Try it yourself


If you’re like me, you probably hear and read a lot about this.  “Chromebooks aren’t real computers”.

I always like to challenge back with a why?

The answers are typical – it doesn’t run Photoshop.  Or, I’m not always connected to the Internet.

So, I’ll add a reply to that – “When was the last time you used Photoshop?”  “Did you buy your current computer just because of Photoshop?” “If you could install a program on your Chromebook and could run it offline, would that change your perspective?”

Now, the misconception of a Chromebook’s capabilities undoubtedly stem back to the beginning when it really was a browser in a box needing an Internet connection.  It’s just that it’s come a long way since then but the Internet never forgets.  Neither do some of the silly people who still maintain that it’s just a browser.

In fact, the whole concept like the Chrome browser and Chromebook has come so far.  And, you’re not limited to just that; modern Chromebooks run Android and some are experimenting with Linux.

And yes, it’s not the product of universal choice in schools.  I’d be up in arms if someone indicated that a Computer Science or Drafting or Visual Arts program would be equally as served.  But, there are so many other areas where the Chromebook does a terrific job.

So terrific, in fact, that we’re now seeing that Microsoft is developing a version of Windows to put computers at the same price point.  That’s going to be interesting.

In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to get yourself up to speed.  To that end, you should check out the Chromebook Simulator in your current system.

chromebook

Even if you are a Chromebook user, there’s always something new to learn.  Maybe a little time in the simulator will change the opinions of some or make others more sophisticated users!

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Make your own


I’ve been doing a bit of tweaking of the way my browser looks recently and sharing them here on this blog. In the past, I’ve played around with Google offered themes and the Chinese Zodiac ones.

Yesterday, I had the laptop out on the patio enjoying the warm spring (finally) weather and decided to create my own. That’s where I learned about the Chrome Theme Creator.

At 1.1 million themes already created at this site, I was definitely late to this party!

As a visitor, there are two options.

One is to download someone else’s work and install it as the theme for your browser. You can find something that comes close and then look to related themes or use the hashtags for each theme to find similarly tagged themes.

The second is to create your own. And, with the onscreen editor, it’s simple.

Just work your way through the four steps and you too can be a designer.

Now, I supposed if you were artistically inclined, it would be easy. For people who are challenged in this area like me, it sounds easier than it is. It’s not that it’s not easy to do – it actually is. It’s just finding colours that work well together.

A colourful post


One of my favourite features of a web browser is the ability to customize it. After all, we’re running it on a personal computer; why not personalize it?

Of course, there’s the ability to add extensions or add-ons to the browser but there’s also the ability to change the colours. I’ve always done that; typically right out of a fresh installation, the tabs and other features are white. I like the ability to change the theme and the colour in the process to make it “mine”.

The downside and something to be aware of is that you can end up taking resources away from your computer so judicial use is always suggested. But, when Google actually does it and not just supports it, you have to believe that the feature would be optimized.

Now, I don’t particularly care if there’s a background image in my browser since I seldom look at a new tab screen for long anyway. But, colours? That’s another story.

From the Google Chrome developers comes a collection of colours that you can install and change you look very quickly.

Off I went like a kid in a candy store. There were a couple of green options, but you’ll notice from the highlight that I’ve settle on “Just Black”. My browser now has got a nice look to it and when I hover over a link on a page the destination is easily readable in white on black at the bottom of the screen.

For me, it’s a keeper.

But, hey, you might want to consider a Rose – at least for today.

The Browser I’ve Always Wanted To Use


On my computer, I’ve always kept the latest copy of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Chromium, Safari, and Opera – depending upon the computer.  It’s not nearly as important now but years ago, it really was important to test your webpages on different browsers as they can render things differently.  There’s nothing I find more frustrating than visiting a site and it just doesn’t look right or you’ve done something that limits things.  Remember messages like “Sorry, this page ony runs on Internet Explorer”.

I always am intrigued by web studies showing where the current popular web browser is.  Only a fool would take a look at one set of stats and make complete decisions based on that.  Rather, they’re just a snapshot in time.  It’s always been interesting to see the fall and decline of Internet Explorer, the rise of Firefox and Chrome.  Always taking a small slice of the pie has been Opera.  And yet, it’s always intrigued me so I keep it installed.  Unlike other browsers where I load up on extensions, I keep Opera basically free of them.  That way, if I run into something that looks badly on one browser, I could flip to Opera and test it unfettered by third party authors.

There has always been a lot of things to like about Opera; it’s very quick to load, always seems to be rated highly in security testing, Scandinavian in design (who doesn’t like good things with Scandinavian heritage), and I’ve never had it crash on me.  Like Firefox, the latest version allows you to search from the address bar as well as having an area to specify a search engine.

I’ll typically have the default search enging set to use Google and the second one to use Yahoo!  It allows me to to do two searches without a great deal of effort.  Opera has also had some unique features like Turbo Mode and Speed Dial which you don’t find by default on other browsers.  All in all, it’s a solid performer and yet I’ve never made it my default browser.  It’s a question I really can’t answer except that, I guess, I like the additional functionality that extensions to Firefox and Chrome provide.

This week, there was exciting news from Opera.  They’ve released their next version – Opera Next.  Word had been trickly down that Opera was going to be re-written, abandoning its Presto web engine in favour of Blink.  So, you know me – I had to give it a shot.

With the switch in engines, it came as no surprise that Opera Next looked like Chromium or Chrome right out of the box.  I started to poke around to see what was what.

Right off the bat, there were a couple of things that had me scratching.  I’m a big user of pinned tabs.  At present, there doesn’t seem to be a way to pin a tab in Opera Next.  The other gotcha was the X to close a tab.  It’s on the other side of the tab.  As a long time Chrome user, old habits die hard!  Got to suck it up here.  That certainly can’t be a show stopper!

Opera Next is snappy and was a pleasure to work with.  Now, it comes time to deck it out.  Can I customize it?  I went to the Chrome store and many of the extension were expecting to install themselves into Chrome.  That’s fair enough; I don’t know why but I thought that they would just transport across the platforms.  But I did poke around and from the Opera Menu, there’s an option to install extensions.  Opera is developing its own store for extensions so a trip there was in order.  There’s some of my go-tos there.  I install Web of Trust, Evernote, Feedly, LastPass, Ghostery, and Ad Block Plus.  That’s about it – no blogging tool at present – I was hoping to see Scribefire.

While there, I notice that there’s an option to change themes.  I visited the Opera Next theme site and there are a few ways to dress up your browser desktop.  I looked at a couple – nothing green!

Desktop real estate is important to me.  In my browser, I’ll also downsize the font a couple of steps.  I’m not a fan of Full Screen Mode all the time so the less that the browser uses, the more room there is for me to read.

I stacked Chrome, Opera Next, and Firefox together and you can see that Chrome maximizes the screen real estate nicely.  Notice how it places the tabs on the same row as the exit, minimize, and maximize buttons.  That’s a really good way to avoid dead space.  I’d really like to see Opera Next and Firefox follow suit.

Regular browsing functionality was there.  I was surprised that Opera Mail was not included.  Perhaps it’s just because it’s early in development?  I guess time will tell.

There are two features unique to Opera Next that I spent a bunch of time playing with.  One is called “Stash” and the other “Discover”.  I’m excited about both.

Discover finds news stories for you just by selection.  I changed the setting to Canada and then back to Global.  It seems to have more interesting reads for me at the moment.  I’m just not interested in Toronto’s Mayor or a certain Senator.

That’s a really nice feature.  It reminds me of Rockmelt for Web.  It’s based on the premise that there should always be something new and interesting to read when you open your browser.

The second feature, Stash, I think is best described as temporary bookmarks.  A regular bookmark is permanent.  With Stash, if you’re browsing the web looking for stories, click the little heart icon to stash them away for later retrieval.

Don’t get caught up on the actual stories I’ve stashed above – I just stashed three pages for this post.  I can see myself using this quite a bit, particulary in conjunction with Discover.  As I scan news stories, I can Stash them and then later on take some time to read them fully.  I see a boost in productivity coming here.

I haven’t even talked about cottonTracks.  This could turn out to be a big change for me.

My first kick at Opera Next was very positive.  For the Chrome or Chromium user, there’s very little new learning to take on and yet, the potential for better productivity certainly is there.  I really did enjoy it; the limiting factor is the number of extensions that are currently available.  That will get better with time and Opera has promised regular updates over the next while.  I’m looking forward to seeing this product evolve.

So Smooooooth


There’s so much about Google Chrome that I like and it’s been my main browser for quite a while now.  There was one annoyance that happened when I sat at my desk, using a full keyboard and a scroll mouse.  The scroll action to the mouse just didn’t always seem right.

It seemed slow and jaggy at times.

But no more.  I read about and installed the Chromium Smooth Wheel Scroller.  There is a smooth scrolling option available if you’re brave enough to ignore the warnings and go to chrome://flags/ and experiment.  Sadly, as of the current release, it’s not available for the Macintosh.  However, this extension has you covered and more

Install the extension and then right click to head to the configuration options.

Scroller

 

Then, quite frankly, it’s just a matter of adjusting the sliders until the scroll wheel does what you need.

The cool thing about Chrome is that you install the extension in one installation and, with synching turned on, it appears on them all.  So, I installed it under Linux where I use the scroll wheel and shortly thereafter, it appeared on my Macintosh.  I had spent some time configuring it under Linux and got it just right.  Fire up the Mac and Whoa!  It takes a little while since the trackpad has a different level of sensitivity so it was back to the sliders to get it just right there.

It was worth the time and effort.  Scrolling is even smoother on all the machines now.  It’s so nice.  There are other little niceties like having the screen bounce when you reach the bottom like iOS.

All in all, I just have to recommend this extension if you’re looking to customize your scrolling experience.  Be prepared to spend a little time adjusting it until it feels just right.  Once you get the knack of it, hide the button and never look back.

 

Testing Chrome Remote Desktop


I love it when “Dancing with the Stars” comes on.  It means that I can retreat to the Peterson experimental lab for at least an hour of uninterrupted messing about.  Last night, I messed about with Chrome Remote Desktop Beta.  This extension appeared over the weekend and I’ve been chomping at the bit to play around with it.  It needs the ability to have a couple of computers up and connected to a network and the ability to see a couple of screens at once.  So, the lab was hard at it where from the experimental chair I had my netbook running Ubuntu and my Windows 7 machine ready with Chrome loaded and the extension running.  My Macbook Pro wasn’t part of the serious testing or the blogging because it crashed again on me so was in my computer doghouse.

Ontario Educators have the luxury of the Ministry licensed NetSupport School application that can be installed on any school computer network.  It has some terrific features like the ability to power on/ power off entire clusters of computers, monitor computer screens, have a student screen displayed by the teacher on a data projector for the class to see, lock down any websites you don’t want students accessing, and so much more.  It’s terrific as a tool for classroom management but it’s real education value comes from remote access to assist a student or to have a student screen shared with the entire class.

Its limitation is that it will only run under Windows.  That’s not a bad problem to deal with but in a classroom where there’s more than Windows computers, like in a Bring Your Own Technology classroom with students bringing in their own laptop or netbooks, it just isn’t feasible.  What happens should you end up with Chromebooks in the classroom?  If we’re talking about moving so much to the web, could an alternative solution that lives in the browser be viable?

It was with this mindset that I set about looking at the Remote Desktop program.  It’s a 20MB download that plugs into your Google Chrome browser.  So, I installed it Ubuntu, Windows, and OS X.  You fire the application up on the host and press the button to “Share This Computer” (1).

setup

 

This process generates an access code.  After all, you don’t want just anyone connecting to your computer.

setup2

Walk over to the computer that will be accessing that computer, fire up the application and elect to access a shared computer (2).  You’ll have to enter the access code on THAT computer to grant access and you’re good to go.  On the second computer, you’ll see the screen of the first computer.  With that mouse or trackpad, you control the first computer.  Dizzy yet?  I’m here in the lab and I should be watching the one computer but there’s something compelling about being on the second computer at the control. 

Screenshot

Here, you can see the Ubuntu desktop (1024×578) displaying the desktop of my Windows computer.  Just for effect, I’ve used the resize utility and so the Windows desktop (1600×900) is squeezed a bit to fit.  But, it does a nice enough job.  In reality, you’re more likely to leave the resolution as is and just do a bit of scrolling.  Or, ideally, have both screens the same resolution or some other combination that makes sense for you.

Screenshot-1

Here is a uncompressed view of my Seesmic Desktop at the time.  It was quite readable in the original resolution.  (This image is shrunk to fit into the blog constraints).

However, I was able to use my netbook to start this blog post on my Windows computer using LiveWriter.  I was able to access the start menu and run a number of different Windows applications and view them on my Ubuntu netbook screen.  I was able to move and resize windows, use the right mouse button on the netbook to activate that function on the laptop, type text, and do many of the things that I wanted to do.  In a classroom, I could then conceivably access another machine and display content for a class on a data projector.  All of this in the browser on different operating systems.

At times, there was a bit of a lag between the time that I typed on the one computer and it appeared on the other but it was in no way a show stopper.

For an initial beta of the software, I was nicely impressed.  I could see this being a workable solution in a scenario where you have a mixture of computers or operating systems but the constant  for them all being the Chrome browser.  I like it – the promise is that this is the first release.  Who knows what more is on the way?  If Chromebooks are going to be functional in a classroom, the developers can learn by looking at existing products and seeing if those features will work in a browser operating system.

Browser Choices


I admit it.  I have a whole slew of internet browsers installed on my computers.  I keep looking for the perfect browser.  In my mind, it needs to be fast, secure, compatible with every website known to browserkind, work miracles with Flash and Silverlight, and handle Java, HTML 5, and CSS3 perfectly.  Oh, and render images perfectly regardless of format using hardware acceleration, allow me to customize it, give me a choice of search engines, let me run extensions to customize the experience, synchronize browser settings from different computers, and let me have everything that I want my way.

Is that too much to ask?

It used to be considerably easier.  Previously, I only ran Windows and had my choice of Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator.  Even when I was forced to use a Macintosh computer, there still was a version of Internet Explorer that would make me feel at home.  These good old days seem so long ago now.  These browsing experiences were fairly similar and so I had a particular mindset as to what the browsing experience was.

I then read about this browser developed in Europe called Opera.  I downloaded it and it was an eye opener for me.  There actually was a different way to think about browsing the internet.  This has started me on the search that I continue today.

So, on my computer, you’ll find instances of Internet Explorer, Opera, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Flock, Safari, and RockMelt and I rotate through them all regularly.  As of late, my favourite has been Google Chrome, I will admit.  I’m not alone – browser share is important to the individual developers.  You’ll see them and their legions of fans scrambling to explain why a particular browser is better than the rest.

 

image

Thanks – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Web_browser_usage_share.svg

The real winner in all of this is us, the end user.  As each browser adds new features  to it, it pushes the whole industry along to create better browsing experiences.  For me, the timing of this post is especially important.  Microsoft is releasing Internet Explorer 9 at the SXSW Conference.  Recently, Google upgraded its browser to Version 10, Apple pushed out a new version of Safari, Firefox has a Release Candidate for Version 4, Opera is now at Version 11, and the upgrade paths continue.  What’s really nice though is that all of these browsers are adding features and making things better with each release.  These better things include making your time on the internet safer.

I suppose the biggest thing for me was the incorporation of hardware acceleration in the browser.  Microsoft demonstrated it nicely with an earlier Beta of the Internet Explorer browser and I did sit up and take notice.  With the hardware at work rather than the software at doing graphics, it flew.  I just wish that some smart developers could work their magic with Flash and Silverlight in this manner.  There’s nothing quite so warm as a computer fan picking up speed to try and cool off the i7 processor doing its best to keep up.

I don’t think there’s a bad browser in the bunch but here are my current thoughts about each.

Internet Explorer
Unfortunately, I see this browser in a downward spiral.  It used to be THE browser – nothing else came close.  But, security issues became apparent and patch after patch was pushed out to try to make the browser safe.  With a huge market share, it was the perfect target for designers of malware.  As one patch was applied, another security flaw appeared.  It’s tough being number one.  As Internet Explorer’s problems became apparent, it really presented opportunities for other browsers to get fans.  In advance of the release of Version 9, the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown was given.  It’s hard to believe that, in this world of heightened security, a ten year old browser is still seen as safe to use.  Internet Explorer 9 is build with security in mind and the promise is to make the web a beautiful thing.  I’ll be grabbing a copy on March 14 to experience it myself.  This might be enough to stop the spiral.

Mozilla Firefox
Until about a year ago, this was my default browser – hands down.  It provided a safer feeling when browsing on the web and opened the door for extensions/addons for me.  I saw the light for different ways to browse with Opera and it continued with Firefox.  I went on a mission to try and incorporate all of the things that I do on the web – blogging, Twitter, and Facebook being very important – having them built right into the browser.  It was great.  However, with subsequent updates to version 3, Firefox started to feel sluggish and my eyes started to wander.  I was intrigued with the Release Candidate of Version 4 and it now resides on my computers.  Recently, on this blog, Stephen Downes offered a suggestion for a new feature to speed up the loading.  When Firefox goes gold, I’ll give it a shot if it’s still needed.

Google Chrome
I must admit that, after playing with all the browsers, this is the default for me right now.  It loads almost instantly; I have my default pages pinned in place and a nice collection of addons in place.  Along with Firefox, the AdBlock extension is great for making things even faster by hiding many of the annoying ads that come along.  It does scream in terms of speed.  It’s fully customizable and just works so nicely.  With the promise of the Google Chrome Operating System in the offing, it can be configured by using the Google Chrome Store to be like an entire web operating system right in the browser.  I do think that I’m looking at the future with the concept of a Web OS.  Imagine just getting connected to the web and you always have the latest and greatest software and storage available without having to constantly apply patches to your computer!

Opera
I really like Opera as a browser.  It was the first piece of software that incorporated gestures.  That is a real experience for me.  Not only does Opera have extensions but it does have widgets.  Combining the two lets you dress up a browser very nicely.  Opera seems very fast but I haven’t had a great deal of luck with the ad blocking extensions.  Opera seems to do the best job of giving the most room for browsing on the screen.  It incorporates Speed Dial when you open a new tab and many other browsers have since incorporated similar features.

Flock
Flock used to be my default browser when it was build on the same code as Firefox.  In addition to the features that I enjoyed with Firefox, Twitter was built right into it.  It was my first move into a social web browser and I really liked it.  Then, there was one update that came along that didn’t like Flash well.  Hit a web page that used Flash and the fan noise seemed deafening!  There wasn’t an upgrade forthcoming and so I left Flock although I did check in periodically to see if there were upgrades.  Unfortunately, not.  I then started to hear rumblings that Flock was going to be built on the code from the Chromium project.  As soon as it was released, I downloaded it and was impressed to a certain extent.  However, I had moved to a different Twitter client and the Twitter functionality just wasn’t at the same level.  The latest news is that Flock has teamed up with Zynga.  This could result in some really exciting social media use in the future.  I’ll keep my eye on the prize.

RockMelt
I really like the concept behind RockMelt.  It takes the premise of a social browser like we see in Flock and adds more to it.  With Facebook integration, you can monitor everything that’s happening in your Facebook world while you browse.  It reminds me of a secretary that I had years ago with sticky notes all around her monitor with the Twitter, Facebook, and addon edges in place.  I have my copy tripped out with the same functionality as Google Chrome.

Safari
I’ll be honest.  I keep it updated but I don’t use it.  Maybe I would if I just used a Macintosh computer but I regularly work on the Windows and Linux platforms as well.  My ultimate goal is to find the perfect browser for all of my computing words and to synchronize among them all.  In my world, that rules out Safari at this time.

By the same logic, I’ll grab Internet Explorer 9 when it’s available to see the “beauty of the web”.  Maybe it will make a deep enough impact that I’ll make it the default browser on my Windows computer.  Who knows?  I am hoping to see good things with it.  The other players have made great moves in visibility and safety while this release has been under development.  I’m looking forward with anticipation.  The preview releases have indeed changed the way that Internet Explorer has always worked and felt.

How do you feel about your browser?