Tag Archives: chromebook

Chromebooks get more useful as Linux comes to Chrome OS

At Google’s IO conference under way in San Francisco, the company has announced the ability for a Chromebook to run Linux applications.

image

“Support for Linux will enable you to create, test and run Android and web app for phones, tablets and laptops all on one Chromebook. Run popular editors, code in your favourite language and launch projects to Google Cloud with the command-line. Everything works directly on a Chromebook,” says product manager Ton Buckley. “Linux runs inside a virtual machine that was designed from scratch for Chromebooks. That means it starts in seconds and integrates completely with Chromebook features. Linux apps can start with a click of an icon, windows can be moved around, and files can be opened directly from apps.”

Squinting at the screen in Google’s photo, above, it looks like the Linux VM runs Debian.

Coupled with the existing ability to run Android apps, the announcement makes Chromebooks more attractive for users (and I am one of them) who would previously have found the operating system too restrictive.

Buckley presents the new feature as primarily one for developers. You will be able to build and test Android applications directly on the Chromebook. Given the operating system’s native support for Android, this should be an excellent machine for Android development.

One of the first things I would install would be Visual Studio Code, presuming it runs OK. Thanks to .NET Core, ASP.NET development should work. The LAMP stack running locally would be great for  PHP development.

Personally I would not only use it for coding though. The ability to run LibreOffice would be great, for example. There are also a ton of handy Linux utilities for admins.

Top feature: security

The key attractions of Chromebooks (aside from low prices from OEM vendors) is security. They are popular in education for this reason. They require less management than PCs because the operating system is locked down and self-patching. The new feature should not compromise security too much, because Linux runs in a VM and in the worst case resetting the VM should clear any malware – though access to user documents could make malware running in the VM quite disruptive.

Apple’s iPad Pro is another capable device with a locked down OS, but does not run Linux applications.

What about Windows? Microsoft has tried and so far failed to lock down Windows in a manner acceptable to its customers. Windows RT was the first attempt, but users found it too restrictive, partly because the Windows 8 app ecosystem was so weak. Windows S is another attempt; but progress is slow. Microsoft has also weakened the security of its modern app platform to make it more capable, even to the extent of allowing desktop applications into the Windows Store. The approach taken by Apple and Google, to design a new secure operating system and make it gradually more capable, is more viable than Microsoft’s work in the opposite direction.

Asus bets on everything with new UK product launches for Android, Google Chromebook and Microsoft Windows

Asus unveiled its Winter 2014 UK range at an event in London yesterday. It is an extensive range covering most bases, including Android tablets, Windows 8 hybrids, Google Chromebooks, and Android smartphones.

image

Asus never fails to impress with its innovative ideas – like the Padfone, a phone which docks into a tablet – though not all the ideas win over the public, and we did not hear about any new Padfones yesterday.

The company’s other strength though is to crank out well-made products at a competitive price, and this aspect remains prominent. There was nothing cutting-edge on show last night, but plenty of designs that score favourably in terms of what you get for the money.

At a glance:

  • Chromebook C200 dual-proc Intel N2830 laptop 12″ display £199.99 and C300 13″ display £239.99
  • MeMO Pad Android tablets ME176C 7″ £119 and 8″ ME181 (with faster Z3580 2.3 GHz quad-core processor) £169
  • Transformer Pad TF103C Android tablet with mobile keyboard dock (ie a tear-off keyboard) £239
  • Two FonePad 7″ Android phablets: tablets with phone functionality, LTE in the ME372CL at £129.99  and 3G in the ME175CG at £199.99.
  • Three Zenfone 3G Android phones, 4″ at £99.99, 5″ at £149.99 and 6″ at £249.99.
  • Transformer Book T200 and T300 joining the T100 (10.1″ display) as Windows 8 hybrids with tear-off keyboards. The T200 has an 11.6″ display and the T300 a 13.3″ display and processors from Core i3 to Core i7 – no longer just a budget range. The T200 starts at £349.
  • Transformer Book Flip Windows 8.1 laptops with fold-back touch screens so you can use them as fat tablets. 13.3″ or 15.6″ screens, various prices according to configuration starting with a Core 13 at £449.
  • G750 gaming laptops from £999.99 to £1799.99 with Core i7 processors and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 800M GPUs.
  • G550JK Gaming Notebook with Core i7 and GTX 850M GPU from £899.99.

Unfortunately the press event was held in a darkened room useless for photography or close inspection of the devices. A few points to note though.

The T100 is, according to Asus, the world’s bestselling Windows hybrid. This does not surprise me since with 11 hr battery life and full Windows 8 with Office pre-installed it ticks a lot of boxes. I prefer the tear-off keyboard concept to complex flip designs that never make satisfactory tablets. The T100 now seems to be the base model in a full range of Windows hybrids.

On the phone side, it is odd that Asus did not announce any operator deals and seems to be focused on the sim-free market.

How good are the Zenfones? This is not a review, but I had a quick play with the models on display. They are not high-end devices, but nor do they feel cheap. IPS+ (in-plane switching) displays give a wide viewing angle. Gorilla Glass 3 protects the screen; the promo video talks about a 30m drop test which I do not believe for a moment*. The touch screens are meant to be responsive when wearing gloves. The camera has a five-element lens with F/2.0 aperture, a low-light mode, and “time rewind” which records images before you tap. A “Smart remove” feature removes moving objects from your picture. You also get “Zen UI” on top of Android; I generally prefer stock Android but the vendors want to differentiate and it seems not to get in the way too much.

Just another phone then; but looks good value.

As it happens, I saw another Asus display as I arrived in London, at St Pancras station.

image

The stand, devoted mainly to the T100, was far from bustling. This might be related to the profile of Windows these days; or it might reflect the fact that the Asus brand, for all the company’s efforts, is associated more with good honest value than something you stop to look at on the way to work.

For more details see the Asus site or have a look in the likes of John Lewis or Currys/ PC World.

*On the drop test, Asus says: “This is a drop test for the Gorilla glass, and is dropping a metal ball on to a pane of it that is clamped down, not actually a drop of the phone itself.”

Cloud is identity management says Kim Cameron, now ex-Microsoft

Kim Cameron, formerly chief identity architect at Microsoft, has  confirmed that he has left the company.

In an interview at the European Identity Conference in Munich he discusses the state of play in identity management, but does not explain what interests me most: why he left. He was respected across the industry and to my mind was a tremendous asset to Microsoft; his presence went a long way to undoing the damage of Hailstorm, an abandoned project from 2001 which sought to place Microsoft at the centre of digital life and failed largely because of industry mistrust. He formulated laws of identity which express good identity practice, things like minimal disclosure, justifiable parties, and user control and consent.

Identity is a complex and to most people an unexciting topic; yet it has never been more important. It is a central issue around Google’s recently announced Chromebook, for example; yet we tend to be distracted by other issues, like hardware features or software quality, and to miss the identity implications. Vendors are careful never to spell these out, so we need individuals like Cameron who get it.

“Cloud is identity management,” he says in the interview.

Cameron stands by his laws of identity, which is says are still “essentially correct”. However, events like the recent Sony data loss show how little the wider industry respects them.

So what happened at Microsoft? Although he puts a brave face on it, I am sure he must have been disappointed by the failure of Cardspace, a user interface and infrastructure for identity management that was recently abandoned. It was not successful, he says, because “it was not adopted by the large players,” but what he does not say is that Microsoft itself could have done much more to support it.

That may have been a point of tension; or maybe there were other disagreements. Cameron does not talk down his former company though. “There are a lot of people there who share the ideas that I was expressing, and my hope is that those ideas will continue to be put in practice,” he says, though the carefully chosen words leave space for the possibility that another well-represented internal group do not share them. He adds though that products like SharePoint do have his ideas about claims-based identity management baked into them.

Leaving aside Microsoft, Cameron makes what seems to me an important point about advocacy. “We’re at the beginning of a tremendously complex and deep technological change,” he says, and is worried by the fact that with vendors chasing immediate advantage there may be “no advocates for user-centric, user in control experience.”

Fortunately for us, Cameron is not bowing out altogether. “How can I stop? It is so interesting,” he says.

Chromebook: web applications put to the test, and by the way no Java

Yesterday Google announced the availability of the first commercial Chromebook, a Linux computer running the Chrome browser and not much else. There are machines from Acer and Samsung which are traditional laptop/netbook clamshell designs, with an Intel Atom dual core processor, 16GB solid state storage, and a 12.1” screen. Price will be a bit less than $400, or organisations can subscribe from $28 or €21 per month in which case they get full support and hardware replacement. There are wi-fi and 3G options. Nobody is going to be excited about the hardware.

image

The Chromebook may be the most secure computer available, if Google has got it right. The OS is inaccessible to the user and protected from the browser, and system patching is automatic.

The strength and weakness of the Chromebook is that is only runs web applications – the only exception being utilities that Google itself supplies. Are we ready for a computer that is little use offline? I am not sure; but this will be an interesting experiment.

The Chromebook is a compelling alternative to a traditional PC with its susceptibility to malware and dependence on locally installed applications and data. If you lose your PC, getting a new one up and running can be a considerable hassle, though large businesses have almost cracked the problem with system images and standard builds. Lose a Chromebook, and you just get another one and sign in.

You sign into Google of course, and that is a worry if you would rather not be dependent on a single corporation for your digital identity and a large chunk of your data.

The problem for the Chromebook is that Apple’s iPad and numerous Google Android tablets and netbooks offer security that is nearly as good, and local applications as well as web applications, for a not dissimilar cost. These devices are also easy to restore if they break or go missing, slightly less so than a Chromebook but not much.

The choice looks a bit like this:

  1. Chromebook: Web applications only
  2. iPad/Android: Web applications and local apps

Put like that, it is difficult to see the advantage of the Chromebook. The subscription scheme is interesting though; it is a new business computing model that brings the cloud computing principle of operating expenditure instead of capital expenditure to the desktop.

The offline issue may be the worst thing about a Chromebook. When I travel, I frequently find myself without a good internet connection. The word “offline” does not feature in either the consumer or business frequently asked questions – a question Google would rather you did not ask?

Yet there is 16GB storage on board. That is a lot. In theory, HTML 5 local storage should solve the offline problem, but few web apps, including Google’s own, make this seamless yet.

A few other observations. While there are no user-installable client apps, Google is adding some utilities.

VPN is coming:

We’ve heard from our pilot customers that VPN is an important feature for businesses and schools, and we’re working very hard to bake this into Chromebooks soon. Support for some VPN implementation is already in the product and we’ll both extend support for more VPNs and get these features to stable soon.

Remote desktop access is coming:

we are developing a free service called Chromoting that will enable Chrome notebook users to remotely access their existing PCs and Macs.

Apparently this is based on Citrix Receiver.

There is a bias towards Adobe Flash:

Chromebooks have Flash support built-in, but they do not support Java or Silverlight.

Another blow for Java on the client.