Thursday, November 27, 2014

Introduction to Chromebooks (and Chromeboxes)

I'm going to cover "Chromebooks" (and the related Chromeboxes) on this blog entry, to provide information on whether purchasing a Chromebook could be right for you. There is no better time than now: Until the 5th of January, any new purchase of a Chromebook or Chromebox has an offer of 1 terabyte of Google Drive space free for two years.

The ASUS Chromebox model I bought for $180 is now available in specials below $120. My Chromebook is a Lenovo (the brand that bought the PC side of IBM), whom say that they will produce a Chromebook with a Chinese CPU for around $100 USD. It's very possible to take advantage of the Drive offer without spending much at all.

If you are able to do your computer tasks from within a web browser, you are exactly suited for a Chromebook. Especially since Google Drive provides an ability to do compose documents in a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, or as a presentation. Chromebooks are most-heavily utilized in the education sector, with each student in some districts issued a managed Chromebook.

As Systems Administrator for Western New Mexico Communications, I am able to easily accomplish more than 90% of my tasks with the Chrome OS. I can remote into my Windows 7 system for the occasional program I need to run from that environment, but my Chromebook is even able to pull up a "Secure Shell" console session on our core router unassisted. No external programs can be installed (so the Chrome OS also avoids computer viruses and "malware" as well), only Chrome "extensions" from the "Web Store" (currently there are thousands of "apps" available, more than Android apps in the Google "Play Store".

How do you know when it is a good product? When competitors like Microsoft jump in the market with Windows RT, and offer Office 365 access free for a year. Chromebooks have a community of volunteers to provide assistance (I am one of them). Issues that are deeper still have access to a Chromebook "agent" that will typically call YOU within minutes of opening a case. Setup and the possible "powerwash" (which reverts the Chromebook to factory settings in less than a minute) are easily accomplished.

Since the Chrome OS is so optimized for its minimalist approach, it boots up in seconds (a video I made below shows the process completing in less than 20 seconds, outside of me typing my password to log in). The system can be locked with a single keystroke. A second display can be connected to display another desktop (even to an HDTV of the last several years, with an HDMI interface), Chromeboxes are designed to run dual displays, in any orientation, straight out of the box.

However, any device operating from that native Internet connectivity depends on it. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes can do some tasks without being online (Google Drive can be set in an "offline" mode), but if the Internet connection is down it will be an impact. My Chromebook (as most models) only has wireless capability, the Chromebox has an Ethernet connection in addition to wireless. The Chrome OS has most items you would expect in a mini-laptop: USB, webcam, internal speakers and microphone. Although a Chromebox is just the main system without peripherals, common devices of mice and keyboards, headsets, and USB webcams are recognized.

My Chromebook booting up in 20 seconds

Both of my Chrome OS systems are based on an Intel Celeron - the Chromebook has a 1.83GHz CPU (with four cores), and 4Gb of RAM, but my Chromebox runs well even at 1.4GHz (two cores) and 2Gb of RAM (ASUS has other models that increase the RAM to 4Gb, and with i3 and i5 CPUs, and able to run new "4K" displays). Any other modern operating system wouldn't run well at those levels, but the Chrome OS does.

Ask any questions you have in the comments, and I will try to answer everything...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Software Settings: Launch a website as an app from a Chromebook

I'm preempting my 7.1 audio channel construction to provide my first blog post about software rather than hardware. Well, it is about hardware in one particular way, in that I will be showing a feature that can be set up on a "Chromebook" or "Chromebox", a minimalistic computer system running Google's "Chrome OS" (Operating System). Chrome OS is a scenario that your Chrome web browser is the operating system of the computer. It connects you online, to "the Cloud" (like Google Drive and web-based applications) to do your work.

It's important to note, that even though Windows has a "Chrome App Launcher" that can be installed, the following procedure cannot be initiated on a Windows-based computer in the manner I am showing. The website "app" shortcut you create on your Chromebook / Chromebox will be synced to your Chrome App Launcher in Windows, but you can't do this procedure unless you have a device running Chrome OS. This topic also debuts the video recording I am doing on my Chrome OS systems, to be profiled in a later topic on its own.

I will now go into the convention of saying "Chromebook" (being the more known device running Chrome OS) when the same steps can also be done on a "Chromebox" (a Chromebook is a laptop/tablet running Chrome OS, a Chromebox is less portable, and needs display(s), keyboard, and mouse connected to make the complete equivalent basic system). On a Chromebook, certain features (deemed "experimental", or that could be possibly changed or withdrawn later) are activated by "flags", a software selection that you want to enable that feature or function. In a Chrome tab on your Chromebook, go to the internal address "chrome://flags/#enable-streamlined-hosted-apps" and click on the word "Enable". Re-start your Chromebook completely. Now when you are on a website that you want to create an "app" shortcut in the App Launcher, click on the "hamburger" or "hotdog" (the three short horizontal lines in the upper-right corner of Chrome to access the menu items) and select the heading "More tools". A sub-menu becomes visible, and you would select "Add a shortcut to this website...". In the dialog that appears, click on the "Add" button after you have shortened or chosen a name that is descriptive for that icon in the App Launcher.

If you have enabled "Voice Search" on your Chromebook (meaning that you can speak commands after saying "Ok Google" in a search window or the App Launcher), the "app" (website link) can be launched by voice. As an example, I navigated to the live streaming page of the IT Pro TV website ("itpro.tv/live"), and added the "app" shortcut named "IT Pro TV". When I say (shown in the video) "Ok Google, IT Pro TV" it launches the website in its own window. That seemed to be a more-productive example, but I did also add an "app" for Facebook in the same way. If you have any questions or comments about this process, please post them below.

 The Chrome OS App Launcher

Setting the flag to enable an "app" website shortcut

video
Video demonstration of launching a website link "app" by voice command