Chrome OS and Cr-48: Initial Impressions

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…

Laptop stack, for comparison (from the top): Asus Eee PC, Cr-48, old MacBook Air, Dell Latitude E6410, and my 15" MacBook Pro from work (2011/02/05)

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.

Google Chrome on the Mac: A Late Christmas Gift

Just within the past couple of days, the Google Chrome devs released the next build in their “dev channel” (translation: alpha release) for Mac OS X. It had been several weeks since their previous update, so I was curious to see what it held. Looking at their announcement, it didn’t seem all that earth-shaking but I was ecstatic to find after installing it that they finally have allowed users control over default font settings and font sizes. No more monstrously large ugly default fonts for me!

This was one of the two things that have kept me from using it on my Mac as my default browser to this point, which it has been on my other Linux and Windows boxes for several months (other than when I need some of Firebug’s wizardry in debugging Web stuff, although even those times are becoming less frequent with Chrome’s developer tools). The other gaping, glaring hole on the Mac OS X version of Chrome is the ability to manage and organize bookmarks — until that hole is plugged, it really can’t be my default (although I suppose I do some sort of bookmark-manage two-step by managing my bookmarks on a different platform and then using the bookmark sync feature now present on the Mac, but how painful would that be?)…

Gaping hole aside, my initial impression in using it for the past couple days is the same as it has been on the other two platforms: it is simply faster than the other browsers there on the same systems. The browser itself starts quickly, pages just seem to load faster in general, and the JavaScript-heavy Google pages that I use quite frequently (Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, etc.) are more responsive.

My experience with their dev channel on all three platforms has generally been quite good. There have been a couple of their releases there that had big problems, but the catastrophic ones have been quickly fixed. This is the first version on the Mac that has been marginally usable for me for just day-to-day use, now that I can control fonts and sizing, and in summary, I continue to be impressed. Definitely worth at least a preliminary look for those of you on the Mac, and hopefully we won’t have to wait until Easter for that remaining hole to be plugged.

Edit (01/23/2010): As of this morning, their dev channel build 4.0.302.2 on the Mac now has a bookmark manager with at least basic functionality! Woo hoo!

Google Chrome making progress

Google Chrome has pretty much become my browser of choice when forced to use Windows. I’ve been running the dev channel since basically the day they made it available and have only had one instance where it was unstable (basically clicking anything made it crash). I even used it for my demos during presentations last week in Chicago. It’s just faster than Firefox. By far.

I’ve been following with a great deal of interest, then, the Chrome team’s efforts to make it available on other platforms — the ones I really care about — and the things that have held me back so far has been the inability to set the size of the fonts I want it to use and the lack of support for even rudimentary plugins (e.g., Flash). I’m a small fonts (“tiny” would come closer, if you ask a couple of my overly-vocal, highly opinionated co-workers) sort of browser user and using the monstrously-huge fonts it comes preconfigured to use was painful. With each new release on the Intel Mac and Linux platforms, then, the first thing I would check would be whether they had enabled that panel under Options…

And finally today, with 3.0.196.0 on Linux, they have… of course, as is common with dev channel or alpha level software, with this huge leap forward comes a small step backward: the toolbar buttons don’t show until you hover over them, and with each page refresh they disappear again. So it’s a mixed bag, but that’s a big step forward. No joy yet on that same front on the Mac, but I’m guessing it wont be far behind.

And I saw something over the weekend in a couple of blog posts that the plugin support is coming and is far more stable than it has been to date; it’s just not enabled by default.

Edit (08/08/2009): With 3.0.197.12 (released yesterday for the Mac), plugins are now enabled, and it looks like that may be the case on Linux, as well. Now, if I could just set font sizes on Linux, this would likely be my browser of choice. It’s just faster.