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18 Jun 12 Google polishes Chrome OS, but is it enough to entice buyers?


Google launched the Chrome OS in late 2010 and has continued to update it despite lukewarm reception by the public toward the platform’s model: a browser-centered OS running on a lightweight, minimally-spec’d notebook meant to be used with an always-on Internet connection.

Samsung just released a new top-of-the-line Chromebook, the Series 5 550 and the first so-called “Chromebox,” the Series 3. The Chromebox is a mini-PC in a case that’s similar in size to the Mac mini. You connect your own keyboard and mouse to it, and separate monitor, but otherwise it has most of the same specifications as the Series 5 550: both Chrome computers have Celeron CPUs, 4GB RAM, 16GB on-board flash memory storage, and come installed with Chrome OS, V.19.)

We’ve been running the original Chromebook, the Cr-48, so we were familiar with the product line when he tested the new models.

Because the hardware and software are closely wedded together in a Chrome computer, you really can’t evaluate the hardware without first examining Chrome OS itself.

A more traditional look-and-feel OS

Previous iterations were essentially the Chrome browser running atop a Linux kernel. Aside from having a file manager, image viewer, and media player, it was no different than a web browser. But in this case, you were locked into full-screen mode, and there was no familiar desktop user interface to exit to. Though it could be argued that there were advantages to the extreme simplicity of this design, it probably felt constraining to most users accustomed to a more traditional OS.

In the latest version, Google has added standard OS UI elements, including a desktop (with changeable wallpaper), resizable browser windows, and a taskbar along the bottom of the screen, dubbed Launcher. The Launcher and desktop do help give Chrome OS a more “open” feel when you interact with it. In actuality, these are superficial re-arrangements of app icons and shortcuts, but they do prove themselves to be handy for quickly accessing your often-used web apps.

The Launcher

Clicking the Chrome icon on the Launcher bar opens a browser window, as you’d expect. Clicking this icon again will open a blank tab in the browser. Other icons on the Launcher include those for Gmail and Google Docs (now referred to as Google Drive), each of which will open a browser tab to these web services when clicked. (An icon for Google search will launch a separate browser window that for some reason doesn’t support the ability to open tabs within it.)

In prior versions of Chrome OS, a blank tab displayed icons for web apps installed on the OS. Starting with Version 19, you access your installed apps by clicking the Apps icon (an image of a 3-by-3 grid) on the Launcher. This takes you to the desktop where shortcut icons for the apps installed on your Chrome OS computer are presented in a grid layout for you to click to launch.

I don’t feel that clicking the Apps icon on the Launcher bar is as convenient and fast as opening a blank tab that in prior Chrome OS versions listed your installed apps, but this might just be my personal preference. (The number of clicks for either way is the same.) So this change may be subtle to most users.

You can remove (un-pin) most of the icons on the Launcher by right-clicking. You add (pin) new icons by going to the Apps desktop screen and then right-clicking the icon for the web app you want pinned onto the Launcher bar.

Moveable and resizable browser windows

The functionality that truly is new to the Chrome OS user experience is the ability to minimize, resize and tile browser windows. Clicking the icon of the image of a square that’s set to the upper-right of a browser window expands the browser to fill the entire screen (and over the Launcher). Clicking it again will resize the browser window back to smaller dimensions and reveal the Launcher.

To minimize, you either click and hold the square icon and pull down, or click the browser window’s icon on the launcher. Clicking, holding and sweeping this icon to the left or right will size down the browser window and tile it in that direction. A browser window can also be resized by clicking and dragging the edges of its frame (horizontal, vertical or corners). Thus, you can have multiple browser windows open, and can resize and rearrange them as needed.

View documents in tabs

The Chrome OS file manager (which runs within a browser tab) supports PDF and Microsoft Office documents — meaning, when you double-click on any such formatted file, it will be displayed in a browser tab for you to read. This convenient feature worked with all the Office files I tested on it. It supports DOC, DOCX, PPT, PPTX, XLS and XLSX documents.

Image viewer and editor

Double-clicking an image file in the file manager opens a slideshow viewer within a browser tab, and from this application you can perform basic editing to the picture (including auto-adjust its levels, crop, rotate). However, the slideshow viewer lacks a magnifying tool for you to zoom in on your image, or view it in its actual size. It scales a large image down so it can be seen in its entirety within the display screen.

Media playback

In the file manager, clicking audio files will launch a player that pops up over the lower-right corner of the screen. This application looks slightly more sophisticated compared to older versions of Chrome OS, but remains sparse with a minimal feature-set. Nonetheless, it does what it’s supposed to well, and launches quickly. It supports audio files in M4A and MP3 format.

Clicking a video file will open a tab inside which it will play. The Chrome OS browser supports AVI and MOV video formats. Like the audio player, the available controls for video are minimal (it’s just “play” and “pause” with a slider and time marker you can click on and drag along a timeline, full-screen mode, and volume). Playback quality depends on the processor speed of the Chrome computer’s CPU, naturally.

Copying files still a challenge

A big issue with the file manager of Chrome OS remains unchanged in the latest builds: it still isn’t possible to easily copy files from a Chrome computer’s built-in flash drive to an external/attached memory storage medium, and vice versa through the file manager. It is doable but in an in-elegant manner — you right-click on the file, choose Copy, then click the drive you want to transfer a copy of the file to, right-click and choose Paste. The Chrome OS developers should finally implement a more intuitive means, such as a drag-and-drop interface, to do this.

Google Drive is baked into Chrome OS’ file manager (at least in the Version 20 beta). Your Google Drive account appears as a folder icon in the left pane of the file manager, but you can only delete and open files stored in it. Again, you have to use the awkward copy-and-paste method to move a file individually in your Google Drive folder to your Chrome computer. Frankly, you’re better off just using the Chrome browser, because the Google Drive site gives you easier, direct ways to transfer files from your account to your computer and vice versa.

Performance

Despite the additions to its UI, the overall performance of the new Chrome OS feels fast. I didn’t experience much in the way of noticeable slowdowns while using the Series 5 550. This Chromebook handled my clicks, drags, moves and resizes throughout the OS smoothly and quickly. I would have a dozen or more tabs open at once in a browser window — as music played from my Google Music account in one — and there was rarely a problem in performance.

A major factor in this is probably because of the processor that’s used in the Series 5 550 (it runs on a 1.3 GHz Celeron CPU, while previous Chromebooks came with less-speedy Atom CPUs). But the Version 20 beta that I installed on my trusty Cr-48 ran surprisingly well — snappily even. (A 1.66 GHz Atom powers the Cr-48.) In fact, the latest Chrome OS build I tested on this old-model Chromebook seems to run faster than Version 18.

Some slowing happened when playing high-definition video on YouTube: starting with Version 19, Chrome OS supports 1080p video playback (previous versions blocked themselves from playing higher than 720p). YouTube videos of a few minutes in this resolution played decently set at full-screen, but longer running clips generally resulted in dropped frame rates and choppier motion.

A few thoughts on the Series 5 550 Chromebook’s design

The size of the Series 5 550 Chromebook falls between that of a lightweight notebook and Macbook Air or Ultrabook. Now it’s certainly not bulky. Yet considering that its technical specifications are bare bones, you’d think it’d be as small, or as thin, as the latter form factors.

The resistance of this Chromebook’s individual keys might feel too rigid for some people — my fingers felt a little tired during long and intense durations of typing. I preferred the “looser” key resistance of my old Cr-48′s keyboard. (Or, maybe my fingers had become used to the Cr-48 keyboard over a span of 18 months of use, and would also similarly adjust to the Series 5 550 keyboard over time of frequent use.)

Google’s experiment

The recent changes to Chrome OS bring it closer to a more familiar OS experience for the user, but most of these additions are cosmetic. What matters about Version 19 is the ability to move and resize windows, and, more importantly, how the OS’ performance has noticeably improved.

A more pressing issue is that Chromebooks still cost more than other low-end notebooks (which have better technical specs, and run Windows). Chromebooks are on sale at five Web sites, including Amazon and Best Buy. On Amazon, the Series 5 550 is selling for $450 for the Wi-Fi version and $550 for the 3G-equipped model. The Series 3 Chromebox is selling for $330, which could be considered price-challenged for a bare-bones mini-PC running what many would think of as an outdated CPU (Celeron, even if it’s a 1.9 GHz in the Series 3).

Google and the few remaining makers of Chrome computers really have to find ways to reduce the prices. (Google has recently said in public that it may seek ways to subsidize the costs of Chrome computers through Internet providers and the carriers of mobile data.)

As it nears its second-year anniversary, Chrome OS remains a curious experiment. It’s definitely a usable solution for cloud computing, and Google appears committed to it, improving it on a frequent basis. This OS is still worth keeping an eye on as it evolves — but at what price users are willing to pay for a computer running Chrome OS remains its greatest challenge.

Wen is a freelance writer. He can be reached at howardwen@gmail.com.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World’s Anti-malware section.

Article source: http://www.cio.com.au/article/427897/google_polishes_chrome_os_it_enough_entice_buyers_/?utm_medium=rss&utm_source=sectionfeed

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17 Jun 12 new, more robust Chrome hardware



A year after unveiling Chromebooks to the world, Google and Samsung today are announcing two new devices, including the first “Chromebox” desktop PC. Google is also rolling out several major software improvements, including a new window manager for Chrome OS, better trackpad support, upgrades to a remote desktop access tool, and offline editing for Google Docs.

The new Chromebook has a slicker, more attractive design than previous models, and both the new laptop and desktop take a big step forward in memory and CPU. Instead of Intel Atom processors, Samsung’s latest Chrome computers use Sandy Bridge-based Intel Celeron CPUs, and double the RAM to 4GB. Both devices will be on sale online today and in Best Buy stores soon.

The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 has a 12.1″ display with resolution of 1280×800, starts up in about 7 seconds, weighs 3.3 pounds, is rated for six hours of battery life, and costs $449 for a WiFi-only edition and $549 for one with WiFi and 3G cellular access. Google says it’s about 2.5 times faster than last year’s models, while the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 will be 3.5 times faster. The Chromebox, which costs $329 and has roughly the same size and shape as an Apple Mac Mini, runs faster because with battery life not being a concern, it can use a higher-wattage version of the Intel Celeron processors.

The new Samsung Chromebook runs a dual-core Intel Celeron Processor 867 at 1.3GHz, compared to last year’s Chromebook which ran a dual-core Intel Atom N570 at 1.66GHz. The Celeron architecture is more advanced, and the laptop certainly seems zippy in our limited testing so far. We’ll have more to say on performance in an upcoming article, which will include some benchmarking. The Chromebox has an Intel Celeron B840 running at 1.9GHz.

The Chromebox has a good number of ports, including six USB 2.0 ports and two DisplayPort++ slots that are compatible with HDMI, DVI, and VGA. Chrome OS is optimized for screens up to 30 inches and can support multiple monitors, Sengupta said.


Oddly, the Chromebox has no SD card reader, but USB devices that can read SD cards are common anyway. The new Chromebook has two USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort++ output, and an SD card reader. Both the laptop and desktop have a Gigabit Ethernet port. Because the laptop is quite thin, the Ethernet port opens up and juts out a bit to fit the cable.

While the computers are cheaper than any Mac and many Windows PCs, we still think they’re a bit pricey for devices designed to run just one application: the Chrome Web browser. But Chrome devices are fast, and extraordinarily easy to use. Google and its hardware partners haven’t revealed sales figures, and significant market share doesn’t seem to be forthcoming any time soon. However, Google is offering support packages to businesses and education customers ($150 for businesses, $30 for schools, in addition to the device cost) and says the Chromebooks are proving quite popular in educational settings.

Acer and Samsung both released Chromebooks a year ago, but Samsung is the only hardware maker doing so this time around. However, Chrome OS Director Caesar Sengupta says Google is working closely with Intel and expects to have “a few more OEMs shipping later this year.”

Samsung has done well in delivering strong hardware, with a very responsive trackpad. But ultimately, software improvements are needed to give Google any shot at gaining significant market share from Windows and Mac OS X. New features being rolled out today and over the new few weeks provide a good start.

Offline Google Docs editing at last, Google Drive integration

Google used to allow offline editing of Google Docs through a Google Gears extension, but killed the project with the promise of delivering offline functionality natively through the browser. Offline viewing capabilities were brought back last September and editing is coming sometime in June, Sengupta told Ars. Any changes made while offline will sync with the Google server once a user gains an Internet connection.

“Offline viewing has existed for a while, but the Docs team is readying the release of offline editing,” Sengupta said. “We are using this internally at Google right now and we are going to gradually migrate users over the next several weeks.”

Offline editing of Docs will be available in all versions of the Chrome browser, not just the one for Chrome OS devices. No other browsers are supported just yet, but Sengupta didn’t rule it out as long as competing browsers use similar HTML5 technology. Google is using IndexedDB to store files locally when an Internet connection is severed.

Two other additions help on the offline documents and storage fronts. New viewing capabilities allow opening of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files in a browser tab, online or offline. The files can be viewed without Google Docs, although editing requires Docs. Chrome OS is also being integrated with Google Drive, the new cloud storage service with 5GB of free storage. Drive integration is built into the Chrome OS development release, and will hit the stable channel in mid-to-late June, Sengupta said. Because Chromebooks contain 16GB solid-state disk capacity, a user’s Drive files will be cached locally.

Chrome OS, now with more windows

We recently posted an in-depth examination of Google’s new Aura interface for Chrome OS, a window manager that makes Chromebooks act a lot more like the Windows, Mac, and Linux computers people are used to. When Chromebooks first came out last year, they supported viewing of only one browser tab at a time so you couldn’t, for example, type in a Google Doc and view a separate webpage at the same time. Simultaneous viewing of multiple browser windows was added within a few months, and the more robust Aura interface hit the Chrome OS developer channel in April of this year.

Today, Aura becomes the standard interface for Chrome OS as part of an operating system update. For the first time, this provides Chrome OS a graphical user interface that exists outside of the browser, although it’s still very Web-centric. There’s an icon for a file manager, but for the most part the “applications” listed are links to websites. Users can still fill the whole screen with the Chrome browser simply by clicking a little box at the top right of the screen.

Although Aura is pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t change the fact that Chrome OS’s biggest limitation is still its limited usefulness when a user lacks an Internet connection.

Better trackpad software and remote desktop access

As mentioned earlier, the Samsung Chromebook has a very responsive trackpad, easily recognizing tap-to-click, scrolling, and the two-finger click. We give Samsung much of the credit for this as its trackpads are generally good regardless of which OS is running, but Google says it has improved trackpad support on the software side as well.

“Our trackpad last year was a bit fiddly,” Sengupta said. With many Googlers using the Chromebooks internally, Google set out to analyze the problems that can be caused by differences in people’s thumbs and fingers and how they click. Google even used robotic thumbs and fingers to duplicate unique digits.

“Some people have thumbs that have a waist in the middle. They’re used to resting it on the trackpad and so they click with that and it looks like two different points,” Sengupta said. “We now know more about thumbs than we ever cared to know. We realize human beings come in different shapes and sizes.”

Improvements to trackpad support made their way into the open source Chromium OS as a new component.

One last software improvement announced by Google today is an upgrade to Chrome Remote Desktop, which we tested out last October and provides a remote desktop connection between two computers running the Chrome browser. This would let a Chromebook user access any Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, but it required a person on each computer to type in an access code, limiting its use for truly “remote” scenarios. Google says it is now launching a persistent connection, allowing a user to set up the remote desktop tool only once and have it be accessible from then on.

Business and school adoption

According to Google, more than 500 schools have purchased Chromebooks and are using them in curriculum. Newly announced customers include Dillard’s, which will deploy hundreds of Chromeboxes to retail stores; California libraries, which will use 1,000 new Chromebooks for patron checkout purposes; Mollen Clinics, which will deploy 4,500 Chrome devices to mobile immunization clinics at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores; and Kaplan, which is using them in a New York City call center.

Google is hoping for a bigger push into businesses and schools with its $150 per-device support charge for businesses and $30 per-device for schools, which includes 24/7 phone support, a management console, and a hardware warranty. The support cost is in addition to the regular retail price of the devices. Google used to sell support to businesses and schools with a monthly subscription model. The new pricing is a one-time up-front cost with support for the lifetime of the device.

We don’t know many regular consumers buying Chromebooks, but Google has a compelling pitch for businesses with employees that use only Web applications, or are satisfied with accessing Windows programs through Citrix’s virtualization software. Call centers, back offices, retail stores, and other “non-mobile” scenarios are good for the Chromebook and Chromebox, said Rajen Sheth, Chrome for Business Group Product Manager.

Google has further optimized Chrome OS for businesses, allowing the devices to automatically configure applications, network settings, WiFi, VPN access, and organizational policies, Sheth said. Sheth believes businesses can take a Chromebook from a delivery truck and hand it directly to an end user without any IT involvement.

“To do that with a PC is almost impossible,” he said.

Article was updated to correct business and education pricing.

Article source: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/05/slick-new-chromebook-first-chromebox-desktop-out-from-samsung-today/

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15 Jun 12 Is Chrome OS Ready for Prime Time?


Are you ready for Chrome OS? Will your kids use a cloud-based computer? Picture: zcopley/Flickr

JR Raphael has posted his take over at Computerworld on the new Chrome OS and Chromebooks after spending the last two weeks with his head in Google’s cloud.

His personal perspective on the Chromebook’s evolution:

After two weeks of using Google’s evolved Chrome OS on the new Chromebook and Chromebox, personally, I’m sold.  I have no doubt that I’ll replace my old first-gen Samsung Chromebook with the new model and use it heavily for portable computing, both around the house and out and about…

What about Android tablets? I still have one — and use it — but to be honest, I find myself reaching for the Chromebook more often lately…

And Raphael is even considering Chrome OS for a desktop replacement:

Based on my experiences with the new setup, I’m actually tempted to move even further and embrace Chrome OS as my primary desktop platform, too, by way of the Chromebox.

How could he be so sold? One biggie, which I think could herald the dawn of personal clouds replacing PCs:

Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you’ve had ‘em for a few months.

Chrome OS doesn’t have any of those hassles. It’s just about getting online and getting stuff done, plain and simple. Most of the annoyances that have long accompanied computer use are nowhere to be found.

Raphael’s final take:

So, in summary: It’s been an interesting two weeks living in the cloud — enough so that I’m thinking about turning my vacation into a permanent residence.

Read JR Raphael’s full adventure with Chrome OS at Computerworld and have your say: Will you ditch your Mac or PC for Google’s cloudy OS? Will your kids be using a cloud-based PC?

Article source: http://www.wired.com/cloudline/2012/06/chrome-os-prime-time/

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14 Jun 12 Is Chrome OS Ready for Prime Time?


Are your ready for Chrome OS? Will your kids use a cloud-based computer? Picture: zcopley/Flickr

JR Raphael has posted his take over at Computerworld on the new Chrome OS and Chromebooks after spending the last two weeks with his head in Google’s cloud.

His personal perspective on the Chromebook’s evolution:

After two weeks of using Google’s evolved Chrome OS on the new Chromebook and Chromebox, personally, I’m sold.  I have no doubt that I’ll replace my old first-gen Samsung Chromebook with the new model and use it heavily for portable computing, both around the house and out and about…

What about Android tablets? I still have one — and use it — but to be honest, I find myself reaching for the Chromebook more often lately…

And Raphael is even considering Chrome OS for a desktop replacement:

Based on my experiences with the new setup, I’m actually tempted to move even further and embrace Chrome OS as my primary desktop platform, too, by way of the Chromebox.

How could he be so sold? One biggie, which I think could herald the dawn of cloud base PCs hitting the prime time slot:

Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you’ve had ‘em for a few months.

Chrome OS doesn’t have any of those hassles. It’s just about getting online and getting stuff done, plain and simple. Most of the annoyances that have long accompanied computer use are nowhere to be found.

Raphael’s final take:

So, in summary: It’s been an interesting two weeks living in the cloud — enough so that I’m thinking about turning my vacation into a permanent residence.

Read JR Raphael’s full adventure with Chrome OS at Computerworld and have your say: Will you ditch your Mac or PC for Google’s cloudy OS? Will your kids be using a cloud-based PC?

Article source: http://www.wired.com/cloudline/2012/06/chrome-os-prime-time/

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14 Jun 12 Chrome OS management console brings improvements for …



For an operating system to be successful in an enterprise environment, it needs to be easily managed. System administrators don’t want to spend a lot of time tweaking each new system on their network by hand, and users want the computers they use every day to work reliably and predictably. This means administrators need to be able to manage applications and updates behind-the-scenes without interrupting users’ work.

All major operating systems, from Windows to OS X to iOS to Android, are all fully customizable and manageable using either first- or third-party tools. Google’s Chrome OS is no exception. As part of our ongoing check-in with the revamped operating system and new, more robust Chrome hardware, today we’ll be spending some time with the Chrome OS management console, looking at whether it makes Chrome OS a viable choice for businesses.

“Zero-touch” Chrome OS management

To get some background on the management console’s development and features, we spoke to Glenn Wilson, a product manager on the Chrome OS team who has also worked on the Chrome browser’s enterprise features.

Wilson explained that while there were relatively few settings to be managed on Chrome OS compared to a more traditional operating system like Windows, the Chrome team wanted to enable “zero-touch” Chromebook deployment in enterprises. The goal was that employees could buy a Chromebook themselves, log in with their Google Apps credentials, and automatically have all of the settings, security certificates, VPN configurations, and extensions required for their workplaces.

In Windows, this normally necessitates some combination of a customized operating system image, Group Policies managed by an Active Directory server, and some post-imaging customization of the computer, whether done automatically or manually. In Chrome OS, the solution to this problem is the Chrome OS management console.


“The management console is actually just an extension to the Google Apps control panel where you can set your settings for your Chrome OS devices,” Wilson told Ars. “Those settings will apply to either devices that are specifically registered with your domain or to your users on any device anywhere. Regardless of how the user got it, regardless of whether it’s the organization’s device or not, there’s still a way for an administrator to get the settings to users that they need to do their jobs.”

These seamless management features are Google’s way of increasing compliance with any security policies in a business while also combating the “bring your own device” phenomenon—when an employee buys a laptop or iPad and wants to use it at work, businesses often have a set of best practices for employees to follow, but generally can’t configure and lock down those devices to the same extent as their company-owned devices. With the Chrome OS management console, administrators and users can both be happy, in theory.

Like Chrome OS itself, Wilson noted that the management console is still a work in progress and under continuous development. For example: while extensions and Chrome Web Apps can be pushed to configured machines currently (and in-house apps can also be side-loaded from a company’s servers without going through Google’s storefront), the ability to manage settings for these extensions is still in development. As new features are rolled out in Chrome OS, you can expect controls for those features to be added to the management console.

Using the Chrome OS management console

The management console itself is accessed from the Google Apps control panel for your account, and it’s only available if you’ve paid the $150-per-device management and support fee (or $30-per-device for education customers), though Google provided us with a seat for testing. Any of your Google Apps accounts with access to the “Settings” tab of your control panel can adjust the settings for Chrome OS (the “Services Admin” role can give out those permissions) and enroll devices on your Google Apps domain.


The management console for Chrome OS is reasonably straightforward, and you can find a detailed description of manageable settings and descriptions of those settings on Google’s support page (though we’ll also dive into many of the most important ones here). Most settings are under the “Org Settings” tab. Here you can set the screen lock policy, configure homepage settings and blacklisted URLs, and control whether systems will save browsing history and passwords. You can also block or allow certain plug-ins, browser extensions, and content types. You can even push out defined browser extensions and apps to users either from the Chrome Web Store or by side-loading them from your own server (Metro apps can be managed much the same way on Windows 8 machines). Settings applied at the top level of your organization apply to all of your users, but you can also augment or replace these with different settings for subgroups of users defined in the “Organization Users” tab of the Apps control panel.

Article source: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/06/chrome-os-management-console-brings-improvements-for-businesses/

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14 Jun 12 Chrome OS management console brings improvements for businesses



For an operating system to be successful in an enterprise environment, it needs to be easily managed. System administrators don’t want to spend a lot of time tweaking each new system on their network by hand, and users want the computers they use every day to work reliably and predictably. This means administrators need to be able to manage applications and updates behind-the-scenes without interrupting users’ work.

All major operating systems, from Windows to OS X to iOS to Android, are all fully customizable and manageable using either first- or third-party tools. Google’s Chrome OS is no exception. As part of our ongoing check-in with the revamped operating system and new, more robust Chrome hardware, today we’ll be spending some time with the Chrome OS management console, looking at whether it makes Chrome OS a viable choice for businesses.

“Zero-touch” Chrome OS management

To get some background on the management console’s development and features, we spoke to Glenn Wilson, a product manager on the Chrome OS team who has also worked on the Chrome browser’s enterprise features.

Wilson explained that while there were relatively few settings to be managed on Chrome OS compared to a more traditional operating system like Windows, the Chrome team wanted to enable “zero-touch” Chromebook deployment in enterprises. The goal was that employees could buy a Chromebook themselves, log in with their Google Apps credentials, and automatically have all of the settings, security certificates, VPN configurations, and extensions required for their workplaces.

In Windows, this normally necessitates some combination of a customized operating system image, Group Policies managed by an Active Directory server, and some post-imaging customization of the computer, whether done automatically or manually. In Chrome OS, the solution to this problem is the Chrome OS management console.


“The management console is actually just an extension to the Google Apps control panel where you can set your settings for your Chrome OS devices,” Wilson told Ars. “Those settings will apply to either devices that are specifically registered with your domain or to your users on any device anywhere. Regardless of how the user got it, regardless of whether it’s the organization’s device or not, there’s still a way for an administrator to get the settings to users that they need to do their jobs.”

These seamless management features are Google’s way of increasing compliance with any security policies in a business while also combating the “bring your own device” phenomenon—when an employee buys a laptop or iPad and wants to use it at work, businesses often have a set of best practices for employees to follow, but generally can’t configure and lock down those devices to the same extent as their company-owned devices. With the Chrome OS management console, administrators and users can both be happy, in theory.

Like Chrome OS itself, Wilson noted that the management console is still a work in progress and under continuous development. For example: while extensions and Chrome Web Apps can be pushed to configured machines currently (and in-house apps can also be side-loaded from a company’s servers without going through Google’s storefront), the ability to manage settings for these extensions is still in development. As new features are rolled out in Chrome OS, you can expect controls for those features to be added to the management console.

Using the Chrome OS management console

The management console itself is accessed from the Google Apps control panel for your account, and it’s only available if you’ve paid the $150-per-device management and support fee (or $30-per-device for education customers), though Google provided us with a seat for testing. Any of your Google Apps accounts with access to the “Settings” tab of your control panel can adjust the settings for Chrome OS (the “Services Admin” role can give out those permissions) and enroll devices on your Google Apps domain.


The management console for Chrome OS is reasonably straightforward, and you can find a detailed description of manageable settings and descriptions of those settings on Google’s support page (though we’ll also dive into many of the most important ones here). Most settings are under the “Org Settings” tab. Here you can set the screen lock policy, configure homepage settings and blacklisted URLs, and control whether systems will save browsing history and passwords. You can also block or allow certain plug-ins, browser extensions, and content types. You can even push out defined browser extensions and apps to users either from the Chrome Web Store or by side-loading them from your own server (Metro apps can be managed much the same way on Windows 8 machines). Settings applied at the top level of your organization apply to all of your users, but you can also augment or replace these with different settings for subgroups of users defined in the “Organization Users” tab of the Apps control panel.

Article source: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/06/chrome-os-management-console-brings-improvements-for-businesses/

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14 Jun 12 Chrome OS reviewed: The final verdict on Google’s cloud platform


Today, I’ll get my head out of the cloud.

I’ve spent the past two weeks, you see, using Google’s Chrome OS. I called it my Chrome OS experiment: I wanted to dive in head first and experience what it was like to live completely in Google’s cloud-centric world.

I used a combination of the new Samsung Chromebook (Series 5 550) and the new Samsung Chromebox for the bulk of my computing needs, both in the office and out. Day by day, I detailed different parts of my journey — ranging from my thoughts on the hardware to my impressions of Google’s reimagined software and what it’s really like to work with Chrome OS offline.

You can visit each of those chapters for my in-depth thoughts on the topics. Today, I wanted to put it all together to share some final conclusions after two weeks of life in the Chrome lane.

So grab your favorite beverage and buckle up: Our ride starts now.

Conclusion #1: Chrome OS has a come a long, long way.

From both a hardware and software perspective, it’s impossible to overstate just how much Google’s Chrome OS has evolved since its introduction 17 months ago.

Google Chrome OS Chromebook, Chromebox

The hardware — in both the new Chromebook and Chromebox — is finally powerful enough to support a compelling Chrome OS experience. Past generations of hardware, from the Cr-48 test notebook to the first-gen Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, were woefully underpowered and couldn’t keep up with multitasking-style use. As such, it was difficult to embrace them beyond specific and limited circumstances (for me, light traveling and casual around-the-house Web browsing).

The new machines allow us to experience Chrome OS the way it was meant to be experienced — no slowness, no lag, no more hardware limitations holding the software back.

And as for the software? Well…

Conclusion #2: Chrome OS has finally evolved into a true platform.

I’ve been intrigued by Chrome OS since its start, but in the early days, the software had an awful lot of pesky holes. On top of that, it was basically just a series of full-screen browser windows — nothing more — and that one-dimensional environment could feel rather restrictive and jarring to use.

Chrome OS File ManagerWith its newly revamped Chrome OS, Google has truly put the “OS” into the equation. Chrome OS sticks to its goal of being a browser-based, cloud-centric platform — but it now does it in a way that’s far more palatable and inviting to the user. Without abandoning its cloud-centric philosophy, the software also allows for a level of local file management and offline functionality — even simple remote access to Windows, Mac, or Linux PCs — taking away most of the platform’s former liabilities.

Conclusion #3: Chrome OS offers a lot of attractive advantages over traditional PC setups.

As I mentioned, I’ve liked Chrome OS for a long time — but between the hardware and software limitations, it’s always been a limited-use, supplementary kind of system for me. With the latest hardware and software upgrades, that’s no longer the case.

In the time I’ve been using the Chromebook and Chromebox, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how little I’ve missed my standard Windows 7 desktop setup. The Chrome OS systems power up in three to five seconds; once you type in your Google credentials, it’s literally another two to three seconds before you’re in a browser window, online and ready to roll. The minutes-long wait for my Windows laptop to boot up and be ready to use has never felt more archaic.

Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you’ve had ‘em for a few months.

Chrome OS doesn’t have any of those hassles. It’s just about getting online and getting stuff done, plain and simple. Most of the annoyances that have long accompanied computer use are nowhere to be found.

And let me tell you: As someone who uses computers all day, that is a huge breath of fresh air. For schools and businesses, too, the implications are enormous.

Conclusion #4: Chrome OS still isn’t for everyone.

For all its positives, Chrome OS isn’t going to be the right setup for everyone. If you rely on a lot of resource-intensive local programs — or if you have specific desktop utilities you just adore — you may find Chrome OS frustrating to use. While there are plenty of cloud-based apps available for most purposes, the experience using them isn’t always as good or as complete as what you find on their PC-based equivalents.

For example, even as someone who relies heavily on the cloud these days, using Chrome OS makes me realize how much I prefer the desktop TweetDeck application over its Web-based counterpart (the old desktop TweetDeck app, that is — you know, from before Twitter bought and ruined it). Photoshop is another program where I feel a slight sense of loss; while cloud apps like Aviary do a decent job, they’re just less robust than what I’m used to, and they lack the hotkeys and shortcuts that save me tons of time in my traditional configuration.

For me, I’m finding the tradeoff to be largely worthwhile; I find myself willing to adapt to the cloud apps in exchange for what I gain from Chrome OS. (I also realize that if push comes to shove, I can use Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop feature to remotely utilize Windows-based programs — though outside of basic testing, it isn’t something I’ve done very often.) Depending on your needs and perspective, of course, your mileage may vary.

Chrome OS also requires you to rely primarily on cloud-stored data; if you aren’t comfortable keeping your info on the Web, with services like Gmail, Google Docs, and so forth, the cloud computing concept is definitely not for you.

Conclusion #5: The new Chrome OS devices are no-brainers for anyone using first-gen Chromebooks — and purchases well worth considering for anyone who lives in the cloud and wants a fast computer without the hassles.

No two ways about it: If you have a first-gen Chromebook, you’re going to love the new Chromebook model. It’s everything you like about your current system without the laggy tab-switching and performance limitations. (See this side-by-side comparison video that I posted on Google+ for an illustration.)

If you don’t have a Chrome OS system but do spend a lot of your time in the cloud, meanwhile — relying primarily on Web-based services and storing the bulk of your data online — the new Chrome OS devices are well worth considering.

A lot of people say stuff like: “If you want a system that just runs Chrome, why don’t you buy a Windows laptop and install the Chrome browser? Then it’s the same thing except you can actually run regular desktop programs, too.”

Let me tell you something: Those people are missing the point. Chrome OS isn’t about limiting what you can do; it’s about eliminating the hassles that come with traditional computing. It’s about providing a fast, simple, hassle-free system for people who spend most of their time using the Web and Web-based applications (which, let’s face it, is an increasing number of us in this day and age).

Samsung Chromebook Chrome OSThe big variable, then, is the price: The new Samsung Chromebooks cost $450 for the Wi-Fi version and $550 for a 3G-connected model (which includes 100MB a month of data, no contract required, and the option to get additional data on a pay-as-you-go basis). As I’ve said before, I think those prices are a bit high to attract widespread consumer interest — particularly when you consider the variety of full-fledged Windows notebooks and high-end tablets available in that same range.

That said, I don’t think those prices are rip-offs — far from it. I think you get a lot of value for that money: You get excellent hardware, a lifetime of seamless and automatic software updates, and freedom from costly software purchases (Microsoft Office, anyone?) — not to mention freedom from OS problems and potential tech support expenses down the road. When you consider the overall return on investment and total cost of ownership, it really isn’t a bad deal; it’s just not one that’s going to be immediately eye-catching or an easy sell for the average consumer.

If you’re on board with the cloud computing concept, though, I suspect the new Chromebook — or the $329 desktop-based Chromebox — will make you quite happy.

Some personal perspective

After two weeks of using Google’s evolved Chrome OS on the new Chromebook and Chromebox, personally, I’m sold. I have no doubt that I’ll replace my old first-gen Samsung Chromebook with the new model and use it heavily for portable computing, both around the house and out and about.

What about Android tablets? I still have one — and use it — but to be honest, I find myself reaching for the Chromebook more often lately. The larger screen, outstanding full-size keyboard, and top-notch desktop-like browsing experience just make it an ideal way for me to get online and get stuff done fast. My Chrome extensions give me instant on-screen access to things like my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Voice accounts. The tablet has its strengths and advantages — that’s for damn sure — but for the bulk of what I do online these days, I’m finding the Chromebook to be a quicker and more effective option and a better all-around complement to my Android phone.

Based on my experiences with the new setup, I’m actually tempted to move even further and embrace Chrome OS as my primary desktop platform, too, by way of the Chromebox. As I mentioned, there are really only a couple of traditional OS programs I found myself missing during my Chrome OS experiment — and the pluses of the platform (including the lack of typical-OS hassles) seem to outweigh their absence. The missing dual-monitor extended-desktop functionality is my biggest sticking point right now; with the way I multitask during the day, I need a second monitor connected to my system. Once that feature arrives, I’m going to take a serious look at making a full desktop migration.

So, in summary: It’s been an interesting two weeks living in the cloud — enough so that I’m thinking about turning my vacation into a permanent residence.

Android Power TwitterDid you miss some parts of my journey? Not to worry: You can time-warp through the full adventure in the box below, all the way from day one through the very end. Chapter to chapter, you’ll find my detailed thoughts and impressions on every part of the Chrome OS experience.

But please: Remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. For no particular reason, really. I’ve just always wanted to say that. 

Article source: http://blogs.computerworld.com/cloud-computing/20517/chrome-os-reviewed-google-cloud-platform

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13 Jun 12 Even With a Little Polish, Chrome OS Is Still a Bit Hazy


This year, Microsoft and Apple are both introducing new versions of their operating systems with important changes to their user interfaces, and with a flurry of publicity. A third major company is also overhauling its PC operating system, but you probably won’t hear much about it.

Google redesigned its PC operating system, Chrome OS. While Google is a major rival to Apple and Microsoft in things like search, smartphones and browsers, Chrome OS hasn’t dented the competition in the year since it emerged. It was meant to be radically different than Windows and the Macintosh operating system, a refreshing change for a new era. But it had serious limitations, principally that it ran only apps inside a browser on a handful of special, low-powered laptops called Chromebooks and could do almost nothing when it wasn’t online.

The new version, which I’ve been testing, aims to address some of those issues and it makes some progress. But I still can’t recommend it over a PC or Mac for average consumers who are looking for the greatest versatility in a laptop. I still find it more of an evolving project than a finished product.

Its fundamental limitations remain. Most importantly, you still can’t install your favorite programs, be they Microsoft Office or iTunes or Firefox—only a few thousand “Web apps” that run inside the Chrome browser. And it still only works on specific hardware: that laptop called the Chromebook or—new this year—a small desktop called a Chromebox. The only hardware maker producing the 2012 versions of these machines so far is Samsung, though Google says more are coming.

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New Chrome OS allows for multiple windows and has a taskbar at the bottom like Windows.

Chrome OS does have some admirable qualities—especially its philosophy of simplicity and of being wedded to the cloud. For instance, because it’s designed to fetch your apps and documents from the Internet, you can replicate your entire computer by just logging in on any other Chrome OS PC. And, if you mainly use the Web and live in the cloud, it may be the ticket for you, especially as a second machine.

Last year’s inaugural version of Chrome OS was little more than a giant browser in which you ran only Web-based apps. The new redesign of Chrome OS, released late last month, represents something of a retreat from that dramatic strategy.

Now, Google is touting the new release for features that make it look and work more like a Windows PC or Mac—for instance, multiple, movable windows; a strip along the bottom that holds the icons of apps you use; a slightly greater emphasis on doing things offline; and greater focus on finding and launching apps. None of this is revolutionary for people used to traditional computers.

What Chrome OS is exactly can be confusing. While it looks and works a lot like the browser of the same name, Chrome OS is a full-blown operating system that, unlike the Chrome browser, can’t be installed on PCs and Macs. Also, Chrome OS is unrelated to Google’s best-known operating system, Android. The latter is meant to power smartphones, tablets and some other miscellaneous devices.

PTECHjp2

Chrome OS still only works on specific hardware: a laptop called the Chromebook or—new this year—a small desktop called a Chromebox.

I tested the redesigned Chrome OS on the new Samsung Chromebook, a model which Google claims has up to three times the performance of the original Chromebook. This laptop has a 12-inch screen, weighs 3.3 pounds and is about 0.8 of an inch thick. I didn’t run a formal battery test on it, but Samsung claims it gets up to six hours on a charge, less than the claims for the MacBook Air or the new Windows ultrabooks. In my tests, the battery easily lasted a full day in light to moderate use. The Chromebook is sold online and costs $450. A model that includes a slow, 3G cellular modem is $100 more. The Chromebox desktop is a small box that comes without a screen, mouse, or keyboard, and sells for $330.

Because it’s primarily meant as a portal to the Internet, the Chromebook has only about as much storage as a smartphone: 16 gigabytes, rather than the hundreds of gigabytes common in other laptops. And it has a wimpy processor, one of Intel’s entry-level Celeron models.

In my tests, the new Chromebook performed well and did everything it promised. Unlike in the first iteration, I was able to use multiple independent windows and to minimize them or resize them easily. I could store frequently used apps, which still run in browser pages, in the bottom strip, similar to the Windows taskbar or Mac dock—again, nothing new there, but a welcome addition.

I was also able to play music and videos, to view and edit photos, and to view (but not edit) Microsoft Office documents. These abilities are a good thing, but also have been long available on other operating systems.

In the next month or two, Google plans to automatically update Chrome with two important features: the integration of Google’s online file-storage locker, Google Drive, right into the Chromebook’s file system; and the ability to edit documents when offline. I was able to test pre-release versions of these features and they worked fine. Google Drive can already be installed and integrated into the Windows and Mac file systems.

In fact, all of the important features of the Chrome OS—which is still at heart just a big browser—are available in the Windows and Mac versions of the Chrome browser, including the ability to run Web apps, programs like Google’s office suite, or Web-based games. Google concedes this, but says that, by making the whole computer a browser, it has simplified the overall experience.

Google has big plans for the Chrome OS. It has built-in features it claims will work great with future touch-screen hardware.

But, overall, I’d say, if you only have the budget for one main computer, you’re better off with a Mac or a PC.

Write to Walt at walt.mossberg@wsj.com.

Article source: http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/even-little-polish-chrome-os-010910922.html

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13 Jun 12 Michael Gartenberg: Google polishes Chrome OS


Computerworld - A year ago, I wrote that the first Chromebooks felt more like a science project than a strategic product. They were interesting but of little practical value. A lot has changed since then, and while I wouldn’t say that Google has developed a truly compelling device, it has shown that the Chromebook and its underlying Chrome OS are evolving.

Chrome OS is Google’s attempt to create a new class of Web-based operating system, designed to work on special devices, the first of which were last year’s Chromebooks. Since then, Google has refreshed Chrome OS (the actual version number is 19) and with partner Samsung has introduced both a new Chromebook and a desktop device called Chromebox. After using both for the last few weeks, my impression is that Google did a nice job of polishing Chrome in ways that help it shine much better than it did a year ago.

The new Chromebook, called the Series 5, has a 12.1-inch display and 16GB of built-in flash storage. You can add a Verizon Wireless 3G radio, with 100MB free per month for two years. There’s a much-improved trackpad (the trackpad on the first Chromebooks was all but unusable), and the device is now powered by an Intel Celeron processor, which dramatically improves performance, especially for things like streaming high-definition video. Pricing is $449 for the Wi-Fi-only version and $549 for the 3G models.

The Chromebox Series 3 is a small, sleek box that takes some design cues from the Mac Mini. It has the same CPU and memory as the Chromebook. It doesn’t include a monitor, keyboard or mouse, but it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support for keyboards and mice, along with DVI and HDMI output. It costs $329.99.

Both devices are good-looking and solid pieces of hardware, though I’d argue that 3.3 pounds is too much weight for a laptop that isn’t really a laptop at all. I could give you more specs, but specs don’t have that much to do with what you’re buying here. What really matters is the updated Chrome OS experience, and the newest version shows just what a difference a year makes.

One of the biggest drawbacks of Chrome OS was that an offline Chromebook was pretty much a brick with a monitor. Google has worked to address that, adding offline access for Google Docs and Gmail. Both are a little rough around the edges, but they do work. Originally, Google eschewed the idea of a file system in its operating system, but it has now abandoned that stance. The current version of Chrome OS is integrated with Google Drive, giving users a convenient way to access, store and sync content across devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones and, of course, Chrome.

Opinions

Article source: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9227947/Michael_Gartenberg_Google_polishes_Chrome_OS

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13 Jun 12 First look at Chrome in the Windows 8 Metro environment



Google has rolled out experimental support for running Chrome in the Windows 8 Metro environment. The feature landed yesterday in the Chrome developer channel and is available for testing on the Windows 8 Release Preview.

As we reported earlier this year, Mozilla and Google are working to bring their respective browsers to the Metro environment in Windows 8. Microsoft has created a special class of hybrid application specifically for browser vendors that will allow them to support both Metro and the traditional desktop with a single program.

The new application type, which is designated “Metro style enabled desktop browsers,” comes with a few caveats. In order to operate in the Metro environment, a browser will have to be configured as the platform’s default. Hybrid browsers that are not set as default will simply open in the traditional desktop when launched from the Metro environment.

I tested the Chrome developer build on an installation of the Windows 8 Release Preview in VirtualBox. Chrome works exactly as expected under the conventional desktop, with the same user interface and behavior that users are accustomed to under previous versions of Windows.

When I used the relevant button in the browser’s settings to make Chrome the platform’s default browser, Windows 8 displayed a simple prompt asking for confirmation. The prompt listed the installed hybrid browsers and indicated that Internet Explorer was my current default. It looks a lot like the equivalent dialog in Google’s Android platform that is used to specify which application should be the default handler for a given action.

After setting Chrome as the default browser, I was able to launch its Metro interface from the Metro environment by clicking its icon in the launcher. Chrome’s Metro front-end is clearly a work in progress—it doesn’t yet conform with the Metro look and feel. It currently uses a direct adaptation of Chrome’s standard appearance on the desktop.

Chrome’s distinctive curved tabs appear at the top of the screen, over the standard navigation toolbar. On the right-hand side of the browser’s Omnibar is a menu button. Instead of using Chrome’s standard wrench icon, it uses three horizontal lines.

It seems like Google is still determining how it wants to handle window management for its Metro flavor of Chrome. The user can have one regular browser window and one Incognito browser window open at the same time. The user can switch between them by clicking an icon in the top right-hand corner. The menu still has the standard New Window item, but it’s currently wired up to create a new tab.

In a nod to tablet users, the menu items are much larger in Metro mode, making them potentially easier to hit with a finger. Like a lot of aspects of the browser’s look and feel in Metro, this aspect looks like it’s a temporary measure while a more cohesive Metro-like design is being devised. The Omnibox autocompletion options are similarly inflated like the menu items.

The Metro support that Google is offering today in the Chrome developer channel is not bad for a first pass. It gets the job done and will give testers something to work with. We’re hopeful that we’ll see a more comprehensive and native-looking take from Google as their Metro implementation matures.

Google has been working to bring Chrome to its own Android mobile platform and has made it the centerpiece of its Web-centric Chrome OS. The search giant has largely kept the look and feel consistent across the various platforms and form factors that it supports with few platform-specific deviations. It’s not yet entirely clear how that philosophy will translate over the Metro environment.

Article source: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/06/first-look-at-chrome-in-the-windows-8-metro-environment/

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