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3/13/2013 8:11:00 PM
Blog: Google's Chrome - Not your typical flavor of computing (PT. 2)

Chris A. Porter
WNI Digital Media

This is part two of a three-part blog series about Google's Chromebook and Chrome OS.

<< Click here to read part one.

Click here to read part three. >>

Chrome for the cost of a thumb drive?

In part one, I spotlighted Google's Chrome OS and its flashy new Samsung Chromebook hardware. In this segment, I wanted to try out the Chrome OS/Chromium experience for myself and see how it fared on my own device. I researched installing the operating system and got a plethora of good advice online.

I found step-by-step instructions for turning a standard netbook into, for all intents and purposes, a Chromebook using just a USB thumb drive. Please note: trying to recoup all of your thumb drive's space after a botched install can be a bit tricky. Do so at your own risk.

I downloaded the latest Chromium OS image, unpacked it, and created a bootable image on my thumb drive (one of several I have laying around - yes, I'm a geek) for use with a two-year-old Acer Aspire One netbook I have. I chose it because it is also an entry-level, low-cost model like the Chromebook, it retailed in the same price point ($250.00) when purchased two years ago and it meets all the compatibility requirements to run Google's OS.

DIY Chromebook: A viable alternative?

I began the project with a new instance of Windows 7 on the Acer's internal 160 GB hard drive as a backup in case the Chromium install on the thumb drive failed. I set the netbook's BIOS to boot from the USB thumb drive before booting the hard drive, and waited.

In just a few minutes, success! Just as advertised, Chromium seems to fully boot up much quicker compared to the Windows 7 install on the same machine! Not bad, Google.

Thus, with very little effort I am able to fully experience Chrome OS using my DIY Chromebook, so this would seem a very viable alternative for consumers not quite ready to commit to the added expense of a new piece of hardware.

Acer & Chromebook specs: Side-by-side comparison:

  Samsung Chromebook Acer Aspire One
Width/Weight: 0.7-inches/2.5 lbs. 1 Inch/2.6 lbs.
Processor: Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Intel Atom N550 dual core
RAM: 2 GB 1 GB
Disk Space: internal 16 GB SSD + 100 GB Google Drive = 116 GB internal 160 GB SATA HD (5400 RPM) + 8 GB thumb drive = 168 GB
Screen Size/Resolution: 12.1-inches/1280x800 10.1-inches/1024x600
Physical Ports: 2 USB (1 x 3.0, 1 x 2.0), HDMI output, SD card reader, headphone/mic jack 3 USB (2.0), ethernet port (RJ45), VGA monitor output, SD card reader, headphone jack, mic jack
Wireless Networking: Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11, bluetooth 3.0 Wi-Fi 802.11, bluetooth 2.0
Camera: Onboard VGA Onboard VGA

DIY Chromebook: Key issues and notations

Right away I noticed that the Acer's touchpad doesn't work running Chromium. This is a shame because the Samsung Chromebook's multi-touch pad response within the Chrome OS is quite excellent, on par with even the newest Macbooks. This problem could boil down to a simple driver fix, but it is an initial concern for a supposed 'complete' OS. I have corrected this by plugging in a USB mouse. The rest of the hardware, including the camera, seem to function properly.

The rest of what could be described as 'problems' with Chromium are little more than nagging bugs that should be addressed in future releases, one being the lack of Adobe Flash support. I found this a strange decision as the standalone Chrome browser displays Flash problem-free when running over either Windows or Mac OSX.

Responsiveness can be quite sluggish at certain times, especially when wireless signal is weak or when using apps through the Chrome web store. The UI itself has some weird quirks, such as no drag-and-drop reordering of web applications in the apps window and too much white space around your contents when using your Google Drive window.

Though not yet perfected, overall Chrome OS is a functional, but very bare-bones desktop experience that seems to shine when completing basic computing tasks. However, If you want a true mobile workstation capable of better utilizing today's fast-paced lifestyles and wireless networks, you might not want not want to jump into a Chromebook just yet. I'll explain further below.

Chrome OS/Chromium: General Limitations

As noted previously, Chromium/Chrome OS does have its glaring dependencies. Everything is leveraged upon a web browser platform, thus, applications are primarily web-based and specifically built for use with cloud computing. Much like smartphones and tablets, the lack of a physical ethernet connection on the entry level Chromebook puts it clearly in the category of mobile device rather than standalone computer. Use in areas with limited wireless access will drastically reduce performance and functionality, just like other mobile devices. However, some of the higher-end Chromebook models do include physical ethernet ports, so that's an additional option.

This is an operating system primarily for the cloud-intensive, mobile user demographic. The available apps are useful and plentiful, but they require a constant internet connection. Users become locked into Google's services as well as getting apps from their Chrome web store, once again reinforcing the limitations of a mobile device. This will probably be a dealbreaker for individuals that aren't totally reliant on internet and are used to standalone applications to complete day-to-day tasks.

Chrome OS/Chromium: Positives

Chromium does look good on the Acer's crisp, bright albeit small screen. However, that extra couple of inches in screen size on the Samsung Chromebook is going to make a big difference for some users. The Acer's colors are vibrant, and the texts are sharp. Useability is adequate to good. Chromium's desktop is simple to navigate almost to a fault. Like its Windows and Mac counterparts, it utilizes a simple taskbar at the bottom to pin frequently used apps to and includes basic utilities like a clock, battery meter, settings tab, applications and start button.

The Chrome browser does many things well, from displaying web pages to launching applications. Google has reengineered Chrome OS/Chromium's browser to allow additional functionality beyond just surfing the web and it seems to work quite well!

In part three, I will sum up my experience and posit a verdict. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, and as always, your thoughts are very much appreciated.

<< Click here to read part one. | Click here to read part three. >>

Related Stories:
• Blog: Google's Chrome - Not your typical flavor of computing (PT. 1)

Related Links:
• Chromebook Website
• Lifehacker: How To Turn Your Netbook Into a Chromebook with Chromium OS
• Blog: Google Chrome - New kid in the browser world

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Article comment by: Christopher A. Porter

Hi Paul, thanks for your feedback.
Cloud computing is just an evolution of everyday user behavior, only most of the data being accessed is colocated rather than stored on a physical drive on your computer.
Whether you do your banking online or use social media, the only truly tried-and-tested way to keep your stuff from the prying eyes of the internet is still to keep it offline altogether.
If privacy is a major issue to you, make sure you always read the EULA (End-User License Agreement) carefully before signing up with any online service so you know exactly how the parent company can use your data and any legal recourse you may have in case you feel they have violated your privacy.
That said, security is always a priority for big data companies like Google. Many tend to use SSL (Secure Socket Layer) for server authentications to provide secure user sessions. Others will use different types of encryption. These methods will never make servers completely hack-proof, but the tech has been vastly improved from even ten years ago.
Awareness is always the #1 key for users to keep their data safe. Using trusted sites, creating complex, unique passwords and making sure you backup your data on a regular basis are all good practices to ensure your data remains in your hands only.
Hope that helps.

Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Article comment by: PAUL NAULT

I am very wary when it comes to cloud-based processing/storage and when it comes to big data being used to direct my websearches or track my places visited. In a better, more trusting world, I could feel more comfortable with cloud-based endeavors. Any feedback to make me feel more trusting and comfortable with the use of data transmitted and security from hacks?

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