Chromebooks: are they any good?

Have you ever given thought to the amount of information flowing through the computer on your desk (or on your lap)? Or perhaps just the amount of sheer computing power that’s available in, when you do think about it, a surprisingly small device?

Abstraction

When you pause to think of how computers have advanced over the years, it’s really quite amazing. Even my phone is capable of doing things now that I could only dream of when I was younger.

What, though, if you don’t need a blisteringly fast processor and 3D graphics card to do the tasks you typically use your computer for? Browsing the web, for instance, reading and writing emails, or preparing documents; none of these are particularly intensive tasks for a computer. If your computer use fits into that bracket, Google’s Chromebooks are aimed at you.

Chromebooks are computers that, in effect, simply provide a means for you to get online. The Chrome browser sits at their heart and, while that might sound like you won’t be able to do very much, it’s surprising just how many things you can do with a web browser.

Documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be prepared using web applications like Google Drive / Docs, or the Microsoft Office web apps. Music can be streamed and movies watched via Google Play. If you’re after a gaming fix, HTML5 games can be installed right in the browser (again, via Google Play) or you can play a multitude of online games from sites like Kongregate.

So what can’t you do? Well, you can’t install software as such… you won’t be downloading Photoshop or Steam. You are pretty much limited to web applications but, honestly, the breadth of web applications available doesn’t make that as much of an issue as you might think. You can even find online graphics packages and photo editors if you need them.

It’s worth saying, too, that printing can be a bit tricky. Chromebooks can’t print straight to a USB printer, so you will need either a Google Cloud Print ready printer, or will need to use another computer running Chrome as a print server. It’s a bit of a pain if you are using an older printer and don’t want to shell out for a new Cloud-enabled one.

The big question to all this is, why would you choose to use a less powerful computer? I mean, it’s fair enough knowing that you won’t tax your computer very hard most of the time, but why would you choose to remove the ability to do more processor-intensive work when the need arises?

Well, the first answer is cost. Chromebooks are generally cheaper than laptops, starting around £180. The second is speed. Chromebooks boot up within seconds because they use solid-state drives and don’t have many startup items to load. The third is battery power. There are no fans or spinning drives, so the battery in my Toshiba chromebook lasts up to 9 hours! Perfect if you’re looking to work all day in a cafe where you aren’t allowed to plug in.

So, are Chromebooks actually any good? Yes – definitely – for certain tasks. Emails, browsing, movie watching, documents, and so on are perfect for using a Chromebook. In fact, I much prefer using it to booting up and waiting for the laptop. But if you’re doing movie editing, 3D graphics, or anything else a bit more intensive, a “proper” computer is still your best friend.

Have you tried a Chromebook? If so, what did you think? Would the prospect of a cheaper price, faster boot, and longer battery life tempt you to ditch your normal computer for a Chromebook? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

7 reasons to love the Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7Another round in the battle of the tablets, Nexus 7 and iPad Mini go head to head to take over the tablet market. Nexus 7 is a keen contender for the prize, despite the domination of iPad in the past. We’ve compiled a list of reasons why, we think, everyone should give Nexus 7 a try.

Open Source App store
Apple are notoriously fussy with what does and doesn’t make it onto the App Store, however, Android have created a software developer’s playground with the Google Play Store. Designers can bring to the market pretty much whatever they want, and can update, tweak and develop until their heart’s content. Meaning, as a user, you get the very best of the good, the bad and the downright weird Apps available.

Portability
It’s smaller, slimmer and lighter than other tablets, meaning it’s the perfect size for using whenever and wherever you please. It’s been likened to an all-powerful e-reader, a handy size which you can use comfortably in one hand, whilst simultaneously being a market leading tablet.

Quad core processor
The Nexus 7 boasts a Tegra 3 Quad core processor and Jelly Bean software; it’s sleek, smooth, fast and powerful –which completely floors the iPad.

Google integration
Whether you’re a Google lover or not, there’s a lot to be said for Nexus 7’s seamless integration of Google products, of course, it’s no less than you’d expect, but it is dreamy. All the Apps an average user would want are there straight out of the box, and Google developments and updates continue to make it effortless to sync all your technology and devices. The Nexus 7 is set to feature Google Now, a clever App which utilises all your current information, such as location and browsing history to compile a collection of things which might be of interest to you in the local area. Google has you covered, wherever you are.

Widgets, widgets, widgets
Most people who are proud of not owning an iPhone can contribute their attachment to their Smartphone to the widgets. Widgets are something which until you discover, you’ll never miss, or appreciate, however, once you’ve discovered the simplicity, personalisation and functionality of a widget, you’ll never go back. Widgets give you more of the App on the homescreen, you can use the App and levels of its functions without even going into the App itself. This is great on phones, and even better on tablets.

The price
Most of all, the price of a Nexus 7 blows the iPad out of the water. An Apple iPad Mini 32GB will cost you around £349, a 32GB Nexus 7 will cost you £199 – so, very little competition in terms of cost.

What do you think about the Nexus 7? Are our reasons enough to make you fall in love with it, or do you have a different preference? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

This is a guest post by Les Yates, on behalf of The Snugg. The Snugg offers a range of cases and covers for all leading Smartphones and tablets, including cases for the Nexus 7. Check out their entire range at thesnugg.com. 

Google+: The New Digital Business Platform for Success

This is a guest post by Samantha Vick. Samantha maintains over 50 Twitter and Facebook accounts daily. She loves her job and loves helping companies to maximize their business through tech trends and cloud computing solutions.

Social media illustrationAn entrepreneur has to take advantage of every opportunity to promote their company to potential customers. They must have the ability to market to a constantly changing customer base in order to grow. The more people a company can reach, the more growth they will experience. It’s time to dive into Google+, one of the most powerful tools for small businesses today. Read on to find out more about Google+ and how to add it to your Internet arsenal.

What is Google+?

Google+ is the evolution of Google Places. Google Places was a listing for businesses that had basic information like location, hours, phone number and so on. Hosting companies, like MyHosting VPS hosting, should be able to keep up the Internet, even with a high volume of social media output.

By listing your business on Google Places, you ensure your business is accurately represented on the web and your business would appear in Google Search and Google Maps Searches.

How to Start the Process of Using Google+

To begin the process you will need to set up an account with Google+. The process of setting up an account is an easy process. Many of the fields are already filled in so it is easier to finish filling out the profile. You will want to be as detailed as possible about the aspects of your business so it will be picked up by the search engines.

You will also want to use words to describe your business that are descriptive to the services you provide. Be unique when describing your business, so it comes up on top when a search is performed. You will also want to link to other profiles so there are many ways to find your business on the Internet.

The Power of Google+

Google+ was developed by Google as a way to connect with the social media sector (in addition to competing with Facebook). Over 135 million users have signed up for Google+. While not all of them may be regular users, it is still a big potential market for businesses to access.

Networking has helped bring businesses closer to the social sector by linking them together. Your business can now be seen in the social sector, allowing people to become more familiar with your services. You can target people locally and still reach people in other countries.

Google+ also gives business owners access to reviews from real people who have used their services. Your business will be able to change and adapt by the recommendations given by customers.

Google+ Tools Specifically for Businesses: Circles and Hangouts

Google+ is for everyone, but some features are solely for business. One of those is limited visibility. When you create a post, you can now label it as “restricted” to limit the visibility to those inside your business and can’t be re-shared with anyone on the outside. Administrators can set up company-wide sharing defaults for posts and Hangouts. Hangouts are a form of video chats that enable both one-on-one chats and group chats with up to 10 people at a time. Users can now attach Hangouts to Google Calendar events; this enables attendees to join a Hangout directly from the Calendar entry or original invite.

Do you use Google+? Do you find it useful? Why not share your experience in the comments.

ICO reopens Google Streetview case

Google Streetview CarI had intended to write about Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference today, but we’ll get to that later. Instead, the news that the UK’s Information Commissioner has decided to reopen a case against Google caught my eye.

You might remember that Google was caught out having “accidentally” gathered data from unsecured WiFi networks while their Streetview cars were mapping towns and cities. The Information Commissioner (ICO) got involved in that incident, but dropped the investigation after Google said only limited data had been gathered, and it wasn’t deliberate.

Since then, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has concluded that the code designed to gather that additional data was deliberately written, and that the engineer who wrote it informed a senior manager about it. That engineer also gave the Streetview team a document detailing what work he had done on the project. The ICO has decided, in the light of the FCC report, that this no longer looks like a simple mistake. Rather, it looks like the data was gathered deliberately and with the knowledge of Google management.

The information that’s been gathered is also a bit hairy – IP addresses, full user names, telephone numbers, complete email messages, email headings, instant messages and their content, logins, medical listings and legal infractions, information relating to online dating and visits to pornographic sites, and data contained in video and audio files.

What next?

The ICO is asking Google to provide them with some information:

  1. What kind of personal and sensitive data was captured in the UK.
  2. At what point Google managers became aware of the type of data being gathered, and what was done to limit its collection.
  3. Why the sorts of data mentioned above weren’t included in a data sample given to the ICO.
  4. At what point the senior managers within Google knew what the data gathering code was doing.
  5. Copies of the original design document for the data gathering software, along with any subsequent updates.
  6. An outline of the privacy concerns identified by Google managers once they knew about this practice, and what decisions were made to either continue or terminate it.
  7. What measures were introduced to prevent breaches of the Data Protection Act.
  8. A certificate of destruction relating to the captured data.

Google have said they are happy to answer the ICO’s questions, but I would guess that some will be wondering whether those questions will be answered truthfully.

What do you think?

This one just doesn’t seem to be going away. What do you think about it all? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.

[source: ZDNet]

Post image by FanIntoFlames – used under Creative Commons License.

Why You’ll Be Able To Ditch Your Credit Card for Your Phone

Google WalletThis is a guest post by Andreas Nicolaides of MoneySupermarket.com.

As everything is becoming quicker and easier in this technically advanced day and age, it comes as no surprise that new developments will soon allow us to pay for purchases without actually having to open our wallets. Google is introducing the new Google Wallet, a virtual wallet that combines details of your payments and credit cards with special offers and discounts all together on your smart phone and online.

How does it work?

The idea behind Google Wallet is to have all your relevant card details safely stored in one place, your virtual wallet. That information is accessed via your mobile phone as and when you need it by using the special PayPass reader available at the check-out area of a shop. Simply pass your phone by the reader and your details will be transferred instantly and the payment made. It is quick and easy and means that all you need to take to the shop is your mobile phone.

The process works in a similar way online, offering an extra level of security when buying over the internet. When you buy online, just look for the Google Wallet symbol and you can make your purchase quickly and easily by simply signing into your Google account.

Is this really a safe way to pay?

For many people, the question of security is at the forefront of their minds. Google has said that the online wallet has been designed to be safe and offers many security features that current methods of payment don’t have. Before you start to use the technology, you will be asked to set up your own PIN, which you will then need to enter before making a purchase, in the same way you use the PIN on your current credit cards.

All your personal details will be safely encrypted on a computer chip within your mobile phone, which Google call the Secure Element. This chip will only work with certain programs, so it can’t be accessed by any other rogue technology. The PayPass reader also uses its own encryption technology to make sure your details are protected from the minute they are sent from your phone.

In theory, this could be a fast and convenient way to make a payment and means you can keep all your information in one place instead of carrying various cards around with you. All you will need to do is enter your PIN before passing your phone across the reader machine.

One worry is what will happen if you were to lose your phone? According to Google, the layers of security surrounding your details means if someone were to find your phone, they wouldn’t be able to access your virtual wallet unless their knew your PIN. However, to be completely safe, it might be worth cancelling your credit cards regardless.

What do you think of Google Wallet? Is it the future of payments, or just one big security risk? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

More Google StreetView shenanigans

The Google StreetView soap opera just rolls on and on… In case you’ve missed the build-up, check out these two articles:

The BBC reported on Friday of last week that Google (UK) would be deleting the WiFi data accidentally gathered by their StreetView cars. The Information Commissioner seems happy with this and has stated that no further investigation will be required. Additionally, no fine will be levied against Google for the breach. Interestingly, though, the Information Commissioner’s Office has just imposed its first two fines against other organisations.

Things have taken a bit of a bizarre twist in Germany, though. Google was required to give people the opportunity to have their homes blurred on StreetView before the service went live, and almost a quarter of a million Germans asked for that to happen. So far so good, but some of the people of Essen who have requested their home to be blurred have experienced vandalism, including having eggs thrown at their homes and signs pinned to the door saying “Google’s Cool”. How strange…

So what will happen next in the Google StreetView drama? Will opposition to the service grow? Will pro-Google vigilantes hunt down dissenters worldwide, forcing them to live in safe-houses for their own protection? And when will Google discover that Facebook is having an affair with MySpace? Tune in next time to find out ;)

Post image by FanIntoFlames – used under Creative Commons License.

Facebook unveils new messaging system

Kevin Tea, over at Web 2 And More asked this question yesterday: Is Facebook about to launch a “gmail killer” today? Well, the Facebook announcement came, and the answer is… “sort of… maybe… maybe not”.

Facebook didn’t just come out with a new e-mail service, but a whole system of messaging that incorporates e-mail, instant messaging, chat, and SMS. Mark Zuckerberg was clear that this is not a “Gmail killer”, or indeed an “e-mail killer”. Rather it incorporates e-mail into the whole system. I don’t know, though – I’d bet it crossed his mind at least once that giving 500 million users the option of a facebook.com e-mail address might cut into Gmail’s market share a little!

Using a facebook.com e-mail address won’t be compulsory – apparently Project Titan, as the new system was codenamed, will route messages to you however you choose to connect. If you do want to use a facebook.com address, though, you’ll want to set up a human-readable username by visiting http://www.facebook.com/username/. If you have any pages, and if they have enough fans, you’ll be able to set up usernames for those too.

The new messaging system will be rolled out over the next few months, with users being invited to try it out at a more controlled rate than everyone jumping in at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes communication through Facebook, and whether it will change communication on a wider scale too. Watch this space…

Google in “significant breach” of Data Protection Laws

This story just doesn’t seem to want to go away. Google admitted in May that it had been accidentally collecting personal data from unsecured networks when mapping towns for StreetView.

It all kicked off when the German authorities asked Google to audit its data. It probably couldn’t have been worse, as the Germans are notoriously strict on privacy. Next came Canada who determined that Google had breached its privacy laws, and now the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has said Google has committed a “significant breach” of the data protection laws.

And the outcome? Will Google be fined, as the Information Commissioner can require? No – the ICO will audit Google’s data protection practices and policies. I guess this is seen as a more constructive course of action than a simple fine, but you do have to wonder whether it will make any difference.

What do you think about this? Is Google being let off the hook? Is this the precursor to more strict controls? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

[via BBC News]

Post image by FanIntoFlames – used under Creative Commons License.

Why track your site stats with Clicky?

There are a tonne of analytics packages out there, designed to help you track your website’s statistics. I was previously using Google Analytics, which is a free option from the search giant. But I recently switched to a paid option – Clicky analytics. Why on earth would I do that?

One thing that annoys me about Google Analytics is that it’s not in real-time. You don’t find out what’s happening on your site until the reports have been run and you check them the following day. Don’t get me wrong, the reports are very comprehensive and useful, but I often found myself wanting to know what was happening there and then: after submitting something to StumbleUpon, tweeting, or sending out an e-mail update for instance.

Clicky is in real-time, and tells you what’s happening right away. You can see what pages people are visiting, how many actions they’ve performed on the site, and what brought them to the site in the first place. That ability has been incredibly useful for fine-tuning the most popular landing pages on Geek-Speak.

Clicky also uses a different means of calculating “bounce rate” to other analytics packages. Many analytics packages work out the bounce rate by the number of pages a reader visits. If someone only visits one they are considered a “bounce”… a visitor who arrived, presumably didn’t find enough interesting material to explore the site, and bounced away again. Clicky’s tracking code periodically pings the server, so if a visitor only reads on page, but is there long enough, they are no longer considered simply to have bounced away.

That makes your stats look nice and healthy but, crucially, also gives you a much better idea of how well you are engaging your readers… even the ones who only read one page.

Add the ability to track campaigns and specific goals and I think Clicky makes a great package for tracking your website’s statistics. I mean, if I’m willing to pay for it, it must be good :)

When you sign up with Clicky you get a free trial of the professional (paid) account. If, at the end of your trial, you decide you don’t want to pay just do nothing and your account will revert to the basic (free) package. Sign up for the trial package and see what you think – if you find it as useful as I have, you won’t be disappointed.

Links to Clicky in this post are affiliate links.

Google accidentally collecting WiFi data

As if Google’s StreetView wasn’t under enough suspicion from privacy advocates, the company has recently discovered that it had been collecting information from open WiFi networks… such as snippets of e-mail, which web page a person was viewing, or photos. This has apparently been happening for the last three years.

First thing’s first: this only applies to open, unencrypted networks. So if you have WiFi in your home, for goodness sake, put a password on it! If nothing else it’ll stop the dodgy guy across the road from downloading gigabytes of porn on your connection!

But how could this have happened in the first place? Surely Google must know what’s going into their code and, therefore, what their cars are capable of? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let the engineers play

Engineers at Google are encouraged to pursue projects for interest. Engineers are allowed to devote twenty percent of their time to projects they’re passionate about – and it’s given rise to some interesting products like Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut.

An engineer was working on a project to glean information from unsecured WiFi networks and that code somehow found its way into the StreetView software. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but I suspect the original project was a 20% effort.

Software Engineering often re-uses old code

Good software engineering makes use of previously written code so when Google decided to map WiFi networks for location tracking (think the pseudo-GPS on iPhone before they added an actual GPS receiver) it would have made sense to use code from a previous project that was able to log the details of WiFi networks. What Google hadn’t banked on is that the code also downloaded sample data from unsecured networks. Whether it was a failure in the quality assurance cycle, miscommunication, or some other problem, the StreetView cars were doing more than they were intended to.

Is that even possible though? Well, let me tell you a story. At one of my previous jobs I was part of a team working on some banking software. It was designed to levy charges on people’s bank accounts if they went overdrawn or tried to withdraw their savings without giving the correct amount of notice (yeh, I know, “Booooo!”). We always reused code if it was available, because writing a ten thousand line program from scratch is just stupid if there’s already something that can be adapted.

We got to the testing stage and were looking through the data when we noticed that the charges had a destination account number attached to them. That is, it looked like they were being transferred to another account rather than just being deducted. Remember, this is at the testing stage – it hadn’t gone live with real accounts. We realised that a piece of reused code was stripping the bank account information from earlier in the batch process, and inserting it as the destination account. It turns out it wouldn’t actually have made a difference, because of the way charges were handled, but it gave us a scare and made us realise we needed to be careful with reused code.

The upshot of that is I can fully believe that the StreetView project reused a program from elsewhere and got functionality they didn’t want, alongside the behaviour they did. Does that make it OK? No, of course not, but it means I’m willing to believe it wasn’t deliberate.

And Google’s response?

Google’s response is detailed on their blog:

As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it.

Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short. So we will be:

  • Asking a third party to review the software at issue, how it worked and what data it gathered, as well as to confirm that we deleted the data appropriately; and
  • Internally reviewing our procedures to ensure that our controls are sufficiently robust to address these kinds of problems in the future.

In addition, given the concerns raised, we have decided that it’s best to stop our Street View cars collecting WiFi network data entirely.

While all this is understandable and, probably, just a bit of a blunder, it does make you think about how much trust we put in companies. I trust Google with my e-mail, RSS reader, many documents, and photographs. I actually stalked the StreetView car when it did our town to see if I could get on the map (I failed… and that admission probably says something about my mental state). Sure, everyone can make a mistake, but when there’s so much information in the hands of one company they almost get to the point where they just can’t afford to make any.

Mistake or not – privacy peeps will be worried by this. Hopefully Google’s response will solve the problem… at least for a while.

What do you think?

What do you think on this issue? Do you trust Google? Are there any companies you really trust with your data? Do you think this was an innocent mistake, deliberate ploy, or just bad engineering? Let us know in the comments.

Post image by FanIntoFlames – used under Creative Commons License.