Friday, May 20, 2011

Music Beta by Google

I got in! Impressions forthcoming . . . you know, if and when I get around to it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chrome OS: I/Onised

When Chrome OS was first announced, it was envisioned to be a window to the web; a lightweight, easy experience that promised cheap hardware and a universal, trouble free experience. Throw on portability and a long battery life, and you had the recipe for a game-changing web experience int he consumer space.

And then there was the iPad.

The iPad was the first real breakthrough in tablet computing. While it remains a very limited platform, it showed people the potential of the tablet experience. What Apple started (a tablet with a mobile OS instead of a cumbersome, desktop OS), Google perfected with Android Honeycomb. Honeycomb, Android's tablet OS, is a lightweight, easy experience that promises relatively cheap hardware and a universal, trouble free experience. Oh, Honeycomb tabs are also portable and have great battery life. Uh oh. This sounds familiar.

Since the advent of Honeycomb tablets, the question has been raised: What's the point of Chrome OS? Can't a Honeycomb tab do everything Chrome OS does and more, all the while wowing consumers with one of them fancy touch-screens and robust, offline capabilities? The answer is yes, yes it can. What's a girl like Chrome OS to do? She spent all that money on such a pretty dress only to have Honeycomb come to the dance with an even better dress. I guess she'll just have to sit there and sulk while Honeycomb gets to dance with all the geeks (who wants to dance with football players, anyway?)

But she's not going to do that. Instead, she decided to crash another party.

Look familiar? No? Well, than you're one of the 0.94% of people on Linux. Those familiar with the left half of the image are in the often far too proud 5.4% of users rockin' the Mac, just edging out the 4.75% using "other" (I use a Mac, by the way; all in good fun, you Appolytes). That means the Redmond side of the image represents a very commanding 88.91% of the worldwide market (25.11% for Win7, 10.22% struggling with Vista, and 53.18% using XP when they're not drawing on the walls of their caves). It's a Microsoft donut with a very small Apple filling (along with a few additives). That's how it is, how it's always been, and how it will always be.

Scratch that last. We'll revise it to, "and how it might remain, unless . . . " The unspoken unless is the Holy Grail of enterprise computerdom: unless someone can actually compete with Microsoft. Many have tried over the years, with the same rate of success. Apple tried it with the Macintosh back in 1984. They're still trying. Linux was the open source saviour against the Megatron that is Windwos, and they now have majority marketshare . . . in supercomputers. When it comes to personal computing, Microsoft is it.

But with great power comes great, um, IT challenges. Viruses, compatibility issues, software prices, upgrades, compatibility and virus risks for the software updates; these are the things we live with in a Microsoft world. And in an Apple world, to a much lesser extent. Our office is all Mac, and we still have crashes and other issues (though not even close to the level at which other offices I've worked at do who were all Windows). Win7 is the best yet, but you're still looking at 63.4% of the market on older, less stable versions of Windows.

While I'm bagging on Windows, let me put another facet out there that's near and dear to my heart: cost (yes, I'm a cheap sonofagun). Even if you're budget minded, it's tough to start up an office. A ten person office will cost a few hundred per computer, and then another few thousand for software and associated licenses. Oh, then you need to hire an IT guy to keep it all running, and make sure you get a nice service plan. That's with Windows; let's not even consider the prices if you use Macs.

Enter the Samsungman

And now we come to Chrome OS. I gave a brief rundown on Chrome OS a little bit ago, but here's the Cliff's Notes version: it's a computer that runs a Google Chrome browser . . . and nothing else. It's a bit strange, and can be a bit frustrating (I'm a beta tester for the OS, by the way), but the concept itself is solid. I'll get to how this is going to Hulk SMASH! enterprise in a little bit; first, a few notes on Chrome OS.

In Chrome OS, you have to suspend what you normally think about how a computer operates. Everything is done through the browser, so program operation is a bit different. You can try Chrome OS for yourself: go download Chrome browser and use it (as a matter of fact, why are you not already using Chrome browser?). Everything is in the cloud. Data processing, spreadsheeting, etc. is done on Google Docs; and all other programs are similarly cloud-based. This comes with marked advantages. Amoung the highlights:
-Never backup again, as everything is in the cloud (auto-backup, yo!). Your entire office could be burned down and all you would have to do is log in to new machines and it's literally like nothing happened (save the fact that you're now working outdoors on an ash heap, but it improves your 3G signal, so it's OK).
-Instant on. OK, this claim is a misnomer, but it'll take you less than 10 seconds to go from completely off to completely working. If you're in sleep mode, though, it really is instant on. Plus, the battery life is great in sleep mode. I leave my Cr48 in sleep for days and just flip it open and start working (why it's off for days is another post; dang Android sapping my time away from Chrome OS).
-Zero compatibility issues. If it's on the web, it's compatible. That's the theory; in fact, things like Netflix and Hulu aren't ready, yet. But this is a discussion about the enterprise space, so this caveat is kind of moot.
-Zero virus issues. Chrome is the most tamper-proof browser, and Chrome OS machines do a kernel check every time they're turned on. Any anomalies prompt the machine to essentially reinstall the OS (not as painful as it sounds).
-Security. One of the coolest things about a Chromebook is that you can log in under a guest account and everything you do is completely secure. Here's how it works: you can log in to my Chromebook and all of your Chrome stuff will pop up (themes, bookmarks, history, etc.). Do some online banking. Remote into your work PC. Post a picture of your neighbor's cat on Facebook. Once you log out, all information from your session is gone. Students are going to love this feature.

That's the good. The bad is, it's an always-connected device. GDocs craps out if you lose connection. There's no, native media player. Ditto for a native, file browser. Google did this in an attempt to get you fully on the cloud. It's annoying. If I tether my Cr48 Chromebook to my Dell Streak 7 4G tablet to update my resume or work a spreadsheet, my work comes to a screeching halt if the connection is at all interrupted. Lamesauce. And stupid of Google, as you can't always expect a perfect connexion in practise (not all of us are rockin' a job for a multi-billion dollar corporation in Mountain View, where even the shuttle busses have WiFi).

Told you I'd get to it.

That all changed with Google I/O. El Goog announced they're going to have an offline mode for GDocs/Gmail/Google Calendar, a native media player, and a native file browser. This answers all of my qualms about Chrome OS. Gee, maybe they listen to their beta testers? Heresy!

So, the little kinks in the OS are getting ironed out. I'll also say that Chrome OS has matured quite a bit since I first got my little Cr48 Chromebook. Anyone using Chrome browser has seen the benefits of that, as they've probably recently jumped from v. 9 to 10 to 11 to 12 (maybe without even knowing it; the update system is very seamless). Suffice to say, the OS should be ready for primetime with these last, little tweaks. There'll still be some issues here and there, but nothing like a Microsoft release (Windows ME and Vista, I'm looking at you).

The second, big, Chrome OS announcement at Google I/O speaks to the first issue I brought up here: Chrome OS's struggle to find a place in the digital world. Google announced a couple fo Chromebooks, one from Acer and one from Samsung. The Acer's an 11.6" deal with an Intel Atom N570 dual core processor, 16GB SSD, USB, HDMI, and a webcam; all for the bargain price of $350. The Samsung is a bit more awesomised, with a 12.1" screen, N570 dual core, HDMI, USB, webcam, 16GB SSD, and an SDXC slot for $450. It's $50 more (each) for a 3G model.

I'll be the first to admit, the specs and price didn't wow me. But that's because I'm not the one needing to be wowed; for consumers/individual purchasers like me, there are Honeycomb tablets (read: do want!). If you're a business, school, or government institution who wants 10 or more of these little bad boys, prices start at $20/month per unit (up to $28/month). For hardware and software support as well as updates. By updates, I mean software and hardware updates.

Let's recap this so it'll sink in. For $28/month per person, everyone in your office gets a new laptop with a SSD and some nice ports, 3G and the WiFis capability, integrated office software from anywhere, you can fire your IT department, and you'll get support and upgrades for both hardware and software. You also never have to backup again, and a computer going down means nothing more than turning on a new one. Oh, and no virus protection or the like, either. Now that's a compelling package.

But will it be compelling enough to steer businesses and universities away from Microsoft? That, readers, is the question. We'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ANDROID: Prepare to Awesomise

The Little Green Robot that Could will be able do a little more in the not to distant future. Google I/O's keynotes are over, and a few bombs were dropped in the process. These aren't those nasty, destructive, awesome bombs like the BLU-82B Daisy Cutter, but more of a candy-and-laser-light-show filled fun bomb.

Like dropping one of these . . . 

. . . on one of these.

Google dropped Android Honeycomb 3.1, Music Beta by Google, video rental via YouTube, and Android@Home, to name a few of the larger releases. Oh, and Android Ice Cream Sandwich to come later this year. A quick note on these, and then a note on my favourite release tease from day 1 of the presentation (day 2 is another post, as it has to do with Chrome OS).

Music Beta by Google
This is going to be a cloud streaming service with something like 85GB of free space to use. I'm not sure of the exact number, but Google did say that one can upload 20,000 songs (I do hope one can store video, as well). You can access these songs whenever you like from your computer, laptop, or Android device. I hear iOS devices are in the works, but we'll have to wait and see what the ever-exclusive, Cupertino crowd thinks about that; remember how long it took to get Google Voice, and how that was motivated by possible legal action in the EU?

In any case, this will be an awesome addition to the Android repertoire. The downside for this over Amazon Cloud Music Player is that you can't yet purchase anything on Music Beta. Still, that doesn't stop you from using Amazon Cloud Player and Music Beta, which is what I plan to do.

This will either be really cool, or nothing at all. Google's like that, sometimes (remember Wave?). The potential is to be able to control every light, garage door, speaker, thermostat, appliance, etc. in your home via your Android handset. I imagine this will end up as something in the middle, with people like me having some things "Androidified" and most things conventional. In any case, home automation is a Star-Trekky sort of gig, so I'm on board.

I can't wait to say to my tablet, "Tea, Earl Grey, hot," and have the coffee maker start brewing some Earl Grey tea. I don't even like Earl Grey tea, and I'm still geeking out about it.

My Favourite Thing
By far and away, the best announcement was that Google is partnering with manufacturers and carriers to ensure updates for future, Android devices. I do hope some current ones are covered, as well, as I have a couple of Android devices myself that obviously aren't from the future (or are they?).

Google is setting an 18 month update promise for the coalition. That means timely updates for your device from the day it's released up until a year and a half later, at minimum. Since I'm an XDA addict, I don't need this; but this is surely a welcome tidbit for the 95+% of people out there who don't root and ROM. Oh, and I won't need to backup, wipe, and ROM my wife's phone anymore.

That's a rap for day 1. Stay tuned for Day2.