Thursday, May 10, 2012


Chrome OS and Chromebook: What a difference some months make



I posted back in November about the challenges and satisfactions of using my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook up at Bottle Cove in Newfoundland where I only had wireless access at the local library. There was a keynote to write quite urgently in collaboration with Michele, and it got tricky at times keeping the car warm amidst the falling snow whilst picking up the library's wireless signal from the car park after hours. Working out how to move between offline writing with the then very limited apps options available to working online in google docs presented a challenge, but the fun of finding the work arounds reminded me of some of what I most enjoy about computing: finding fixes and keeping things going.

Back then, and earlier, most of the reviews about Chromebooks were, at best, hedged, and in many cases sermons on how Google (and Samsung and Acer, the companies manufacturing Chromebooks) had erred. Gloom was predicted for sales and prospects. It was rare indeed to find anyone -- except the occasional person commenting on articles or blog posts -- expressing anything like the sense of 'this is fun and I reckon it's pretty cool and where I reckon things are going' that I was experiencing.

So now we are in May 2012. Six months on. I cannot believe the growth in the Os and how much easier it is to do the things I want to do -- let alone *need* to do -- on my Chromebook. Apps have multiplied enormously, it is true. But more importantly for me, Google now has Google Drive up and running, and the OS is smooth, fast, expansive, and friendly.

I'm in Mexico City airport en route for a week of teaching in Canada -- in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. And I have waived my netbook and laptop in confidence that there is nothing I won't be able to do, that I need to do, on the Chromebook. My movies are loaded onto the SD card, and there will be ample wifi along the way.

But there is way more than this. In the recent edition of our New Literacies book we wrote about using the Google suite in our university teaching. That was based on work we had done til mid 2011. We mainly wrote about using google docs, google sites, scholar google, and google books. But now, with Google Plus, Drive, and Hangouts it is straightforward to video conference with up to 9 people on cam and as many more as you want on chat. Google Drive gives plenty of Cloud space, and if you get strapped you can buy more. And multiple accounts gives more still. And when more if needed, the cost conscious can drop presentations on slideshare and tap into Windows Skydrive, Amazon Cloud, Dropbox.

This is a vastly expanded range of options from what was on my horizon back in November. At this point I am not even thinking of next November. And I continue to rejoice in the fact that we are able to avoid completely those awful university 'learning management systems' -- you know the ones ... -- and just run with something that works fast and seamlessly and lightly.

A final word on the Chrome OS. With a Chromebook the security is taken care of. When you log on the platform automatically checks against your being compromised (well, at least, outside the pound of flesh you render to Google in return for the resources, but I am fine with that). None of that invasive (albeit prudent to have) invasive clunk of McAfee or Norton. And ditto with the OS upgrades. Seamless and invisible. None of that "please don't disconnect or turn off your power source while 15 upgrade items will come down the pipe over the next 15 minutes. Yes, we know your flight has been called, but please be patient. If the overhead bins are full you'll just have to cramp your feet up a bit under the seat in front of you".

So, last night I looked in on Amazon to see how the Samsung Chromebook was doing. Back in mid 2011 the pundits were going for the Acer version over the Samsung (although user comments often varied). It doubtless helps things a bit that Amazon has the Samsung Series 5 available for $299. That's a $50 saving, and I am guessing that there has to be some subsidising going on somewhere. The machine is beautifully built and a joy to use (having got used to the touchpad now and knowing to keep my digits away from it). But as of last night, the Samsung Chromebook was at number 30 on Amazon's top 100 computing and electronic items, and at number 6 on 'laptops' -- which it isn't. Many of the spaces above the Samsung were taken by tablets of one kind or another. (The Acer Chromebook was as number 139 overall and at 38 in 'laptops' -- which it isn't).

I sense a turning tide, and it's nice to have been surfing it for a while. The potential for educational uptake is enormous. The reality, however, may differ a bit for a while. That mindset thing. In two of the three schools we'll be working in on this trip there is not even wireless access. It's a crime.

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