All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

16 Dec 12 Worldwide Gmail, Chrome crash caused by sync server error

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Google’s email service crumbled yesterday for about 40 minutes, leaving millions of enterprise and consumer users without access to their cloud-stored email. 

Gmail didn’t fall down due to a denial-of-service attack as was reported initially yesterday (which was quickly amended), despite no initial evidence to suggest that it was. The search giant said on its dashboard status pages: “Although our engineering team is still fully engaged on investigation, we are confident we have established the root cause of the event and corrected it.”

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Gmail in widespread outage, also caused Chrome browser crashes

Gmail in widespread outage, also caused Chrome browser crashes

At the same time millions of Google Chrome browsers crashed at around the same time. In some cases, Chrome crashed multiple times times within a short period. (It happened to me. Chrome crashed about three times in the space of 20 minutes, annoyingly, as I was — ironically — writing about the Gmail outage and Chrome crashes.)

However, in spite of Google Chrome’s sandboxing feature, which allows each tab and process to run in a separate thread to prevent the browser from fully crashing if a plug-in or bad bit of Web site code causes issues, the entire browser crashed, losing any unsaved work at the same time.

Google engineer Tim Steele took to the firm’s developer forums to confirm that, in spite of the apparent link between Gmail’s outage and Chrome crashes, it was Google Sync that was causing the browser to crash worldwide, which ultimately then had a knock-on effect to other Google services, not limited to Gmail, Google Docs, Drive and Apps.

Google Sync keeps a user’s Chrome browser in sync when they log in to their browser. Bookmarks, extensions, apps and settings are transferred across to the new Chrome browser on another machine when a user logs in. 

But this back-end service’s failure had a knock-on effect to Chrome browsers. (Presumably, browsers that aren’t set up to synchronize settings were not affected). Steele noted that Google’s Sync Server relies on a component to enforce quotas on per-datatype sync traffic, which failed. The quota service “experienced traffic problems today due to a faulty load balancing configuration change.”

He added: “That change was to a core piece of infrastructure that many services at Google depend on. This means other services may have been affected at the same time, leading to the confounding original title of this bug.”

As a result, Google’s Sync Server “reacted too conservatively” by telling the Chrome browser to “throttle ‘all’ data types,” without taking into account for the fact that the browser doesn’t support all these data types. This caused Chrome to crash en masse around the world.

The ‘too-long, didn’t-read’ version is that Google changed something, it didn’t work, and it caused the crashes. No hackers were involved, and the outage and crashes certainly were not a result of a denial-of-service attack.

(via Wired)

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19 Jun 12 Samsung Series 5 550 Review: The Case for Google’s New …

Jared Newman /

Why buy a laptop that runs nothing but a web browser, when you could buy a laptop that runs everything? That’s the question that comes up in pretty much every debate about Chromebooks — a series of stripped-down laptops that are merely vessels for Google’s Chrome web browser.

Unlike Windows PCs or Macs, Chromebooks cannot install any software. If you can’t access it through the web browser, you can’t run it on a Chromebook.

What you can’t do defines so much of the Chromebook experience — the laptops have very little local storage as well — that the existence of the products has been tough to justify. This was especially true with the first generation of Chromebooks from 2011, which were so underpowered that they couldn’t even provide a decent web browsing experience.

But now there’s a new Chromebook on the market that fixes many of the old ones’ problems. It’s fast enough to handle dozens of tabs across multiple windows. It’s got an excellent trackpad and keyboard. The Chrome OS software has been refined, so it rarely gets in the way of surfing the web. Best of all, the price is a mere $450 for the Wi-Fi model. (A 3G-equipped version with 100 MB of free Verizon data per month costs $550.)

During the E3 trade show in Los Angeles this month, I used a loaner Chromebook — built by Samsung and dubbed the Series 5 550 — as my primary laptop. I took notes on the Chromebook during press conferences and filed my stories through the WordPress blogging platform. When I needed to edit an image, I used the online photo editor Pixlr. I brought my three year-old Windows laptop as a security blanket, but never used it.

In the end, I was convinced that I’d happily ditch my Windows-based travel laptop in favor of a Chromebook.

Understand that I’m very close to the ideal user that Google envisions. Chrome is already my browser of choice, and I rarely use native applications. When possible, I prefer web apps, because they don’t clog up my system and they reside in my existing browser windows for easy access. If I need a document editor, I can get by with Google Docs. The Chromebook required no major tweaks to my work routine.

The latest version of Chrome OS includes some big changes that make the Chromebook more useful. Browser windows now reside in a desktop-like setting, so you can resize them, minimize them and place multiple windows side-by-side. Users can also pin their favorite web apps to the bottom taskbar for easy access alongside other browser windows.

The hardware is attractive too, with an aluminum shell and palm rest that give the Chromebook a hint of MacBook-like quality. (Much of the laptop, however, is clad in plastic.) The island-style keyboard is firm and responsive, and although the jumbo matte trackpad isn’t as smooth as the MacBook’s glass panel, it’s not as jerky as the trackpads on so many run-of-the-mill Windows laptops. The Chromebook’s speakers — usually a throwaway feature on laptops — are loud and rich enough to hear the bassline while listening to music.

The only major pain point on the new Chromebook is its 12.1-inch display, whose resolution is a measly 1280-800 pixels. It’s not a dealbreaker — and the matte screen was great at fending off outdoor glare — but when on-screen text runs small, it can be tough to read.

Other nitpicks: I wish the web app list in Chrome OS showed up in new tabs as it does in the desktop version of Chrome, instead of in a separate menu that I never got used to visiting. Also, when you’ve got a pinned app open already, it’d be nice if clicking the pinned icon led you to the relevant tab instead of opening a new tab every time.

On a few occasions, Chrome OS crashed, requiring a hard reboot by holding down the power button. In one instance, a website didn’t recognize my version of Chrome as a supported browser. (I got around this with an extension that tells websites a different browser is in use.)

I should also note that the original review unit Google sent had problems staying connected to Wi-Fi for more than 15 minutes at a time. One other reviewer, at PCWorld, had the same issue, but a Samsung representative said she was unaware of any other reported problems. After ruling out that it was a problem on my end, Google sent a second unit, which had no problems, so I’m assuming this was a freak defect.

Small gripes aside, the new Chromebook was light, fast, and quick to resume from standby, which made it an excellent travel companion. But back to the original question: Why limit yourself to a browser-based PC in the first place?

You need only look to Apple for the answer. Apple is successful because it builds its hardware to carry out the goals of its software. And that’s exactly what Google and Samsung have done with the new Chromebook. Gone is the clutter that you get with a traditional laptop–things like the row of F1 through F12 keys that you never use, the long bootup times, the annoying notifications and sluggishness from software you installed and forgot about.

By contrast, the Chromebook is built solely to help you browse the web faster. Instead of a caps lock key, there’s a search button. Instead of F-number keys, there are buttons for switching tabs, switching to full screen mode and moving backward and forward in the browser. You’ll find some of these functions on other laptops, but they must share real estate with the legacy keys they’re obligated to support.

Chromebooks are liberated from the baggage. Even the laptop’s storage limitations embody that idea: Instead of loading up the machine with pictures, music and video, just leave them on a networked PC or hard drive, or in a cloud storage service, and only store copies of the ones you immediately need.

Of course, there’s the issue of offline use. Most of the Chromebook’s apps require Internet access, but for those who scoff at the idea, I challenge you to unplug your router and see how much you get done on any other PC. Chrome OS could use some more built-in offline tools, such as a full-featured image editor and a version of Docs that lets you edit files and not just view them, but if you live and breathe offline, Chromebooks aren’t for you to begin with.

I’ve always been optimistic about Chromebooks, and was disappointed that the first wave of them were such a letdown. With the Series 5 550, Samsung has finally executed on Google’s vision. Chrome OS still feels like a futuristic concept, but it now it serves a practical purpose: The new Chromebook is a thin, light, inexpensive laptop with well-designed hardware that’s made for web browsing. You’ll have a tough time finding other laptops that meet all those criteria.

MORE: Apple Retina MacBook Pro Review: The MacBook Pro, Only More — and Less — So

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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.

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09 Jun 12 Chrome OS offline: Can you really use a Chromebook without the cloud?

Google’s Chrome OS Chromebooks are great for cloud-based computing — but what happens when you have a Chromebook with no cloud? Can Chromebooks actually work offline, or do they turn into pretty paperweights when the Internet goes off?

These are important questions to consider. Chrome OS, after all, is a platform built around the Web. But whether it’s on a plane or while visiting Uncle Jed’s country cottage, we all encounter times when Internet access isn’t available.

I haven’t seen Uncle Jed lately, but as part of my two-week Chrome OS experiment, I wanted to see how Google’s newly refreshed cloud platform really performed offline. So I took a deep breath, hyperventilated a little, and shut off the Wi-Fi and 3G on my Chromebook for a few hours.

Here’s what I found.

Chrome OS offline: The Google app situation

The first thing that struck me in testing Chrome OS offline is just how far Google has come. When I started exploring Chrome OS a year and a half ago — using Google’s prerelease Cr-48 test notebook — offline functionality was practically nonexistent. Even with the launch of the first commercial Chromebook last summer, the picture was pretty bleak.

These days, using Chrome OS offline is almost a good experience. And most of the remaining gaps are set to be filled soon.

Right now, for example, you can get full offline access to Gmail; all you have to do is install the free Offline Google Mail app onto your Chromebook and complete a simple one-time setup. Then, anytime you’re offline, you just open the Offline Google Mail app and you’re good to go.

The offline Gmail interface looks a lot like the tablet Gmail interface. It allows you to read and search through your email, archive messages, and compose new messages or responses. Anything you do is synced to the cloud the next time you connect; the process is automatic and transparent.

Google Docs isn’t quite as good of a situation, but it’s getting there. Right now, Docs has partial offline access: You can view all of your saved documents and spreadsheets, but you can’t edit anything or create anything new. That’s obviously a problem, but it won’t be for long: Google says full offline Docs support for Chrome will be launched within the “next several weeks.”

Odds are, we’ll see full offline Docs support by the end of the month; remember, Google’s annual developers’ conference takes place June 27 through 29. That’d be a logical time for something like this to be unveiled. In the meantime, I’ve been using offline Gmail or the offline-ready Scratchpad note-taking app to fill the void (Scratchpad comes preinstalled on Chromebooks, and it even syncs to Docs when you’re online).

One minor annoyance I discovered is that Docs’ offline mode works only with files saved in the Google Docs format. I happen to have a lot of Microsoft Word and Excel files stored in my Docs account; while the regular online version of Docs allows me to view them, the offline version does not. Google Docs does make it easy to convert files into the Docs format when you’re online, at least — so if you’re planning to use Docs offline and have a lot of Word files floating around, that’s something worth thinking about in advance. (It’s also worth noting that offline Docs access requires a one-time initial setup; you can find the option in the gear dropdown menu at the top-right corner of the Docs app.)

Like Docs, Google Calendar currently has partial offline support. With Calendar, you can browse and view any calendars connected to your account and RSVP to existing invitations. (Like with Docs, too, you have to complete a one-time initial setup to enable offline access.) At the moment, however, you can’t create new events or invitations while working offline. A Google spokesperson tells me full offline Calendar support is in the works, but unfortunately, there’s no firm timeframe for that launch just yet.

Chrome OS offline: The other offline options

Beyond those Google-service basics, there are hundreds of third-party Chrome apps that work perfectly fine offline. Google has even created a section of its Chrome Web Store dedicated to apps with offline capabilities; I counted nearly 900 items in it this morning. (You can always tell if an app is offline-friendly by looking for the gray lightning bolt symbol anywhere in the Chrome Web Store.)

The offline apps include everything from games (Angry Birds, Solitaire, Pac-Man) to news and sports (NYTimes, 365Scores) and general utilities (a Gmail-synced to-do list, scientific calculator, audio transcription tool). You can even read e-books offline with Google’s own Play Books app.

Chrome OS offline: The real deal

Android Power TwitterAt this point, the notion of a Chromebook becoming a paperweight when offline is simply misconstrued. Once full offline Docs support arrives (which, again, is set to happen in a matter of weeks), the number of significant holes remaining will become very slim. Full calendar-editing functionality is still pending, and that’s a bummer — but it hardly constitutes paperweight status.

Chrome OS may be a cloud-based platform, but these days, Google’s Chromebooks remain perfectly capable when they’re away from the cloud.

For much more on Google’s newly revamped Chrome OS and Chromebook experience, check out the rest of my two-week Chrome OS experiment:

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07 Jun 12 Chrome OS in-depth: Cloud-centric simplicity, evolved

By (@jr_raphael) G+

Google Chrome OS

Using Chrome OS is an interesting experience: In a strange way, it’s both new and completely familiar at the same time.

Chrome OS, after all, is an operating system built around Google’s Chrome browser. Most of the apps you use are cloud-based services — things like Gmail and Google Docs. But taken out of the typical operating system context, all those elements take on a whole new feel.

I’ve been using Chrome OS for the bulk of my computing needs these past several days. It’s part of my two-week Chrome OS experiment; with the launch of Google’s new Chromebook and Chromebox, I wanted to go beyond the traditional review and really get to know what it’s like to live in Google’s evolved cloud environment.

And evolved it certainly is. Chrome OS has come a long way since its launch 17 months ago, transforming from a series of locked-down browser windows into a full-fledged operating system. With its latest Chrome OS refresh — along with the vastly improved new Chrome OS hardware — Google has finally realized its vision for a cloud-based computing platform. The potential we saw in the beginning has been transformed into something far more polished and complete.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chrome OS has arrived.

Getting to know Google’s Chrome OS

The beauty of Chrome OS lies in its simplicity: You power up your Chromebook or Chromebox, and within seconds, you’re ready to roll. Once you’ve typed in your Google credentials, all of your bookmarks, Chrome extensions, and Chrome settings are in front of you — even your most recent open tabs from your PC or Android device are there — just like they appear on any other system you use. There’s no complicated setup, no messy drivers to deal with, and no hassles to keep you from getting online and getting down to business.

The cloud-centric approach comes with some other nice benefits: You never have to worry about updates, as Google regularly pushes fresh software onto the system in a seamless manner (much like it does with its desktop Chrome browser). You don’t have to mess with antivirus software, as the nature of the Chrome OS system makes infections very improbable. Even if your system did somehow become compromised, it could be reset in a heartbeat; remember, all your stuff is stored in the cloud, including your apps and settings.

Chrome OS systems also don’t get bogged down and progressively slower over time, like most traditional computers tend to do. And you never have to deal with involved installations or program upgrades; with Chrome OS, it’s all streamlined and simple.

Chrome OS, as I mentioned, revolves around the browser — but as of this latest incarnation, the browser actually isn’t the entire operating system. Google has built a desktop-like OS around Chrome, allowing you to position multiple windows on-screen simultaneously. You can maximize, minimize, and resize windows, set a desktop background, and quickly switch between windows or load new programs using a launcher bar at the bottom of the screen.

Chrome OS Desktop

The launcher bar shows icons for all of your currently loaded windows and programs. You can also pin any app there to create a quick-launch shortcut; you can opt to have the app open in a regular tab or in a full-size program-like window. The right corner of the launcher bar shows the current time along with your battery and data-connection status; you can click that area to access settings and more detailed system information.

Chrome OS Menu

This revised setup makes the Chrome OS experience far more welcoming than it’s been in the past. In its early incarnations, Chrome OS felt a bit restrictive; the entire environment was nothing but a full-screen browser window, and while that offered some practical advantages, it was somewhat jarring to use. With the newly expanded environment, Chrome OS has come into its own and found its way as a platform.

Chrome OS and life in the cloud

When you talk about Chrome OS, words like “app” and “program” are all relative. Nearly every app opens in a browser window and is based in the cloud.

Two years ago, the idea of abandoning traditional local programs would have struck me as ludicrous. Today, I’m a lot closer to the cloud-centric way of life Google envisions: I use Gmail for my email, Google Calendar for schedule management, and Google Docs for document storage. (I tend to use Microsoft Word while at my normal Windows 7 workstation, but I keep all my documents synced with Google Docs/Drive for easy on-the-go access.)

The multidevice lifestyle — using a laptop in my office, an Android tablet in the house, and an Android phone pretty much everywhere — has moved my focal point away from the stationary desktop. Sure, I have stuff stored locally, but it’s all synced to the cloud in one place or another. My computing life has become more and more mobile over the past few years, so it only makes sense for my data to follow that same trend, too.

In that regard, Chrome OS makes more and more sense to me, particularly with the recently introduced improvements. Aside from the new desktop, Google has given Chrome OS a full-fledged file manager: You can actually store some data locally, if you want, which is helpful when dealing with images, attachments, and the likes. Plus, when you plug in a memory card or USB storage device, Chrome OS automatically pops up a window with its contents, allowing you to open or work with the files.

Chrome OS File Manager

Google says its Google Drive cloud storage service will be fully integrated into Chrome OS within the next several weeks as well. You can use Drive — or any other cloud storage service, for that matter — right now, but the added system integration should make it even easier to manage cloud-based files and upload or share local files as part of the core environment.

Chrome OS now has a pop-up media player, too — you can play songs and videos from a memory card, external drive, or the local drive while working on other tasks — and a limited image-editing tool with commands for cropping, rotating, and adjusting brightness.

Chrome OS Image Editor

Making Chrome OS do more

All of Chrome OS’s functions can be supplemented and expanded with services from the cloud — using, for example, Google Music or Pandora to stream songs or a more robust image editor like Aviary (free in the Chrome Web Store) to manipulate photos. Aviary isn’t as robust as Photoshop or Illustrator; if your computing needs regularly require those types of heavy-duty local programs, Chrome OS may not be the answer for you. But for the majority of day-to-day computer use, the cloud-centric setup is surprisingly easy to embrace.

And if you do need to get to traditional desktop programs from time to time, Google actually has a tool to make it happen. Chrome Remote Desktop, a free app, allows you to gain remote access to any Windows, Mac, or Linux system; all you have to do is install the extension on the computer’s Chrome browser, set up a PIN and enable remote access, and you’re good to go. Once you establish a connection, you have the remote computer’s desktop in a live window on your Chrome OS system; you can run programs, open files, and input text as if you were sitting right there.

Chrome OS Remote Desktop 

I used the Remote Desktop app to connect to my Windows 7 laptop from a Chromebook, and I found the experience to be quite good: With a solid data connection on each end, lag was minimal and it basically felt like I was using the Windows 7 system. The setup is still in beta and consequently has some limitations — you can’t currently see secondary monitors on a remote system, for example, and you can’t hear audio remotely — but all in all, it was very smooth and impressive.

Chrome OS has built-in support for VPN connections, too, and advanced users can find third-party apps for things like terminal emulation and SSH connectivity.

The Chrome OS caveats

For all its positives, Chrome OS isn’t without its drawbacks. First and foremost, if you aren’t comfortable living in the cloud, Chrome OS isn’t going to be for you. By its very nature, Chrome OS revolves around cloud-based applications and data; if you’re set on the idea of running programs locally and storing your information on a hard drive in your home, you’re going to find Chrome OS frustrating.

Then there’s the issue of offline access. Despite the fact that Chrome OS is focused on the Web, Google has made massive progress in making the system more suitable for use without an active Internet connection. There are, however, still some limitations. In the next chapter of my Chrome OS experiment, I’ll take a close look at the realities of using Chrome OS offline.

Offline access aside, some of the Chrome OS apps simply aren’t up to par with their desktop-based equivalents. Go sign into Google Docs (technically now part of Google Drive) and you’ll see what I mean. Using Docs isn’t a terrible experience, by any means, but it’s generally not as good or as complete of an experience as what you get by using a traditional desktop office suite. Depending on your needs and priorities, this may or may not be a problem for you. Personally, I tend to live in my word processor during the day; I’m still more comfortable in Word, with its fuller functionality and familiar shortcuts, but for most tasks, I’m finding it increasingly easy to work in Docs as I get more accustomed to it.

Similarly, I work faster in Photoshop — where I manipulate images and create graphics for stories — and have more options and tools there than I do in any Chrome OS-based application. If I’m working on something complex, it’s still easier for me to jump into Photoshop than to try to get it done in a Chrome OS application.

Finally, while Chrome OS offers support for multiple monitors (and both the new Samsung Chromebook and Chromebox have the ports to make it happen), the software currently only allows you to duplicate your desktop on the second monitor. I’m used to working in an extended-desktop scenario, so losing that capability is a bit of a downer for me. Google tells me extended-desktop functionality is in the works for Chrome OS, but it’s not there now — and at this point, there’s no firm timeline for when it’ll arrive.

All in all, it’s a tradeoff: Chrome OS gives you fast, simple, hassle-free computing that’s fully portable and not tied to any single machine. It gives you seamless ongoing system improvements and lets you say so long to many of the annoyances that accompany regular computer use. But it also lacks some of the functionality and power you find in a traditional computing environment. The question is ultimately whether the tradeoff makes sense for you.

Android Power TwitterI’ll explore the issue more in the final few chapters of my Chrome OS experiment. Later this week, I’ll take that deep-dive into the Chrome OS offline experience. After that, I’ll share my impressions of Samsung’s Chromebox desktop computer and will then bring it all together with some final thoughts and conclusions.

In the meantime, if you’ve missed any of the previous chapters, you can find them in the box below.    

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on , Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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06 Jun 12 New Google Chrome Aims at Windows 8

The Chrome operating system is designed for lightweight computers known as Chromebooks.The Chrome operating system is designed for lightweight computers known as Chromebooks.

Google just released a new version of its Chrome operating system with fancy tweaks to online computing services like word processing and video — all designed to make it faster, more functional and easier to use.

It’s an open question whether the changes are enough to make Chrome, which is also the name of Google’s browser, more than a marginal player, but the system is impressive, and designed to work seamlessly with Google products like Android phones and the (still-underwhelming) Google Plus social network. It is also clearly pointed at Microsoft, just as Microsoft is preparing to introduce Windows 8, one of the biggest changes to its operating system ever.

The Chrome operating system is designed for lightweight computers known as Chromebooks that require an Internet connection to obtain access to most applications.

“People participate in ecosystems,” said Sundar Pichai, who is in charge of the Chrome project at Google. “If you are a Chrome browser user, an Android user and a Gmail user, a Chromebook is a more natural experience than a Windows 8.”

Most of Google’s changes will be available to people already using computers running Chrome, since Google can change things online. Some, like hardware-accelerated graphics for faster scrolling, or a better trackpad on the Chrome laptop, require a new machine. The first of these, from Samsung, has also just been announced. It is about the size and weight of a MacBook Air, and starts at $449.

The Air starts at $999, but is a well-regarded and powerful machine that does not require you to be online to use it. Google is making more strides in that direction. In about two more weeks, Mr. Pichai said, you will be able to write offline in Google Docs, or Drive, as it is now called.

“We really wanted to show how productive you could be with this device,” Mr. Pichai said. “By default you will be able to get the last 100 documents you were working on. When you go back online, it will resynch with your files and update everything.” You can also “pin” certain documents, no matter how old, so they are always available.

It is also possible to open and work on anything from Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, without converting it to the Google version of those products.

In order to inspire software developers with what the graphics can do, there is a special hidden feature: press the control, alt and shift buttons together, then the refresh button, and the screen spins, even while playing a video.

There is also a new Samsung desktop, the Chromebox, starting at $329, that could be attractive to schools and businesses looking to provide a lot of people the same kind of machine.

The prices of both new Samsung devices undercut even most low-end tablet and desktop machines.

Previously the desktops and laptops were only sold online, but next month they will also be offered at some Best Buy stores. That could be a big shot in the arm for a machine that has probably sold in the tens of thousands.

Acer also makes Chromebooks, but does yet have machines with the new hardware. Mr. Pichai said other manufacturers, which he did not mention, would be selling their versions of the machine in time for the Christmas season.

Another new Chrome feature, still in beta, enables customers to get access to their PCs and Mac computers remotely. The screen of the remote computer appears on the Chrome machine, and the distant computer can be manipulated from Chrome. The other computer has to be on, though it can be in screensaver mode.

“Companies are excited about Chromebooks, but have legacy applications they want to keep,” Mr. Pichai said. “Now, if you have a legacy Oracle expense app, you can put it somewhere and have it accessible on Chrome.”

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03 Jun 12 'Father of Google Apps': Chrome OS Is Still the Future

Rajen Sheth, the father of Google Apps – and more. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired

It was the most Googley of propositions. The most successful company in the history of the internet said it would reinvent corporate computing by selling subscriptions to streamlined machines that moved all data and applications inside a web browser.

A year later, Google has adjusted this audacious pitch, bowing to the reality that the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up to its vision of a future where desktop and notebook computers are merely ways of getting you onto the internet. With its latest Chrome OS machines, the company has introduced a new user interface that mimics a traditional operating system, taking the user outside the confines of the browser. And it’s no longer selling software-like subscriptions to these machines, moving to flat fees for hardware and technical support.

In some ways, this seems like a comedown. But it also shows that Google is intent on building a business around these machines — something that many pundits have questioned over the last year. When you also consider that Google has introduced a Chrome OS desktop machine, the Chromebox, alongside its Chromebook laptops, the proposition makes far more sense than it did 12 months ago.

Rajen Sheth, the man who oversees Google’s effort to push Chrome OS into schools and businesses, agrees that the second generation of machines show the company’s intent. But he also says that the overall vision for the operating system hasn’t changed.

“We very deeply believe in this vision,” he says, “and we’re doing a tremendous amount to make it happen.” The idea is to create a world where you can pick up any machine — old or new, yours or someone else’s — and instantly tap into all your existing data and applications. But Google also wants to simplify these machines — for the people who use them and for the companies that manage and support them.

In many ways, the new devices live up to the pitch. Equipped with solid-state drives, Chrome OS machines boot in seconds, and since you needn’t install local software, schools and businesses can certainly get them out to users quickly, and then update them with relative ease. But there are still ways that the device can make things more complicated.

After all, you can’t install software on a Chrome machine. And if you lose your internet connection, you still lose the ability to use most applications. Gmail now works offline. And Google Docs, the company’s document and spreadsheet app, lets you view files offline. But you can’t edit files offline. What’s more, even when you have a connection on a Chrome OS, your ability to move files from application to application is still quite limited.

That said, with the Chromebox, a machine designed to plug permanently into a network, the need for applications that operate offline is less of an issue. And according to Sheth, Google will soon introduce a version of Google Docs that lets you not only view documents when offline, but edit them as well.

The offline Google Docs will fill a big hole in the platform, and it’s a long time coming. It hasn’t arrived sooner, Sheth says, because, well, it’s not an easy problem to solve.

“It’s a complex problem because you tend to have multiple people collaborating on the same files,” he says. “What if I make a bunch of edits on an airplane [while offline] and then connect to the internet when I get to my hotel — especially if others have edited the document in the meantime? How do you merge in those changes?”

What’s more, Google must move some of the processing code from the web to the client machine. “We use the cloud for a lot of the processing, particularly on spreadsheets. We not only have to move this to the client side, but do this in a way that the application is still lightweight.”

Sheth says the company is already using its offline editor within the company, and intends to roll it out to the world at large over the next “several weeks.”

As Google’s Sundar Pichai told us last month, the company is also working to integrate Google Drive — its online file storage service — with Chrome OS. And according to Sheth, this will make it easier to move files between the device and web applications.

Google still isn’t saying how many businesses are using Chrome OS. But it does say that “hundreds” of schools across the U.S. and Europe are using the devices. Rajen Sheth is also the man who turned Gmail into a corporate services — he’s known as “the father of Google Apps” — and he says that Chrome OS is taking much the same path as his first baby.

“As with Google Apps, we’ve seen the best initial traction in education, especially with elementary schools,” Sheth says. “So many schools want to give computers to all of their students, but traditionally, the IT costs of doing that are high. Chromebooks let them buy devices for students without increasing their IT costs.”

How else will the platform evolve? Sheth does acknowledge that Google is reshaping the OS for use on devices with touch screens, but he says the company has no intention of putting it on tablets. Chrome OS may show up on touch-screen notebooks, but Google believes that touch-screen tablets — as well as smartphones — are best served by the company’s Android operating system.

In other words, there are still cases where local applications make more sense. The world may be moving to the web. But it’s not quite there yet.

Sheth acknowledges that it’s difficult for some people to wrap their head around a machine when all applications reside on the web. That’s why the company has added a traditional desktop interface to Chrome OS. “Web applications are actually more powerful than client applications that are typically on a desktop, but the mental lap has been a challenge for a lot of people,” he says. “[The new interface] helps them make that leap.”

Google’s aim hasn’t changed. But it’s still looking for the best way to get there.

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31 May 12 Google Chrome OS lives on with big update, new hardware

The latest version of Google’s cloud-centric Chrome OS resembles a “regular” desktop operating system in a lot of ways. The revamp, and new Chromebook and Chromebox hardware from Samsung, show how much Chrome OS has matured in the three years since its inception.


Jeff Ward-Bailey /
May 30, 2012

The Samsung Series 5 550 is the newest “Chromebook.” It’s significantly faster than previous laptops running Google’s Chrome OS.


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Google’s Chrome OS didn’t make much of a splash when it debuted, but it’s back with a big update and some new hardware to run it.

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Google and Samsung introduced a revamped Chromebook laptop on Tuesday, as well as a new Chromebox – a small desktop computer that also works nicely as a media center. The experience is still aimed at those who do their work in the cloud and don’t need a full desktop operating system like Windows or Mac OS X, but Chrome OS has matured enough to be attractive to the average consumer, too.

First, the software. When the first Chromebooks came out last year, Chrome OS got dinged by reviewers who said it was too limited and couldn’t handle many kinds of files. This time around, Chrome OS (now on version 19, if you’re counting) includes a taskbar and a window management style that’s much closer to what you’d find in, say, Windows 7. And while it’s still really designed to be used while you’re online, constantly syncing your files to the cloud, Chrome OS also offers basic offline file management – and it can deal with more types of files than ever before.

RELATED: Top 5 Google Labs projects

“The Docs team is also in the final stages of a seamless offline mode for Google Docs, which would be huge,” The Verge noted. “Offline support is currently the Achilles’ heel of the Chromebook, since there’s really not much you can get done without an internet connection.”

In spite of all these changes, reviews are mixed. The consensus seems to be that while Chrome OS has matured quite a bit since its inception, it’s still a niche product. CNET’s Bridget Carey concludes that “it’s better than the last version, but still not all that impressive.” Engadget’s Dana Wollman adds that “as Google starts selling more Chrome devices in retail, we have a harder time believing many consumers will be ready to put up with [its] limitations, especially as tablet apps grow more sophisticated.”

By contrast, the new Chrome OS hardware is being (generally) well-received. In addition to having a little more power under the hood than its predecessor — reviewers say both the Chromebook and Chromebox run Google’s OS smoothly — the 12.1″ Samsung Series 5 550 also features a better webcam, less-fussy trackpad, and nifty video port that works with HDMI, DVI, or VGA cables. On the flip side, the price of entry is $449 (more if you want a 3G connectivity baked in), meaning that it’s more expensive than many tablets and only $50 less than Apple’s new iPad.

The Chromebox, also built by Samsung, is cheaper still – just $330 for the pint-sized (7.6 square inches) box. It’s fairly anemic compared to other desktop operating systems, but with three display ports and six USB ports it’s practically begging to be used as a media center anyway. There’s no optical drive, so you won’t be able to play Blu-rays discs, but it does have a super-speedy solid-state hard drive and a five-second boot time.

Chrome OS may not be for everyone yet — it’s still primarily aimed at on-the-go workers who can count on a constant Internet connection — but it’s making strides with these new updates.

Readers, what do you think? Given the relatively low barrier to entry, are you tempted to pick up a Chromebook or Chromebox? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

RELATED: Top 5 Google Labs projects

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31 May 12 Samsung to launch new Chromebooks as Google updates open source Chrome OS

Samsung will launch two new Chrome OS-based computers this week, a laptop and a desktop that have been designed to be significantly faster and more versatile than previous models.

Along with the new Samsung machines, Google is announcing enhancements to Chrome OS and Google Apps, including tight integration with Google Drive and the ability to edit Google Docs documents offline.

Chrome OS-based machines began shipping commercially about a year ago from Samsung and Acer. Although the machines haven’t exactly taken the PC market by storm, Google is satisfied with the progress so far.

“We’re very happy with where we are. We strongly believe in the vision we articulated last year,” said Caesar Sengupta, product management director, Chrome OS.

Referred to generically as “Chromebooks,” these machines and the Chrome OS were designed to be used primarily while connected to the internet and for online applications.

According to Sengupta, Google and its partners haven’t pushed Chromebooks aggressively, so they have been bought primarily by early adopters, whose feedback has been closely listened to.

“We’re at a point where, from the user-experience point of view, we’re starting to be happy with it and we’re now ready to take the next step in this journey,” he said.

That next step includes broadening the roster of hardware partners, as well as making the machines more widely available. The new Samsung models will be available online today in the UK, and they will be for sale also at select Best Buy stores in the US in June.

Samsung Series 5 Wireless Chromebook

At the software level, the new machines will feature what Google calls an “apps-centric user interface” that will feature, for example, a simplified app launcher, the ability to have multiple windows open for multitasking and support for screen sizes ranging from 11 inches to 30 inches.

Coming later will be a tight integration with the Google Drive cloud storage service, as well as the ability to edit Google Docs documents when the machine is offline. When available, this Google Docs offline editing feature will be available to all Google Docs users, not just people who buy these new Samsung machines.

Other new features include a more sophisticated media player, as well as a native photo editor and uploader, and enhanced video streaming options for YouTube, Netflix and other such sites.

Forrester analyst Frank Gillett said the combination of the Chrome OS update, the improved devices from Samsung and the integration with Google Drive amounts to “a credible basic computing offering”.

“The new Chromebook and Chromebox are now capable enough to meet the needs of individuals and employees that need access to browser-based services and applications for use cases such as schools, retail, call centre, and temporary field sites in range of mobile data or Wifi,” Gillett said.

The Chrome OS machines will not displace existing computers quickly, but they will gain increasing consideration from individuals and businesses as they make their next buying decisions, he said.

“With Apple and Microsoft both delivering new operating system versions this year, buyers face more choice in PC OS experiences than ever. The simplicity and low costs of Chrome OS devices will be appealing to enough buyers with narrow needs that Google will continue to develop and invest in Chrome OS,” Gillett said.

An open question is whether hardware manufacturers will be happy with producing relatively low-priced products that probably deliver thin margins, he said, speculating that Google is likely to be providing some kind of financial guarantees to ensure the OEMs are happy with revenues and profits on these devices.

Samsung’s Chromebook Series 5 550 laptop has a 12.1-inch display (1280×800) and weighs 3.3 pounds, and its battery lasts for six hours of continuous usage, or six-and-a-half days in standby mode. It has an Intel Celeron 867 dual-core processor running at a clock speed of 1.3GHz, 4G bytes of RAM and a built-in, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n antenna and a Gigabit Ethernet port. A 3G modem is optional.

The machine, which will also have two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 memory card slot and a DisplayPort++ Output compatible with HDMI, DVI and VGA, will cost $449 (£289) for the Wi-Fi-only version and $549 (£353) for the 3G models.

Meanwhile, the desktop, called Samsung Chromebox Series 3, has an Intel Celeron B840 dual-core processor running at a clock speed of 1.9GHz, 4G bytes of RAM, a built-in, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n antenna and a Gigabit Ethernet port. It also features six USB 2.0 ports, a DVI single link output, a 2x DisplayPort++ Output compatible with HDMI, DVI and VGA, and compatibility with Bluetooth 3.0 technology. It costs $329 (£211) and doesn’t include a monitor, keyboard or mouse.

Compared with the first-generation Chromebooks, the Samsung laptop is two-and-a-half times faster, while the desktop is three-and-a-half times faster, according to Google. They boot up in seven seconds and five seconds, respectively. First-generation Chromebooks use Intel Atom chips.

Beyond the consumer market, Google and its partners also pitch Chrome machines to businesses and educational institutions. So far, more than 500 schools have bought Chromebooks, while business customers include retailer Dillard’s and Mollen Clinics.

In their first iteration, these machines have been sold to schools and businesses using per user/per month pricing, but now they will be sold under the more conventional per-machine, one-time payment model, plus a one-time fee for the online IT management console, around-the-clock phone technical support and hardware warranty that are provided to these customers.

Thus, business and education customers will pay the suggested retail price for each machine, plus a one-time fee of $150 (businesses) or $30 (schools) per machine for the management console, support and warranty. The IT management controls have been enhanced with new features like auto-update controls and new reporting capabilities.

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29 May 12 Samsung preps two new Chromebooks as Google updates Chrome OS, Apps

IDG News Service - Samsung will launch this week two new Chrome OS-based computers, a laptop and desktop that have been designed to be significantly faster and more versatile than previous models.

Along with the new Samsung machines, Google is announcing enhancements to Chrome OS and Google Apps, including tight integration with Google Drive and the ability to edit Google Docs documents offline.

Chrome OS-based machines began shipping commercially about a year ago from Samsung and Acer. Although the machines haven’t exactly taken the PC market by storm, Google is satisfied with the progress so far.

“We’re very happy with where we are. We strongly believe in the vision we articulated last year,” said Caesar Sengupta, product management director, Chrome OS.

Referred to generically as “Chromebooks,” these machines and the Chrome OS were designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet and for online applications.

According to Sengupta, Google and its partners haven’t pushed Chromebooks aggressively, so they have been bought primarily by early adopters, whose feedback has been closely listened to.

“We’re at a point where from the user experience point of view we’re starting to be happy with it and we’re now ready to take next step in this journey,” he said.

That next step includes broadening the roster of hardware partners, as well as making the machines more widely available. The new Samsung models will be available online today in the U.S. and May 30 in the U.K., and they will be for sale also at select Best Buy stores in the U.S. in June.

At the software level, the new machines will feature what Google calls an “apps-centric user interface” that will feature, for example, a simplified app launcher, the ability to have multiple windows open for multitasking and support for screen sizes ranging from 11 inches to 30 inches.

Coming later will be a tight integration with the Google Drive cloud storage service, as well as the ability to edit Google Docs documents when the machine is offline. When available, this Google Docs offline editing feature will be available to all Google Docs users, not just people who buy these new Samsung machines.

Other new features include a new, more sophisticated media player, as well as a native photo editor and uploader, and enhanced video streaming options for YouTube, Netflix and other such sites.

Samsung’s Chromebook Series 5 550 laptop has a 12.1-inch display (1280×800), weighs 3.3 pounds and its battery lasts for six hours of continuous usage or six and a half days in standby mode. It has an Intel Celeron 867 dual-core processor running at a clock speed of 1.3GHz, 4G bytes of RAM and a built-in, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n antenna and a Gigabit Ethernet port. A 3G modem is optional.

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