Why the Chrome OS Notebook is not a lost cause

It looks like the Chrome OS is a bad strategy for Google, if you ask the market researchers. For me, if I could tweak the OS, then it really makes for a compelling device. My mother do not use touchscreen devices, and buying a tablet for her is not a great idea. However, she is quite adept at using a desktop or a laptop and for her, Chrome OS is a great idea.

I have a home server that runs Cent OS, and most content we consume at home is stored on it. I can create separate pages for Movies, Music, Mail, Web (linking to some website), TV and News; and then add shortcuts to the homepage like below (pardon the rough edges):

Sample Home Page
Sample Home Page

Look at the implications if she uses Chrome OS, with these modified settings:

  • No need for me to configure something whenever an issue occurs.
  • No CDs to carry around for installing a new version of the distro (of course, CDs are obsolete but sometimes you do need them)
  • A much easier way for her to access content that she wants.
  • She can use a device that she is used to: No learning curve.
  • No hard drive  => Much less power.
  • I can restrict internet access as needed.

In a typical development organization, we can have a central source code repository (maybe an extension to check out and commit code), a web-based editor and separate servers(virtual or real). Separate servers can be used for research and development, production, testing and support phases.

In document-intensive work environments, a local server (or a pool) can be used to store documents – something similar to Zoho but stored locally. Of course, the data can also be stored on a web-based provider such as Zoho, Google or Microsoft if necessary.

I believe that the Chrome OS is not a lost cause, or a poor strategy as many would have us believe. It is not, as of now, a closed and big brother controlled platform as Apple’s iOS. And it truly abstracts all the hardware and software from the user, providing a single interface – the browser. I can’t wait to see this concept in action.

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Android Apps for my Galaxy 3

I bought a Galaxy 3 over a month back. It is a really good phone for its price and fun to use too. I have quite a few apps installed and found some really nice ones.

Productivity:

The phone comes with a pre-installed copy of  ThinkFree Office, which is fine for editing and viewing office documents. It also lets you view PDF files.

The Daily Briefing app is useful, showing your calendar tasks and weather updates, apart from Yahoo Finance and AP News (both of which I don’t use).

I use Daily Expense Manager to keep a tab on my spendings, it’s a really useful app apart from the fact that you can only enter expenses, not income.

The Evernote and Dropbox apps are pretty usable and are actually useful, even on the slightly cramped screen.

Internet and Social:

Opera Mini is the browser of my choice, for I can get Indic fonts to work with it. Dolphin Browser is good for viewing full websites (not mobile-optimized) if you are on 3G, but Opera Mini is far more useful for those stuck with GPRS and EDGE.

There are apps for Twitter, Facebook, etc but I prefer to use TweetDeck.

The GMail app is good, and there is an app for Yahoo! Mail too. But the default mail client doesn’t work with my work mail which uses Exchange.

There is a Google Talk client, but I prefer Meebo as it lets me connect to multiple IM services.

I have the WordPress app installed, which I am using to publish this post. The Youtube app is the only place where Flash works, and the app is good enough to view a short video. The small screen doesn’t actually let you enjoy longer videos, such as movies.

Games and Entertainment:

I am not much of a gamer, but I tend to play a few games when I feel like it. I particularly love Slice It, which is a lovely game that tests your touchscreen skills and also  a bit of geometry.

I have quite a few Sudoku games installed, however I’ll be uninstalling almost all of them soon. This is a situation where I might as well create an apk for my own use.

Jewels is similar to Gweled ( a.k.a Bejeweled) and I like it enough to let it stay on my phone.

I use FBReader to read books. I tried out Aldiko and a few other apps, but not fit the bill apart from FBReader.

The Google Scoreboard app is fine, but seriously seeing cricket scores like Australia 245 – 620 England is not what I wanted, so I use ESPN ScoreCenter.

The default media player works fine, but it doesn’t remember the last played song, so I use Winamp. It lacks an equaliser, but it is a decent audio player with a touch of nostalgia.

Miscellaneous/Utilities:

Lookout is a security app that scans applications when you install them. You can also back up your contacts online using a free account. AppBrain is useful for installing apps, and is a good replacement for the default Market app.  AppMonster lets you manage your installed apps effectively and also back up the APKs to SD card. APNDroid lets you switch off and on data services easily. Google Reader, Sky Map and Maps work well too. NetCounter lets you keep track of data usage for different networks (EDGE, Wi-fi). NeoReader is the best barcode reader app I’ve seen for this phone. RealCalc is an advanced calculator and I love it.

If you have any apps that you love, do share it in the comments. Cheers!

Samsung Galaxy 3 – i5801

I finally upgraded from my dated Nokia 3110c to a new phone last month. And yes, it had to run Android. I chose to go with the Samsung Galaxy 3 for two reasons: Reliable service, and I have a newfound affection for Samsung of late. Their products have never given me any problems – except when my PC display went dead for a night. Even then the display was up by the time I got back from work, thanks to the friendly service person who came to check it long past his work hours (I assume they too work 9-6 like the rest of us.)

Having used this phone for over a month now, I can clearly see myself using my desktop and laptop less and less. Of course, I do use a desktop at work. But for personal mail, social networking, music, surfing blogs and other activities I use my phone nowadays. I have to get to my desktop for some purposes like programming, drafting long mails, seeing movies and the like. But for viewing music videos, sending a quick response to mail, this phone is more than handy.

It comes with Android 2.1 Eclair, and I’ve heard that an update to Froyo is on the anvil. I have rooted the phone, found it too buggy, and reverted to the Samsung 2.1 ROM that it came with.

The phone has a very decent display, but I thought the resolution (240 x 400) might be tricky. I have had no problems with most apps I have used so far. Using the on screen keyboard in portrait mode takes a bit of practice, mainly because the screen is narrow. But Swype saves users  the pain of tapping every key to type a word. (In fact, I typed this blog post and the two prior to it on my phone.)

Text messages are organised as conversations – which is useful if you are like me, forgetting what you had asked the person who just replied Yes or No. You cannot send a message to more than 20 contacts at a time though.

The default music player has the options normally expected, but it doesn’t remember which song you were listening to. The surround sound mode is not great, given the tendency of the bundled earphones to fall out of my ear. I recommend using a better pair earphones, like the Sennheiser MX series. The video player handled movies upto 720p fairly easily, but given the low number of pixels it was not great watching them. The YouTube app works pretty well, streaming videos without any lag over a 3G connection. But on EDGE and GPRS, you’ll need to be patient enough for the video to buffer.

The Wi-fi works well enough at home, where I use it ten metres and two walls away from my wireless router. The signal strength was as good as my laptop. I could transfer files from my home server without any difficulty and at speeds I did not expect. The camera has a basic 3.1 megapixels, with no flash. I wouldn’t use this camera unless I had nothing else on hand with which to capture a still. Especially indoors, the camera is not at all usable. Outdoors however, it is usable and the quality is comparable to most 2MP cameras on Sony Ericcson phones.

The battery didn’t last me the whole day when I first used it. However, letting it drain and then charging it to 100% did the trick, and it lasts just under two days for a single charge. That’s commendable, considering I use GPS for an hour or so, Wi-fi for two odd hours and play music for two hours a day.

The GPS didn’t work properly at the first try, but a simple trick set it right. Dial *#*#1472365*#*# and you’ll be presented with the GPS settings menu. Press back, and it starts working fine.

That’s my review of the Galaxy 3, after a month of regular use. I have many apps installed too, I’ll tell about them at a later time.

Essential Google Chrome Extensions

Google Chrome
Google Chrome

Google Chrome has become my browser of choice on Linux, although it seems to pale in comparison to the wide featureset of Mozilla Firefox. However, one can easily make Chrome as feature filled as Mozilla using the many extensions available for Chrome.

These are the Chrome extensions that I have installed:

* AdBlock: The popular ad blocker for Firefox in its Chrome avatar.

* Blocker: In Firefox, we can block images and other elements from specified domains, but Chrome doesn’t have this feature. This extension provides this functionality.

* Chromed Bird: The best twitter client on Chrome, and any browser for that matter.

* Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer: This allows us to view PDFs and other documents using Google docs, thus avoiding the many vulnerabilities common in PDF files.

* PlainClothes: This is a fun addon that lets you see how a webpage will look devoid of the ‘eye candy’

* RSS Subscription Extension: A much needed RSS Feed extension, this is among the first ones I install.

* XMarks Bookmarks Sync: Yes, Chrome already has a syncing option, but this is the best bet if you use multiple browsers on multiple distros.

* Developer Addons: I have several of these installed: XML Tree, View Selection Source, Web Developer(similar to the Firefox addon of the same name), Regular Expression Checker and JavaScript Tester.

* Webmail Ad Blocker: This extension, as the name suggests, blocks ads in GMail and other webmail clients.

Hope you enjoy the browsing experience with the new browser. Suggest more of your favourite addons in the comments.

Triple Booting Fedora, Ubuntu and PC-BSD

My Triple-boot system

Triple Booting Fedora, Ubuntu and PC-BSD
Triple Booting Fedora, Ubuntu and PC-BSD

I’ve been wanting to try a non-Linux OS for quite sometime, and managed to download PC-BSD today. My PC  already runs Fedora 13 and Ubuntu 10.04. I use Fedora’s GRUB to manage my boot process. After installing PC-BSD, I stuck with the same bootloader to manage the boot process.

I primarily use Fedora 13. The rest of the folks at home use Ubuntu or Fedora. I’ve messed around a lot with GRUB 2, but I do not like fiddling with a new version of the bootloader. So I remain loyal to the ‘legacy’ version of GRUB and will be using it until Fedora migrates to the new version.

You can also set up a triple boot (or any n-boot) system by using the older version GRUB. The process takes just a few steps.

Here’s how I did it:

1. I installed Fedora 13 first, and with it the GRUB to the MBR.

2. Later, I installed Ubuntu 10.04, but chose not to install the bootloader in the last step in the installer. You can do this by clicking on the Advanced button.

3. To add Ubuntu to Fedora’s GRUB, I just had to add the title, root and kernel entries for Lucid:


title Ubuntu 10.04

      root (hd0,2)
      kernel /vmlinuz ro quiet splash
      initrd /initrd.img

4. I installed PC-BSD, once again without the bootloader.

5. To add PC-BSD to the boot menu, I added just 3 lines:


title PC-BSD 8.0
      root (hd0,3)
      chainloader +1

An advantage of using GRUB 2 in one of the distros is that I never need to update the GRUB menu on Fedora. GRUB 2 automatically places a shortcut to the latest kernel in the / directory of the Ubuntu partition, so one doesn’t have to keep updating Fedora’s GRUB menu whenever Ubuntu’s kernel is updated.

Note: The logos in the image are copyright of their respective owners.

My classmates are tilting towards Linux!

It seems that most of my classmates are moving to Linux, mostly Ubuntu and Fedora, although it is for the sake of their projects. Here goes a comparison why Linux is infinitely better than Windows here:

Tools for the job:

  • For my friends who need to do image or signal processing as part of their work, there are two options: Matlab or Octave. But Matlab isn’t free while Octave is. One professor recommended Octave to his students, and others are following suit.
  • For the project I’m working on, I need a SCM tool, and one that runs on Linux. I’m using git, python, pyxml and umbrello for my project since I’m more comfortable with Linux than Windows (At places where I must use Windows, such as internet cafes, I still press Alt-F2 to run a program 🙂 ) Thankfully, my teammates are also comfy with Linux, one being a RHCE.
  • Some friends of mine are working on cloud-based projects, so they have been using Ubuntu server (since their guide has heard of Eucalyptus)

One of the reasons I love Linux is the fact that the whole household can use it for work and play, and I can type in my native Tamil as fast as I type in English. I admit that the Unicode keyboard profile is not the best thing out there, but practice and patience mean that it is far easier now to type in Tamil than to transliterate.

There are some people who’re reluctant to come out of their Windows shell (oops, is there a shell in windows?), mainly due to fear or fan-worshipping Bill Gates.  The former category would do better to read this:

“After closing the doors that lead you nowhere, throw away the key! Because our tendency is to look back and regret.” – Paulo Coelho. But I don’t regret it, and so won’t you.

A month of Fedora 12

To be frank, I’ve been using Fedora 12 since the latter half of October from the release candidates, and it is a surprise that there has not been a single issue. There were bugs in the Fedora 11 anaconda installer, and I didn’t like the wallpaper as much as the older ones. But I just love the default Leonidas wallpaper, and many other UI quirks don’t exist, at least for me.

I had installed the release candidates from 1 to 4, and thereon, updated from release candidate 4 to final release two days after November 17. Two exams on 17th and 18th had made me postpone the update. I have modified the base install to make it more convenient and productive for me:

I deleted the lower panel and moved the window changer to the top panel since my display is a measly 15.6 inches at 1366×768 pixels. My laptop too has the same resolution, albeit at 14.1 inches. Then I added the System Monitor applet and power button to the panel since I need to keep a tab on my bandwidth.

As Rahul Sundaram suggested on Fedora Forums, I’ve switched over to OpenJDK, and all my Java code (there’s not much code actually) runs smooth without any issue. In fact the Java Mail API and MySQL connector run better than the stock Sun JDK which had a few issues. I’d been a NetBeans user for long, but the Eclipse bundled in Fedora 12 is better than NetBeans and it didn’t take much for me to switch allegiance.

Meanwhile KDE has got better compared to previous iterations, but is still short of the KDE Gold Standard set by openSUSE. While on openSUSE, I have a serious issue: No DHT support in openSUSE 11.2. This might be a fallout of the court rulings on The Pirate Bay, so let’s hark back to Fedora.

Empathy is still nascent with no IRC support (really bad, IM – IRC != IM for me) But for the ability to call friends on Google Talk (Yay!) and better integration with GNOME, I’d not have used it much. I use xchat for IRC anyway, but this is something that Empathy should be having.

Last week, my younger brother got some CD for his board exams, which had a few xls files and a massive mdb file. I was scratching my head, and then headed to sf.net. I installed mdbtools and the gui that goes with it, and then imported the tables to a csv file. I used Python to extract the data into a text document, and converted the CSV file to SQL so that I can create an app emulating the windows one using MySQL and Python. That is an example of the power of open source. I often rant about the need for open formats and  ban proprietary formats. Some are plain evil, like Sony’s vem format that you cannot read unless you have the ‘MicroVault’ flash drive.

I’ve installed Qt 4.6 on my desktop, and it is really a ‘cutie’ for developing cross platform apps. Qt + Python = cross platform heaven. I’m going to move over to Qt now on, to get some experience developing using SDK.

Overall, Fedora 12 is just about the best desktop distribution for folks with prior Linux experience, but people who are new to computers can jump onto the bandwagon right away.