

Google has historically broken out preloaded Android apps like Gmail and Maps as stand-alone titles so that they don’t have to be upgraded in lock-step with the main OS, but its Calendar app typically hasn’t had that privilege. The isolation ends with a newly distinct Google Calendar that’s treated as just another Google Play download. You’ll need at least Android 4.0 or 4.1, which leaves relatively few differences between the download and what’s already on your device, but that’s not the point — the change really lets Google move users on to the Jelly Bean app and beyond, even if their device makers aren’t ready. Owners currently running Jelly Bean will still get a few extras, such as better support for non-Nexus hardware and a wider time range for calendar syncing. Hit the source link if you’re game for that kind of futureproofing.

The Apple vs Android Fanboy Wars In One GIF

Here’s a brief note intended for the fanboys who ruin technology for everyone else: Look, your war doesn’t make any sense, ok? This whole fanboys vs fandroids thing, the iPhone vs Galaxy, the iPad vs Kindle Fire… who the hell cares? They’re just machines.

And companies are not your friends. They are not here to make you happy. They won’t laugh with you at dinner. They won’t kiss you goodnight. They are just big corporations who want your money.

Corporations waging war upon each other and using you as peons to gain market domination.

Corporations who use underpaid worker drones living inside city-size factories far away to produce toys for you to buy, new shiny pieces of plastic and metal marginally better than the old plastic and metal crap.

And not only you are zombie brand worshipers buying into this whole vain spec race, but you’re also insulting and belittling everyone who doesn’t agree with your choice of phone or tablet or computer. Doing it safely behind a screen because, if you did that right on the face of someone, he or she would punch your face.

So, can you stop “defending” your choice of gadgetry like a insecure whiny cheerleader? Or a crazy religious fanatic? Don’t you see how ridiculous you look to normal people who don’t give a damn? How absurd your concerns are compared to, I don’t know, real life?

Or, if you have to justify your choice, could you at least please just think twice before insulting one another?

Because you just look bad when you do that. A tool. Just pick whatever you like best and stop trying to convince everyone that you made the right decision and that they are wrong. They are not. Nobody is. No more than you, anyway.

Carry on.

Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

Google has expanded its trial that includes results from your Gmail inbox to more users today, as well as your Google Drive account. You can sign up now to have results from your inbox appear as you search while signed in.

Google says people have been liking it so far:

We’ve gotten very positive feedback from those of you testing it out — such as this note: “The Gmail results feature is awesome! The fact that it’s all integrated into one screen is huge.” Many testers have requested being able to find Drive files as well — as one of you put it, “It would be awesome if I could search my google drive from google search as well 🙂”.

If you’re unfamiliar with how this affected your Google search results as a Gmail user, this is what seeing contacts and emails looks like in the interface:

Screen Shot 2012 10 15 at 2.51.36 PM 520x229 Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

The expanded trial will take on many of the same features as the initial one, offering up results in the Google search box that present email messages, relevant information and, brand new to this trial, results from your Google Drive:

field trial 520x286 Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

You can try out the new results options in the field trial now, as long as you speak english and have a Gmail.com address. The trial was instituted back in August, when Google Director of Product Management, Universal Search Sagar Kamdar called it part of Google’s ‘Universal Search’, saying that “Gmail is almost larger than our web corpus and it continues to grow.”

Google Wants to Be a Bank Now

Google, the search engine company that also happens to do 35 other things, is expanding its horizons once again with a new financial services division. On Monday, the multi-billion dollar corporation is set to launch a new credit business in the United Kingdom with plans to expand to other countries in the next few weeks, according to the Financial Times.

Based on what we know so far, the program will let businesses take out a line of credit — between $200 and $10,000 — to spend on Google’s money-making AdWords program. Google’s treasurer Brent Callinicos told the FT that businesses just “weren’t buying Adwords as much as they need to,” and a pilot program in the United States last year showed that offering loans made customers advertise more. Callinicos admitted that the company is “not doing this to lose money” and they’re also “not trying to run the financing business as a profit centre.” Starting in the U.S. and then spreading to other countries, however, Google will issue credit cards as part of the new financing program, with initial interest rates for small- to medium-sized businesses at a competitive 8.99 percent.

The move comes just a few days after news emerged that Amazon was launching its own loan business. Though details are still unconfirmed since Amazon hasn’t formally launched the program, Amazon Lending will provide capital to small business to stock up on inventory before the holiday seasons. Since Amazon takes a cut of all the sales through its website, helping small shops sell more goods makes great sense. “These spot loans will help these folks grow by getting them extra cash to buy more product,” said Scot Wingo, chief executive of e-commerce advisory firm ChannelAdvisor, told the Mercury News. “This is definitely cheaper than credit cards and faster and easier than banks, so may fill a big hole for sellers.”

Don’t expect to see Google and Amazon ATMs on the street corner any time soon, though. For now, both of the companies’ programs will focus on commercial loans. Of course, this is a company that’s already busy trading energyrigging up high-speed WiFi in middle America, developing self-driving cars and tryingto make everybody look like Star Trek characters. So who knows how far they’re willing to go.

Google working with Samsung on ‘high-end’ 10.1-inch Nexus tablet

Google is reportedly working with Samsung to develop a co-branded high-end Nexus tablet featuring a 10.1-inch screen, moving into an area of the tablet market dominated by Apple with its 9.7-inch iPad.

While Apple appear to be about to go small with its enormously popular 9.7-inch iPad device, a new report suggests Google is soon to go big with its 7-inch Nexus tablet.

According to a Cnet report, the Mountain View company is busy developing a 10.1-inch tablet with Korean electronics giant Samsung.

The information comes from Richard Shim, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch, who said that supply chain activity indicated the new tablet was on its way, though a time frame for its launch wasn’t given.

Shim said the new tablet will have a screen density even higher than that of the third-generation iPad. Apple’s newest iPad has a 2048 x 1536 screen resolution (264 PPI), whereas Google’s offering will reportedly have a 2560 x 1600 display (299 PPI).

Google partnered with Taiwan-based Asus to produced its well-received 7-inch Nexus tablet, however, it appears that Samsung has been chosen to work on the larger device. The Korean company currently produces Google’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone, released late last year.

Buoyed by the success of its Nexus 7 tablet, which launched in the US in July, Google appears to be looking to try its luck in the 10-inch tablet market, currently dominated by Apple with its iPad. And, according to Shim, the co-branded device won’t be a cheap alternative to the Cupertino company’s big seller, with the analyst describing it as a “high-end device.”

Apple, meanwhile, is expected to launch a smaller, 7.85-inch version of the iPad this month, with a price tag of between $300 and $350. The new tablet could well damage sales of Google’s cheaper Nexus 7 tablet, as well as the latest versions of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. Whether a 10.1-inch co-branded tablet from Google and Samsung can tempt buyers away from Apple’s iPad is another question, and one we may be able to answer once more details of the device come to light.

Google has surpassed Microsoft’s market value for the first time

For the first time, Google has eclipsed Microsoft to become the second largest technology company in the world. Google’s market value is fluctuating near $248.6 billion, millions of dollars larger than Microsoft.

The new rank comes two years after investors drove Apple’s value past Microsoft for the first time since 1989. Microsoft’s growth has stagnated since the 1999 US antitrust judgement against it.

For Google, however, the climb to the top spot among tech companies would be a steeper one. Apple’s market value is over $100 billion greater than the combined value of Microsoft and Google.

How To Sync Google Contacts To iPhone

If you used Google as your main repository for contacts, there was previously no easy way to sync it with your iPhone.

This has changed now that Google supports the CardDAV protocol, a way of syncing this information rather easily.

Now you can store all your contacts on your Google Account, not on your phone, so you don’t have to worry about losing them again.

Microsoft Bing takes a chip out of Google’s giant lead

Google’s share of the U.S. search market fell by 0.4 percentage points in the U.S. in August, while Microsoft Bing climbed by 0.2 percentage points — resulting in one of the largest changes in the search landscape in recent months … which actually isn’t saying much.

The latest report from comScore Networks shows Google at 66.4 percent of the market, down from 66.8 percent in July. Bing rose to 15.9 percent, up from 15.7 in July.  Meanwhile, Yahoo continued to slip, hitting 12.8 percent of the market, from 13 percent in July.

The end result was that the Microsoft+Yahoo search partnership remained steady at a combined 28.7 percent market share.

Microsoft has been trying to differentiate its search engine by leveraging its Facebook partnership, rolling out a new Facebook photo search tool at the end of August. Last week Bing launched a “Bing it On” campaign with a related site where consumers can compare Google and Bing search results in blind “taste tests.”