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A week with Google’s Chrome OS laptop, Day 2: Becoming a cloud citizen

By Joe Wilcox, Betanews

cr-48 keyboard

I’ve long prided myself on being a good cloud citizen. I seemingly live in the browser. But using the Cr-48 laptop running Google’s Chrome OS, I discovered the number of important but small apps that are vital to my daily computing. I have been living a double life, meandering as nomad between two computing domiciles, never really settling into one or the other.

All the blogging or reporting I do takes place in the browser. It’s where I use Twitter and collect RSS feeds. But I rely on clients for instant messaging and email. I run Skype, too, and most importantly a media client — right now iTunes, with 90GB of music stored on an external hard drive. The biggest challenge on Day 1 got unexpected relief on Day 2: Gmail. How do you manage separate Gmail accounts — I’ve got four of them — when each requires separate sign-in? I used a different account to set up the laptop than the domain attached to Google Apps. I’ll answer the question in a few paragraphs.

Touchpads and Tabs

First, a few updates following yesterday’s post “A week with Google’s Chrome OS laptop, Day 1: Getting acquainted.” While proofing before posting, I removed a sentence that I deemed too harsh. I described the touchpad as the “worst I had ever used.” At TechCrunch, MG Siegler stated what I redacted: “It’s maybe the worst excuse for a piece of technology that anyone has created in the past five years. It’s so much worse than any other trackpad I’ve ever used in recent memory, it’s almost unbelievable.” Siegler observed similar problems, one of them being accuracy. Often when pressing the touchpad, the cursor moves up, so the click occurs in the wrong place. While the problems are almost certainly software related, they are simply inexcusable. What’s really annoying: The inaccuracy problem reminds of the Google Nexus One smartphone.

OK, so I’m writing about Day 2 on Day 3, where I’ve had the first crash, while writing the above paragraph. Scrolling down bookmarks for the link to Siegler’s post locked up Chrome. If there is a recovery option I don’t know about it yet. The lockup was complete, which surprised. On other operating systems, Chrome runs each tab in separate sessions. I expected only a single tab crash, but the whole browser froze up. That meant rebooting, and, frak, I hadn’t saved. Luckily, like Chrome on Mac OS or Windows, “restore session” retrieved everything; I quickly saved draft to the blogging system.

I received the Cr-48 with about 50 percent charge, and I ran the battery down until the computer shut down. I started writing this post with 100 percent charge and the laptop claiming 9 hours remaining. We’ll see about that. Less than an hour later, percentage is 86 percent and 7 hours 43 minutes remaining. LOL, I think leaving TechCrunch open explains the sudden battery zap. Flash ads, baby.

Some radio interference causes my Bose speakers to buzz when unplugged from a computer. This is new. There is no hum when plugged into MacBook Air, but a slight buzz remains when attached to the Cr-48. I’ll need to test more for the source. I’m too far behind writing this post now.

It’s Moving Day

I only spent part of Day 1 using the Cr-48. I simply wasn’t ready to move in, and email was the major reason. I actually had some boxing up of stuff for the movers. I hadn’t cleaned up my inboxes for months or filed away important messages. That was priority No. 1. I have accounts with four services, Google among them. I strictly use IMAP to keep messages in sync everywhere and to easily file saved messages from all accounts into one. That’s something I can easily do in a local client but with greater difficulty in the browser. Packing up also required syncing contacts and calendars to Google’s cloud. For about the last two months I’ve been using Apple’s MacBook Air and iPhone 4 for a little longer. Apple’s Address Book and iCal can be set to sync with Google Conracts and Calendar. Problem solved.

I used Cr-48 for most of Day 2 while I figured out how to solve the problem of easily managing multiple Google accounts. I was really only concerned with the domain attached to Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) and my all-purpose Gmail account. After breathing deeply, I experimented, signing into both Gmails in separate tabs and crossing my fingers Chrome OS wouldn’t melt down or explode. Trepidation’s cause: Chrome OS setup required using a single Gmail account. I wasn’t sure the extent of account integration between the core Linux OS and browser.

What I wanted more was the ability to manage mail from a single account. Gmail will collect email from up to five accounts using feature “Mail Fetcher”; but it requires POP3, and for other Gmail accounts no IMAP. Switching to POP3 on the other Gmail accounts would cause sync problems on my smartphone. No way, Jose. Then came an unexpected remedy. On December 14 afternoon, Google announced a new feature: “Gmail Delegation.” The feature is promoted for allowing you to give someone else with Gmail access to your account. But it could just as easily be used for account consolidation. Problem solved.

Storm Clouds Ahead

Instant messaging was my next area of concern, for which there are several obvious solutions. Google Talk is built into Chrome OS. There’s a core of less than 10 people I need ready access to. I will see how many use Google Talk or are willing to. Facebook Chat is a really good option, and the one I’m favoring long term. For moving day, I simply logged into AIM and Windows Live messaging on the Web. I had forgotten that AIM works with Facebook, which is an AIM Express log-in option. The AIM Express user interface is unappealing when maximized full screen. Windows Live Messenger for the Web is much more appealing, in part because of its tidy integration into the personal Live home page.

Skype proved to be a real problem. A client is required to use the service. I could find no official Chrome app or extension. However, I easily installed the Google Voice extension. I’m debating options.

For music, I signed up for Pandora — finally. I’ve been threatening to do so for years. Pandora provides a Chrome app that easily installs. I set up the initial profile based on band “Brand New.” Music sounded pretty damn good streaming, but a gotcha appeared. Battery percentage at 73 percent immediately dropped to 4 hours 23 minutes remaining. Goddamn Flash! Pandora runs Flash ads. Soon as I closed the Pandora tab, battery time remaining jumped to 5 hours 17 minutes, then 5 hours 57 minutes before topping 6 hours 20 minutes.

Moving into a new place isn’t finished overnight. There’s still unpacking and decorating to do. I consider most of my Day 2 moving choices to be temporary. No doubt, some Betanews readers will scold in comments about what I should have done instead. Hey, I’m trying to file stories and move to the cloud at the same time. I’ll figure it out with enough time, and, yes, gladly accept suggestions about what to use.

Day 3 or Day 4 will focus on my life in the cloud. Will I meet you there?

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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