Friday, December 24, 2010

First post on the Cr-48

On Wednesday I was surprised to receive a package from UPS with no return address other than UPS. Since I did all my Christmas shopping online this year, at first I thought that maybe I ordered something and forgot about it (it happens)..... and that was sort of true. About a week earlier I had learned about the Google Cr-48 pilot program and I immediately applied. I told Google that I am mainly a Windows developer but that I would use the Cr-48 for everything I could and that I'd let my kid play with it. I guess they thought I was a good candidate to test their new web-only computing paradigm; and I am certainly willing to give it a shot, even though I am accustomed to having a powerful computer in front of me most of the time. If you still don't know what I'm talking about and you want to, click here.

Who cares? Why do people write about unboxing a product? As long as it is reasonably packaged and arrives in good condition it doesn't matter to me. That said, it came in a cool box.... and since it was free I don't feel ripped off for paying for fancy packaging.

I was so excited to check this thing out and brag to my fellow geeks that I posted on Facebook about it using my regular computer at home. For those who don't know me, I rarely do anything on Facebook, I only have an account because everyone else does and sometimes it's the only way to keep up with family news. But anyway, the point is that I instinctively went to my 'regular' computer instead of using the Cr48... it is a hard habit to break since I have my 'regular' computer all set up and customized the way I like it so I can do things fast and with little effort. There is not much customization in Chrome OS (besides the theme) which makes it very simple but only if you like to do things the Chrome way.

The Machine - plain and simple.... nice.
I like the black grippy texture... similar to my ThinkPad. I also like the lack of markings.... of ANY kind (except on the keys of course). No 'Intel inside', no 'Designed for OS whatever', no 'super duper hyper-gizmo enabled', not even an FCC sticker (is that legal? never mind, I found it. It's under the battery) or even a marking of what it is. For all I know it's really a Cr47 and already obsolete. The whole machine is geared toward simplicity from the lack of external connections to the lack of a caps lock and function keys. There are no switches, the power button is the upper-right key. There are no adjustments to be made. There's not even a latch for the lid. Even a caveman could figure this out (no offence to cavemen, I liked the show). Katie (my daughter) took to it in seconds (granted she's a lot smarter than a caveman but still.... pretty cool).

Hardware - hope you like wireless
All wired up and no place to go :-(
Now, I know that Google's main point in this pilot program is to get feedback on Chrome OS (i.e. the software) but even perfect software (which doesn't exist) will be perceived as unusable unless it is running on suitable hardware. Having worked in the wireless industry for over 10 years I have come to learn that if you have the option of using a wire (instead of a radio) ... USE THE WIRE. It is always going to be more reliable, secure, easier to set up and faster compared to wireless (of a similar generation of technology). How many times did you ask 'can you hear me now?' before wireless phones? It drives me nuts that people spend good money buying a wireless keyboard (and batteries) that always sits within a few feet of the computer. Anyway, the point is: there is no Ethernet connection on this thing. You MUST use either Verizon's 3G  or Wi-Fi (it'll do 802.11n) to get connected to the Internet and it is useless without a connection to the Internet (which is the point, I understand this). I do have wi-fi and I can get onto Verizon's 3G network but the speed and reliability would be much better if I could just plug in my Ethernet cable, which is already ready to go, sitting helplessly right next to the Cr48 on my desk. Note: The post was delayed by a couple hours because my wi-fi stopped working at my office and I had a heckuvatime fixing my wireless router. I had to do it using a computer with an Ethernet connection to the router. There's no way I could fix an existing or setup a new router without an Ethernet connection. I understand the simplicity/cost vs. functionality trade-off but IMHO, an Ethernet connection is just too important and not that expensive to be left out of a computer who's sole purpose in life is to connect to the Internet.

More Hardware - hope you don't need any peripherals
Here are the external connections:
  • Power - duh, no nuclear batteries yet, but it is very efficient since it does not do much.
  • External monitor - it does work sort of (Ctl+Full Screen) but I tried it with two different monitors and it behaved differently, with a big monitor, it switched over completely. With a smaller monitor it displayed on both using the resolution of the external monitor. To get it back to normal, disconnect the external monitor and hit Ctl+Full Screen again.
  • Audio out - works fine. Is it a dual audio-out/mic in? I don't know but there is no dedicated mic. in.
  • SD card - I don't have any SD cards to test with and I'm not sure what you'd do with it anyway.
  • One USB port, yep, just one. I use it for my mouse because I think that's all that the OS can really handle, it doesn't do printing or scanning. It can be used to charge your phone but it doesn't seem to do anything if I plug a thumb drive into it. There is a basic interface for files (for when you download from or upload to a website) but it doesn't seem to recognize anything from the USB port
Other stuff
  • Built-in microphone - I've been told I sound like I'm in a tunnel.
  • Webcam - See my test video here.
  • Tracpad - I've read and been told it is very similar to Mac Books. It recognizes two fingers at a time which I've gotten used to with my Android phone.
  • Keyboard - it's a little different, there's no cap locks key, no function keys, no windows or apple key and no delete key (but Alt-Backspace works for delete). It has some other keys instead: Back, Forward, Refresh, Full-screen, Search (which is really new tab), Next window and dedicated brightness and volume keys.... and the power button is a key. So, it looks like Google has hardware-ized some of the buttons in the browser. I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not yet. Since my hand is almost always on the mouse or tracpad anyway, I just use the browser buttons. The Next Window key seems to be not very useful right now but I can see the potential. If you're familiar with having multiple desktops, then you can see the use of the Next Window key. Currently you can only have one desktop which is used by the Chrome browser and (multiple) limited terminal windows  (Ctl+Alt+T) which are not really meant to be used by the average user.
So, this device is not meant to connect to any other device, it is meant to connect you to the Internet, that's it.

Secret stuff
I found a hidden card slot (or maybe SIM card) under the battery. I don't know what it's for but I'm tempted to put something in it. There's also a weird very small hole right next to the power connector. I have no idea what that's for.

Software - Do you use Chrome? Yes? then you already know.
There's a little more to it than that, but not much. When you open a new tab, you will see your bookmarks toolbar (which is automatically synced if you use Chrome elsewhere with a Google account), your installed 'applications', and an icon for the Web Store. The idea is that instead of installing big applications like Microsoft Office onto your computer which takes up hard drive space, uses a lot of memory, needs to be updated periodically and is generally a hassle to maintain, we now use web apps. Web apps are fancy web pages that let you do a whole lot more than just view some static content like documents and pictures. The web is now able to deliver full-blown interactive applications that run right in your browser. You don't need a Cr-48 for this, you can use Chrome or any other browser to experience these things right now like Gmail, Google maps, and all kinds of silly Flash games. Google just feels that the time is right (or getting close) that we can ditch the slow bootup times, viruses, failing hard drives, backup problems, installation hassles etc. and just visit web sites where we are guaranteed to always get the latest and greatest version of an application and have our data stored securely in .... here it comes ......the Cloud. Ooooooo fancy. Not really, the cloud is just servers (computers maintained by professionals that you will never actually see) on the Internet. So, if your data and your applications are all on the Internet, then you don't need an expensive computer to store that stuff. You just need a very cheap computer that's good at one thing.... connecting you to the Internet. That's what the Cr-48 is. This has been tried before and failed. The difference now is that web is better, the Internet is more widely available and Google is behind the effort. These are three distinctions that might just make it fly.

Fit for a kid
When I let Katie play with it, she immediately found You Tube in the new tab page and did a search for Puff the Magic Dragon. From there she found endless videos to keep her happy until bedtime. She has a 'real' computer with a real keyboard and a real monitor in her room. She could just as easily watch Puff there but she prefers the Cr-48. Why? I'm still not sure, but I think it's the speed and simplicity. She doesn't need Dad to login, or launch the browser program. Also, the thing boots in a time-span appropriate to a kid's attention span (about 10 seconds from a cold start, instant from sleeping). Sometimes when we turn on her real computer (which is pretty new), she's bored and leaves the room before we even get the desktop showing.

Although Katie thinks it's hers, I will keep using the Cr-48 for whatever I can find to do with it. I just won't be using it to develop Windows programs, configure my routers, printing, loading camera pictures or anything else that requires a specialized program or a connection to anything other than the Internet. This is an experiment in computing and I'm glad to be a part of it.

1 comment:

Portlandro said...

The cr 48 sounds intriguing, can anything be saved locally to be used if your connection is unavailable?Maybe you need a better wireless router... The airport extreme I'm running has been extremely reliable, and configures wirelessly, I've never had to plug into it.