Category Archives: Technology

New Chromebooks

More new Chromebooks are trickling out. This week, HP announced their new ARM-based Chromebook (uses the same processor as the Samsung XE303, introduced a year ago), but more interesting, I believe, is the first formal announcement of an Intel Haswell-based system (a modified version, with less cache and lower speed, so it doesn’t carry the Haswell branding), the Acer C720. This system should have performance equivalent to standard Celeron-based Chromebooks (i.e. a bit better than the HP) and phenomenal battery life (in the 8-9 hour range). It also has 4GB of RAM, which makes a significant difference in Chrome OS performance. Rumors are that new Chromebox announcements are right around the corner as well.

As always, you need to understand what a Chrome OS device is and is not in determining if it’s right for you. It does not run Windows. You cannot install Windows programs on it. It does not run Mac OS X. It runs a variant of Linux, but you do not have administrative rights and can only install software from the Chrome Web Store, or run web-enabled applications from a hosted site. However, if you live your technology life in the cloud, and in particular if you have embraced the Google ecosystem, it’s an amazing device. Cheap, simple, foolproof.

Google will now sign HIPAA BAA for Google Apps…

A very significant development that I’d missed. Last month, Google announced that they would sign HIPAA Business Associate Agreements (BAA) for Google Apps. This is a significant sign of maturation in the cloud, and was important competitively for Google, since Microsoft will do the same for Office 365. As the HIPAA Security Officer for UNCG (a Google-adopting school) this is potentially a very big thing. We, like many universities, are a HIPAA Hybrid Entity (parts of the institution are subject to HIPAA and parts are not). We have HIPAA responsibilities in some of our clinics as well as our Student Health area. I’ve not looked at the BAA so I can’t speak to the terms, but this is quite interesting.

Adding memory to the Acer C710-2833 Chromebook

I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the memory on my Acer Chromebook. Ostensibly it’s up-gradable per the Acer website, tho each system ships with a “you void the warranty if you remove this” sticker over the single screw that closes the case on the Acer. The system has two SODIMM slots but only one is populated. I’ve been quite happy with the 2GB C710-2833 with vRAM configured, but it did suffer from lags repainting the screen when switching from tab to tab. On compatibility recommendation from Chromebook Central, I bought a “Kingston Value RAM 4GB 1600MHz PC3-12800 DDR3 Non-ECC CL11 SODIMM SR x8 Notebook Memory (KVR16S11S8/4)” from Amazon for $38.99. I put it in the open slot and Chrome OS was quite happy with 6GB total (the new 4GB stick plus the OEM 2GB stick). I did turn on vRAM at 3GB, but it’s not been used so far. I’m showing 2.5GB free, with 15 tabs open (plus the Weatherbug, Google Keep and Files apps), with the system up for over a day (per “top”). A very good upgrade! With the original $187 cost of the C710-2833, this takes it to $226 for the system as it’s configured today…not bad for what it does for me!

Have mobiles (phones/tablets) entered their “stable” phase?

Perusing the tech news this morning, I came upon a very cogent article from Wired on the current state of the smartphone technology space and marketplace. I think this crystalizes a number of things that I’ve been observing and thinking. I’ve still got my 2010 original iPad. It is beginning to have a harder time running today’s software, but getting a new one is simply having a better tool that works in the same way. I can still do a lot of productive things with my iPad that I could not do before, such as as grading papers for my class using PDF markup, which is a great use case for a tablet. I’ll eventually get a new one, but not yet. My iPhone 4S is not the sleekest or fanciest phone around, but it does run the new iOS 7, giving it new life. There’s nothing radical in iOS 7, but it continues to make the iPhone experience very satisfying. I’d like a new phone, but I think I can stretch it for another year, plus I just got a nice, new waterproof case that won’t work with the new form device form factor. There are nice Android-based tablets and phones out there, but what’s the difference, other than slightly different ways of doing the same things, plus variations in screen sizes and a few interfaces?

That’s where we are now, incremental evolution, and “me too.” I think that this is the reason for the buildup and subsequent denouement when Apple didn’t introduce “one more thing” that was truly revolutionary. Folks want to think that there is some new paradigm waiting to be exposed, when in many respects, I think that the next paradigm changes will be in business models, particular in entertainment content, as we leverage our existing tools (or incremental innovations in those tools). We’ve reached a plateau in mobile that reminds me of the PC marketplace once the basic design, form factor and software stack had been determined in the early 1990’s (Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, with the subsequent wave of application software innovation that built upon that foundation).

I think that is one reason that I’m excited about Chrome OS. It’s not that it’s new amazing hardware, it’s that Chrome OS is a new (old, back to terminals 😉 ?) way of looking at things. It challenges business models, but it’s not about hardware innovation. It may be another 10 years (or more) before we see another industry-shaping, game changing product like the iPod or iPhone. Or, it may be happening now with 3D printing and we just don’t quite know it, and 3D printing hasn’t yet had its “iPhone moment.”

Bluetooth now enabled on Acer C7 Chromebook

The Acer C7 Chromebook is a really nice, simple computing device and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. One thing that was a bit aggravating was that it didn’t support Bluetooth, whereas other Chromebooks like the Samsung ARM did support it. It was rumored to be a software issue, and sure enough, with the latest beta (30.0.1599.30) Bluetooth is enabled! I’ve successfully paired it with a mouse and a speaker and it works quite well. However, this update seems to have broken the Citrix Receiver app. Oh well, easy come, easy go 😉

Now looking forward to the next update and a fix for the Citrix Receiver!

More on the Acer C710 Chromebook

I’ve had my Acer c710-2833 Chromebook (I wrote about my initial thoughts earlier) for a couple weeks now…one week on vacation, and now one week of using it at work. I am quite pleased with it, and have a hard time believing that it was such a deal! I’ve used the VGA-out for presentations, experimented with the HDMI-out (works fine!), done a number of Hangouts with my colleagues, and generally used it extensively. I spent all day today working from home, sitting on the front porch using the Acer 710. It ran like a champ. Multiple tabs, Citrix session to the office, Google talk phone calls, Hangouts, etc. I find that the Intel-based Acer does a much better job of memory management than the ARM-based Samsung; there are some memory leaks in the ARM-target code. I like the glossy screen, they keyboard has a good feel, and it’s generally a great platform. I’ve even been pleased with the battery life, though it is less than the Samsung ARM Chromebook.

At the same time, Jan is enjoying the Samsung Chromebook, which I’ve passed to her. She’s quite a bit less demanding on it, and it’s serving her very well. As my readers know, I’m quite high on ChromeOS, and I’d recommend that anyone looking at an entry-level Chromebook look at the Acer C710-2833.

More on Chromecast, changing networks, etc…

One thing that wasn’t obvious from reading the Chromecast documentation is what happens when you change networks. It’s actually pretty simple, if it can’t find the configured network, it just goes into network discovery mode. What I don’t know yet is whether it can remember networks so that you don’t have to reconfigure when taking it between “known” places. One thing is that it seems to be finicky about being powered from a USB port on a TV. My LG TV at home has a regular (not “service”) port for viewing media, but that port would not power the Chromecast. I had to plug in the adapter. Not sure what the precise requirements are for power. However, it worked just fine once I got it powered up. Again, an interesting device (particularly for the net $15 after the Netflix credit!) and handy for Chrome tab casting, but I’m still not sure whether this will take any sales from Apple TV or Roku. I’m just not convinced yet…

First thoughts on Chromecast

As I wrote on 7/25, I ordered a Google Chromecast to try Google’s newest foray into connecting the laptop/handheld screen with the TV screen. I’ve had a bit of time to try it, and it’s an interesting option, but I’m not sure it’s the “game changer” that some pundits have said. What is it? It looks like a fat USB memory stick that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV. It requires power either from a specialized HDMI port, or from a USB connection (or AC adapter). It runs ChromeOS but has a very simplistic UI. You can configure it from a Chromebook (I used my new Acer) or from a desktop/laptop running the Chrome browser, or from Android (iOS setup app coming).

It has two modes of operation:

  1. a few apps/websites can be “connected” directly to the Chromecast and run without your computer; today, it’s Netflix and Youtube, but the promise is more to come. Your phone/tablet is merely the remote.
  2. “casting” the screen/tab from a Chrome browser extension

The second is currently much more flexible in the content you can “cast.”

So why am I ambivalent? I think that while it’s intriguing, it’s still more interesting to geeks than boxes like an Apple TV or a Roku, both of which have much more functionality. However, today, I’ve got more seamless options for putting Netflix, Youtube and more on the TV screen. I’m glad I bought it, since with my Netflix credit (no longer available), it only cost about $15 including shipping. However, right now it’s more a curiosity. I may use it when I want to project wirelessly from my Chromebook, but that requires a configuration on the WiFi network to allow peer communication, something many enterprises disallow. Interesting, yes…killer product? No, the Chromebook/Chromebox itself is a much more compelling expression of ChromeOS.

New Acer Chromebook

I’ve really enjoyed my Samsung ARM Chromebook (XE303C12). I bought it in November 2012 for what was then the unheard-of price of $249, and have used it almost daily since then. Unlike some, I’ve experienced no hardware reliability issues, despite carrying it to work, and schlepping it around campus. Jan and I have a pair of old 1st gen iPads, and web surfing on those is increasingly problematic, but for email and reading, it’s still just fine. So, a solution…buy another Chromebook so I can have one and Jan can have one. So, I found a sale at Newegg on the Acer C710-2833, which has some things I like and some I’d prefer to be different, but it’s at a great price point…$187, shipped! It has a VGA out, Ethernet port, but the battery life is about 2/3 of the Samsung (but the battery is replaceable), and about 1/2 pound heavier. I’ll probably need to start carrying my charger to work, but I’ll appreciate the VGA out. Supposedly, it’s upgradeable to 4GB of RAM, and even more per postings on Chromebook Central. May have to watch for a sale on memory.

Anyway, it arrived today. Seems to be a well-built little computer, and like its Samsung brethren, will do virtually all of what I need to do.

Try Chrome OS, you’ll like it…

Google Chromecast…

Google is trying to get into the “device to large screen” streaming space and has just announced (on 7/24) the Chromecast. It’s a small HDMI widget for your TV (tho it apparently requires a power connector). It runs Chrome OS, it has some streaming apps (like Netflix) but the main draw is the ability to cast a stream from a Chrome browser tab (like AirPlay) from a device to the Chromecast via WiFi. That feature works with PC/Mac Chrome, Android, iOS, and Chrome OS (tho limited to the Pixel currently). So, one can apparently send any content in a browser tab to the Chromecast. Initial reviews have been positive, and with a $35 price point, it’s selling fast. First orders came with a 3 month Netflix credit (worth $24 of the $35, for new or existing customers). That’s been withdrawn now (“supplies were limited”) but since I ordered mine on the 24th, I think I get the credit. Should be an interesting addition to the set of streaming solutions, but I think it’s still very much a work in progress. I’ve already got 2 AppleTV’s and 2 Roku’s; we’ll see where the Chromecast fits in. I’ll report here when I get mine and have a chance to try it…should ship by 8/7, says the Play store.