All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

28 Dec 12 Chrome 25 blocks sneaky add-ons

Computerworld - Google on Friday said Chrome 25, now in development, automatically blocks browser add-ons installed on the sly by other software.

The measure mimics what rival Mozilla did for Firefox over a year ago.

Auto-blocking has already appeared in Chrome 25 for Windows on the “dev” channel — Google’s least-polished public version — which debuted last month. By the browser’s semi-regular release schedule, Chrome 25 will reach the final “stable” channel, and thus the bulk of users, in the second half of February 2013.

According to Peter Ludwig, a Chrome product manager, Chrome 25 will automatically disable any browser extensions silently installed by other software. Extensions previously installed by third-party software will also be barred from running.

Chrome users can switch on such extensions manually, or remove them from the browser and their PC.

Although Ludwig never used the word “security” in his Dec. 21 blog post, the change’s provenance was clear.

“[Silent installation] was originally intended to allow users to opt-in to adding a useful extension to Chrome as a part of the installation of another application,” Ludwig explained. “Unfortunately, this feature has been widely abused by third parties to silently install extensions into Chrome without proper acknowledgment from users.”

Google was more than a year behind rival Mozilla in banning extensions installed behind users’ backs. In Aug. 2011, Mozilla said Firefox 8 would automatically block browser add-ons installed by other software. Firefox 8 shipped three months later.

Add-ons bundled with third-party software had been a problem for Firefox users, who complained loudly when they found mysterious extensions on their computers.

A toolbar installed in Firefox alongside Skype, for example, caused so many crashes in Jan. 2011 — 40,000 in only one week — that Mozilla blocked the add-on after calling the Internet phone company a “repeat offender.” In 2009, Microsoft silently slipped an add-on into Firefox that left browser users open to attack.

Google has also made other moves this year to lock down extensions. As of Chrome 21, which launched last July, the browser will not accept add-ons installed directly from websites, but only from the Chrome Web Store. Previously, any website could prompt a Chrome user to install an extension.

“Online hackers may create websites that automatically trigger the installation of malicious extensions,” Google noted in a Chrome Help page that explained the new rules. “Their extensions are often designed to secretly track the information you enter on the web, which the hackers can then reuse for other ill-intended purposes.”

That security measure has not been foolproof, however, as a Facebook-theme scam detailed by Webroot last week illustrated: The rogue add-on was placed on the Chrome Web Store, even though Google had said on the same Help page that, “We have started analyzing every extension that is uploaded to the Web Store and take down those we recognize to be malicious.”

Chrome 25′s dev version for Windows can be downloaded from Google’s website.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter@gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is

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26 Dec 12 How To Install Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean On Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3

The custom firmware, Slim Bean Beta 1 ROM, also brings a number of customization features to Galaxy S3. Apart from that, the Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean exclusive features include multi-user support, gesture typing, new quick settings option, lock-screen widget, new camera app, photo sphere, improved Google Now, new daydream feature, miracast display and many more, according to Android Jinn.

The report states that the custom ROM in question is known for low file size and fast speedy nature. However, it is still under development and therefore the users might face some issues and bugs. All the issues are expected to be fixed as development progresses.

Here is a list of key features of the Slim Bean Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean Beta 1:

- Dotted Battery Mod and color picker

- Battery bar mod

- Notification Background customization

- Notification row transparency

- Quick Settings option

- Network mode tile

- Profile Tile

- Dismiss on toggle

- Updated APN + SPN

- Wi-Fi name in notification drawer

- Power widget

- Device Parts

- Performance Settings (need to tap build number a few times)

- Cursor control using volume keys

- Disable full screen keyboard

- Alternate app chooser

- Clock styles and color chooser

- ADB over Wi-Fi

- Camera power shutter mod

- Wi-Fi country specific settings

- Notification IME selector

- SMS quick reply mark as read from notification

- All MMS features

- All Contacts feature

Below is a tutorial showing how to install Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean on Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3 (SPH-L710) using Slim Bean Beta 1 ROM. Before going ahead, take a look at the preciosities that need to be aware of.

- Backup your data.

- The device must have at least 80 percent battery power.

USB driver must be installed for Samsung Galaxy S3 (SPH-L710) in your PC.

- USB Debugging must be enabled.

Backup your EFS Folder.

- The device must be rooted and have ClockworkMod Recovery Installed.

- Flashing this ROM on Galaxy S3 L710 will increase your binary counter.

- Don’t skip Nandroid backup as it’s very helpful if this custom ROM doesn’t work the way you wanted.

The users should also keep in mind that this tutorial is only for Sprint variant of the Samsung Galaxy S3. Therefore, it should not be implemented on any other Android device. In addition, IBTimes cannot be held responsible if anything goes wrong. The users should proceed at their own risk.

Files Needed

1. Slim Bean Beta 1 4.2.1 Jelly Bean ROM For Galaxy S3 L710 [Filename:]

2. Google Apps [Filename:]

How To Install

Step 1: Connect your Sprint Galaxy S3 to PC using USB cable.

Step 2: Copy downloaded files to the SD card of your phone without extracting them.

Step 3: Disconnect USB and turn off your phone.

Step 4: Boot into ClockworkMod recovery in your Galaxy S3 by pressing and holding the Volume Up, Power and Home buttons together until the Samsung logo appears on screen.

Step 5: Leave the buttons and hold then again. You will get ClockworkMod recovery screen soon. Now browse between options in recovery using Volume keys while using Power key to select an option.

Step 6: Carry out a Nandroid backup of your existing ROM by selecting Backup and Restore, then on the next screen, selecting Backup again. Once back up is complete, go back to the main recovery menu.

Step 7: Now perform the data wiping task. To do so, select wipe data/factory reset, then select Yes on next screen to confirm your action. Wait for a few minutes till the data wipe is completed.

Step 8: Select install zip from SD card, then select choose zip from SD card. After that, locate the file and select it by pressing Power button (tap on it if using touch version).

Confirm installation by selecting Yes – Install on the next screen. The ROM installation will begin.

Step 9: Once the ROM installation is done, repeat step 8 but choose the file instead of ROM zip to install the Google apps package.

Step 10: After the installation is completed, go back to the main recovery menu and select reboot system now to reboot the phone and boot up into customized Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean ROM Slim Bean Beta 1. The first boot will take time.

[Source: Android Jinn]

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26 Dec 12 LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack gets released early on Google Play


LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack was actually supposed to see a release in January next year as a result of a partnership between LEGO and Amuzo Games, but it has made its way a few days early (not that we’d be complaining anyway) onto Google Play for free for everyone to enjoy.

The game is pretty much your standard twin-stick top-down shooter; though this time it features characters from LEGO’s Hero Factory line. It makes use of a wave-based level system, where surviving one wave leads to a more difficult wave of “evil army brains”. It has got impressive graphics, and you get to pick a sidekick to help you defend Makuhero City.


LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack’s features:

- Defend Makuhero City and stop the waves of brains attacking the Hero Factory
- Customize your hero with fantastic weapons and armor
- Select Furno, Bulk, Breeze or Rocka to fight as your sidekick
- Earn game points to upgrade your firepower and defenses

I played through a few of the initial levels and the game feels good. For now, the game is totally free, and there are no in-app purchases so upgrades can only be purchased by sweating it out. In the future though, additional points can be earned by purchasing physical Hero Factory products, and chances are IAPs will make their way too.

The game currently only has one location, but a further three are planned to be released as the year progresses. On their Play Store page, the devs make it clear by stating the game “will be updated throughout 2013 with lots of additional content”. The first update is not too long away – it is slated to come at the end of the coming January.

Google Play Link: LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack

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Himmat Singh

Himmat has never been a PC or console gaming enthusiast, but now he is completely enthralled by what he sees (and will be seeing) on tablets and mobile devices. If he is not on his PC or tablet, he is probably eating or sleeping. Well, not quite. He also loves watching sporting programs (F1, football, badminton), and plays them regularly as well. Himmat also spends a lot of time reading on tech, sports and local politics. Currently 18, having finished his A-Levels and his next step in life is pursuing a degree in Actuarial Science

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24 Dec 12 ‘Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP’ out now on Google Play for $1.99

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, the unique indie adventure game that blends beautiful pixel art with an atmospheric soundtrack from Jim Guthrie, is available now on the Google Play Store. It’s not the first time the game has been playable on Android devices — a beta version came out as part of a Humble Android Bundle last month. If you missed that, however, or wanted to wait for a more stable release, you can now pick up Sword and Sworcery for a sale price of $1.99. We’d certainly recommend it for any Android users yet to play the game in any of its previous iOS, PC, or Mac incarnations, which have also been placed on sale for the holidays alongside the soundtrack and remix album.

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22 Dec 12 Google disables silent extension installs to Chrome

Updated 22 Dec, 2012, 5:33 pm IST

20 Dec 12 Attack Turns Android Devices Into Spam-Spewing Botnets

From an attacker’s perspective, malware doesn’t need to be elegant or sophisticated; it just needs to work.

That’s the ethos behind a recent spate of Trojan applications designed to infect smartphones and tablets that run the Android operating system, and turn the devices into spam-SMS-spewing botnets.

By last week, the malware was being used to send more than 500,000 texts per day. Perhaps appropriately, links to the malware are also being distributed via spam SMS messages that offer downloads of popular Android games–such as Angry Birds Star Wars, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City–for free.

[ Anonymous hacks Westboro Baptist Church in aftermath of Connecticut school shooting. Read more at Anonymous Posts Westboro Members' Personal Information. ]

Despite the apparent holiday spirit behind the messages, however, it’s just a scam. “If you do download this ‘spamvertised’ application and install it on your Android handset, you may be unknowingly loading a malicious software application on your phone which will induct your handset into a simple botnet, one that leverages the resources of your mobile phone for the benefit of the malware’s author,” according to an overview of the malware written by Cloudmark lead software engineer Andrew Conway.

The malware in question uses infected phones “to silently send out thousands of spam SMS messages without your permission to lists of victim phone numbers that the malware automatically downloads from a command and control server,” said Conway. Of course, the smartphone owner gets to pay any associated SMS-sending costs.

An earlier version of the malware was discovered in October, disguised as anti-SMS spam software, but it remained downloadable for only a day. “Apparently using SMS spam to promote a bogus SMS spam blocking service was not an easy sell,” said Conway. Subsequently, the malware was repackaged as free versions of popular games, and the malware’s creator now appears to be monetizing the Trojan by sending gift card spam of the following ilk: “You have just won a $1000 Target Gift Card but only the 1st 777 people that enter code 777 at [redacted website name] can claim it!”

As with the majority of Android malware, the malicious apps can be downloaded not from the official Google Play application store, but rather from third-party download sites, in this case largely based in Hong Kong. In general, security experts recommend that Android users stick to Google Play and avoid third-party sites advertising supposedly free versions of popular paid apps, since many of those sites appear to be little more than “fakeware” distribution farms. But since Android users are blocked from reaching Google Play in some countries, including China, third-party app stores are their only option.

After installing the malware and before it takes hold, a user must first grant the app numerous permissions — such as allowing it to send SMS messages and access websites. Only then it can successfully transform the mobile device into a spam relay. Of course, people in search of free versions of paid apps may agree to such requests. Furthermore, “not many people read the fine print when installing Android applications,” said Conway.

If a user does grant the malware the requested permissions, it will transform their Android device into node, or zombie, for the malware creator’s botnet. At that point, the malware immediately “phones home” to a command-and-control server via HTTP to receive further instructions. “Typically a message and a list of 50 numbers are returned,” said Conway. “The zombie waits 1.3 seconds after sending each message, and checks with the CC server every 65 seconds for more numbers.”

Again, the Android malware used to build the accompanying SMS-spewing botnet isn’t sophisticated, but it does appear to be earning its creator money. “Compared with PC botnets this was an unsophisticated attack,” said Conway. “However, this sort of attack changes the economics of SMS spam, as the spammer no longer has to pay for the messages that are sent if he can use a botnet to cover his costs. Now that we know it can be done, we can expect to see more complex attacks that are harder to take down.”

Your employees are a critical part of your security program, particularly when it comes to the endpoint. Whether it’s a PC, smartphone or tablet, your end users are on the front lines of phishing attempts and malware attacks. Read our Security: Get Users To Care report to find out how to keep your company safe. (Free registration required.)

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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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19 Jun 12 Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: It’s 2016, and Chrome OS is ascendant

Computerworld - The very first PCs were just appearing when I started using computers. We had already seen the advent of microcomputers and minicomputers. Those machines were designed for people who loved technology, not people who loved getting work done with technology. For work, you used mainframes and midrange Unix and VMS computers with a terminal on the client end. The CP/M-80, Apple II and IBM PC changed all that. Fat client computers took over the world, and they’re still reigning, in the form of Windows PCs and Macs.

But the PC is no Queen Elizabeth II. Its reign, half the length of hers, may be coming to an end.

Google thinks we’re ready to say goodbye to fat client systems and move to cloud-based operating systems, such as its own Chrome OS. Instead of PCs, it wants us to use Chromeboxes and Chromebooks. We’re resisting, but I think we’ll come around to Google‘s point of view in a few short years.

Not that the old mainframe/terminal model ever really went away. Some companies still issue thin clients that are basically input devices, with most of the actual computing happening on a distant server. Others use its descendant, client/server systems. More companies might have stuck with those models, but users made their preferences known. They liked the “personal” in “personal computer.” They wanted their computers to run just the way they wanted.

But as always happens with technology, evolution continued. Over the last few years, PCs have become commodities. Off the top of your head, can you explain what differentiates Dell from HP from Lenovo PCs? Meanwhile, we’ve moved huge quantities of our business and consumer computing to the Web and the cloud. That means that today, there just isn’t that much that you can you do on a PC that you can’t do on a Chromebook. Indeed, some people, including yours truly and Computerworld’s J.R. Raphael, were already using Chromebooks all the time even before the recent refresh.

Today, there are as many useful, fun and essential programs on the Internet as there are on PCs. But, unlike PCs, which require constant upgrades and expert management, Chrome systems automatically update constantly. Want to set up a thousand Chromebooks to access only your corporate-approved websites? I can do that in less time than it takes me to write this column.

Chrome OS is easy for users and administrators, and it’s cheaper. That’s a powerful combination.

What keeps that combo from winning the day is the reluctance to rely on a machine that can’t do much of anything without an Internet connection. But that resistance is going to fade as we all begin to realize that the same thing is more and more true of fat clients.


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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.


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

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

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16 Jun 12 Why Android’s Greatest Threat Isn’t Apple – It’s Microsoft

There’s little denying that Apple rules the smartphone world. The company sells just one phone model, yet that sole model constitutes 8.8% – or roughly 1 in 11 – of all worldwide smartphone sales and 73% of profits. iOS is the second most popular smartphone OS in the US after Android with 31.4% of the market (Android has 50.8%). Windows Phone 7, on the other hand, has just 4% of the US smartphone market, yet it’s Microsoft that we have to worry about. We’re witnessing a Kansas City Shuffle; while everybody is looking left, Microsoft is going right.

Microsoft is a lot like a freight train: it may be fat, bloated, and heavy, but once it finally gets up to speed, it’s a force to be reckoned with. There’s certainly something to be said for a company that commands about 90% of the US PC market and 40% of the US console market at a time when consoles are becoming less gamey and more comprehensive-entertainment-centery. That’s without touching on Microsoft’s impending entrance in the tablet game and the upcoming release of Windows RT and Windows 8, nor the early 2013 release of the Xbox 720.

By now, you can probably see where I’m going with this. Odds are very good that your home and work computers both run Windows, and I’m going to guess you use Office on both. Roughly 30 million Xbox 360s have been sold in the US, so I’m going to guess that a fair number of readers may have one of those too. That’s our foundation: the company already has a commanding presence in many corners of consumers’ lives.

But it’s still a bit of a mess. Sure, the 360 has some networked PC integration built in, but any UI or UX consistency between the two is an afterthought, not a perfect fit. Yes, you can use Office on your Windows Phone, but it’s not a great experience. What happens when it all comes together, as the company is doing with its next wave of devices? Windows Phone looks like Windows RT, which looks like Windows 8. I’ll eat my shoes if the 720 doesn’t share the same design language.

wp7-people WinRTTab Win8pc

Left to right: Windows Phone 7, Windows RT (tablet), Windows 8 (PC). Without the subtitle, would you know which was which?

All three of the above, as well as the Xbox 720, show extreme promise. Now stop and consider: what can be done if virtually every internet-connected aspect of your life shares the same platform? Apps can easily be ported, streaming/transferring/syncing could be a breeze, the cloud could be more powerful than ever, and your portable devices can be windows (hah!) into a bigger screen. Your phone and tablet can act as seamless companions to your TV or PC, becoming a complementing screen for auxiliary information or a unique controllers. It’s a lot more fun to play a racing game on your phone or tablet than it is on your PC because you actually have to interact, but you’re still limited to a small screen. Imagine that same interactivity but on your PC or TV screen. The Wii U is child’s play by comparison.

Obviously, there’s a big catch here, and it’s one of MSFT’s most infamous weaknesses: they have to follow through. A lack of corporate focus has often resulted in poor quality for the company in the past, and products/services with a world of potential have been absolutely ruined by a lack of attention to detail. Bill Gates famously sent an email to his senior people absolutely slamming Windows Usability – seriously, it’s like 2 pages long and describes how excruciating Microsoft can make user experience.

Lately, though, the company has been doing pretty damn well, and as previously mentioned, their upcoming products and services show a world of potential. While I don’t think Microsoft’s next wave will be perfect out of the gate, I think they will be impressive enough to drive growth across the board.

Google and Apple offer fantastic products and services, but they don’t command your den, your office, your living room, and your productivity. That’s Microsoft’s Trojan Horse, and that’s why it’s the biggest threat to Android.

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