A couple of observations as another week on Chrome OS comes to a close:
One of my bigger complaints was resolved last weekend, as Google stood up a semi-official forum for members of the Cr-48 pilot program. It got off to a fairly rocky start as — according to a subsequent apology e-mail from Google — someone stumbled across a hidden Google Group. In posting a question to that group, they apparently unleashed a mail-storm of a couple hundred e-mails to all members of the group, where group membership comprised (at least in theory) anyone who either had received or was going to receive one of the pilot Cr-48s. Google quickly shut down the group, apologized, and then went ahead and created an invitation-only Google Group specifically for pilot members. So now we have a forum… if only it weren’t Google Groups. It suffers badly from not being searchable (supposedly they are working on that) and at present it is getting so much traffic that it is hard to keep up with. Couple that with a very low signal-to-noise ratio, and it borders on something between useless and unusable; it is however better than nothing and there are several official Googlers hanging out there. It’s a step in the right direction.
I took the leap to the “dev channel” on Chrome OS this morning. Performance and responsiveness are significantly improved, Flash stuff in pages is much better, and the trackpad is definitely less flakey. I know this leap will likely come back to bite (or at least nibble on) me with some flakiness or instability at some point, but I just wasn’t willing to wait any longer for any sort of updates.
I’m definitely liking the box and the OS. For certain kinds of tasks, I’m using it more and more. The form factor and the battery are spot on. The one downside on the hardware is the keyboard in low light: the absence of a backlight and the small labels on the keys make it almost impossible to use in the low light of early morning or evening. Until I started using backlit keyboards on my Macs and my one Dell laptop, I never really knew how wonderful they are, particularly for my usage pattern. I doubt I will ever buy a laptop with out one now. (But clearly we’re not operating in that space here in the pilot.)
The more I use this, the more I’m looking for Web- and cloud-based solutions to almost everything I’m typically doing with my laptops. I’ll never be able to go completely to that platform, just based on some of the stuff I’m doing, but more and more of it is being done without special software or local storage.
Based on a pointer on one of the Chrome/Chrome OS-related forums, I’ve at least resolved one of the more annoying papercuts with my Chrome OS Cr-48: up until yesterday evening, the date and time were off by exactly 8 hours. Solving this involved the following steps:
Activate the Verizon 3G connection
Sign out and shut down
Restart (note that at least for me, even at this point, the time and date were still incorrect)
It was only after signing in with connectivity being provided by 3G that the time and date were reset to match what they should have been all along based on the timezone setting.
YMMV, but I’m holding out hope that this will continue to stick.
Four days in, here are some random initial impressions of both Chrome OS and the Cr-48 box itself. And before I start dumping opinions, I’ll state that I recognize that any sort of whinging about something Google has given me for free is going to seem incredibly ungrateful — that’s certainly not my intent in touching on things that feel less than ideal. It’s more a matter of providing some constructive criticism, as I still feel incredibly blessed to have received one of these…
So, in no particular order, some impressions on the hardware side of this equation:
Keyboard: good feel, nice sized keys, good layout. I do wish it was backlit, as I tend to use my various laptops in low light situations quite frequently, and have come to really like that. (For fairness, I have the same complaint about my Asus Eee PC.) Overall, I’d say this keyboard falls somewhere between my Macs (top of the heap) and my Eee PC.
Screen: pretty decent overall. Good brightness and fairly sharp. I still like matte-finish better than the Mac’s recent glossy finishes, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Processor: it feels underpowered, even for a netbook. Scrolling even on Facebook is not smooth and can even be a little laggy. Overall, the UI is much more responsive and smoother on my Eee PC. Still, this is more than just barely usable. I’d love to see this with some bigger horses under the hood.
Trackpad: great size, good level of sensitivity. No real complaints or wishes here.
Ports: I haven’t really used them yet, other than plugging my headphones into the corresponding ports for a bit of Pandora music goodness this morning. (Yes, Jeff, Pandora — life in the cloud is going to involve some paradigm shifting for me.)
Connectivity: WiFi seems solid and reliable. I’ve had no problems connecting to my home wireless or maintaining a solid connection. I’ve not yet played with the 3G side yet.
Finish: I really like the matte black, sort of rubberized feel of the finish of the box. Definitely a win on this.
Shifting gears to the software side:
Browser as UI: if you’re already using Chrome as a browser on other platforms and like it, you’ll feel right at home from the outset. Further, if you’re a Google tools user (Gmail, Docs, Notebook, Calendar, Voice, etc.), it’s like getting a computer already set up with all your stuff.
Browser as OS: This one is taking me a bit to get used to. I’m very used to dropping to a terminal for doing stuff and exploring on other OS’s, and the absence of any sort of real terminal/command-line or file browser here feels like a gaping hole for me. This is one area where living strictly in the cloud is going to require some relearning of how to do things.
Browser as application platform: this is probably the other area where I have some learning and some re-tooling to do. As part of giving this a real test, my intent is to try live as completely in the cloud as possible, with the notable exception of the few things I simply cannot do there (e.g., working on my Komodo-CFML project) — and in doing that, I recognize that I’m going to have to find new ways to do stuff and new tools to do them. For example, while I wrote this on the Cr-48, it was still way easier for me to deal with the picture on my Linux box.
Overall, the experience has been quite positive. The packaging and the hardware both are quite good in all aspects. There have been (or are) some papercuts that I’d like to see Google address:
Feedback, even if minimal, to bugs and issues submitted via what appears to be their preferred feedback mechanism (the “bug” button on the browser toolbar) is completely absent. I’ve submitted feedback on several different items and have received nothing. Not even an automated response noting the submission. That makes me wonder right off the bat whether the feedback was even received, whether Google really wants feedback, and whether it is worth my time to provide it.
I’ve bumped into one really annoying bug that there does not really seem to be a good fix for: the system appears to be completely ignoring the timezone setting on the box, resulting in the time/date being off by 8 hours, manifesting itself in several different ways: timestamps on Twitter (completely) and Facebook (partially) are completely skewed. And every time I look at the system time in status bar, I have to do the math to figure out what time it really is. Supposedly, this (or something similar — it’s tough to tell) has been resolved in the “dev” channel of the OS, but I’m reluctant to jump into the dev channel at this point… which takes me to…
Lack of information about OS updates: Google seems to be quite slow in pushing out updates to the “beta” channel we’re on by default (it being the only choice other than dev). As far as I can tell, they’ve only pushed two updates on the beta channel since the initial December release of the Cr-48 and there are clearly some fairly important bugs that have been raised and addressed on the dev channel releases, but there is nothing indicating when those same fixes will make their way out to the rest of us in beta-land.
All in all, very positive, with the single biggest area I see for improvement is on the communication side: acknowledgement of feedback from users and better push of information from Google as to what to expect on the update/bug-fix side.
Stay tuned; more to come. If you have specific questions, dump them in the “comments” channel below and I will do my best to answer them either here or in a follow-up post.
Inside the box, for those of you who haven’t guessed or figured it out, is a Google Chrome OS Cr-48 laptop, the netbook Google is pushing out in a pilot program to test and get feedback on its new netbook OS. Think of a small laptop with a WiFi (or 3G, more on that to come) network connection and no software except a Web browser, and you’ll have a fairly accurate picture. Somehow the Google folks decided I was worthy of getting one as part of their pilot program; I wish I could remember what I wrote on my application to join the pilot…
Box contents: laptop, battery, charger, charger cord, battery installation card (hilarious and worth reading, trust me!), “getting started” instruction card, “Intel Inside” biz card, and Google decal/sticker sheet.
I had a bit of a surprise waiting for me when I arrived home from work yesterday evening: a box. Deb looked at me kind of oddly when I said something along the lines of “I hate to say this, but I don’t remember ordering anything… I’m not sure what that could be…” But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became, as there was only one thing I could come up with. Not much to go on, based on the information on the outside of the box…