Google Chromebook tips

[Updated after a week - Chromebook is actually a pain to use, not yet ready for prime time. Fine if you are always online, even then, user experience is not smooth. There are just too many bugs - which means that they will be fixed in due time, but the existence of such basic problems makes it hard to recommend Chrome to everyone at this time. Worse - its offline mode is buggy - I lost hours of work. Read on.]

Having played with the new Google Chromebook for a week now, it is a great device! Well, so I thought after one day of use. After a week, ran into too many bothersome issues, some are listed below. I've played with both the 2012 devices: Samsung Chromebook (US$249) and Acer Chromebook (US$199).

Samsung device looks sleeker, and boots faster (10 seconds), and needs no internal fan. Acer looks a bit clunkier, but its CPU is slightly faster (20% in some web tests), and has a huge 320G hard drive. Full reviews available on the web as well as youtube, and it is worth reading through a few to get some tips on how to use this device well.
web search YouTube search.

2012 certainly makes a device only connected to the web good enough to be useful to some users. And now that the Chromebook is making some effort to add tools like a local File Manager, and can do basic offline editing and viewing of images and many video file formats, it may be really the only device you need to carry on vacations. No need to lug around a laptop. There are many warts though. File Manager is too rudimentary - no support to easily copy files using FTP or SCP or RSYNC from remote servers. And Chrome itself manages to cause trouble - it lost the arrow cursor over 3 times in a matter of a few days. This is scary - have to reboot the box when that happens, and not much help from the Google support forums - it is not really possible to reproduce this issue, so presumably that is why no one can fix it. Pretty serious bug, though, making it impossible to recommend a Chromebook widely.

So here's how I use the Chomebook on vacations, and some general tips:

* The size of text on the device can be changed, but that setting is hidden under "Show advanced settings...". Some web pages don't seem to be affected by that setting, but it generally works on most web sites.

* Can use for image search! Bookmark this on your Chrome browser so you have easy access. Google has an image search but it is the worst UI ever seen - they seem to love their pop-ups. Google image search pop-ups a image when you click, hiding the original page, and worse, making it hard to look at the whole page, the image and context, and even going back now takes 2 or more clicks of the back button. It is by far the worst user experience ever. Note that you can still easily use Google web search - just type your search terms in the Chrome browser URL prompt and hit enter.

* The first user you create on the Chromebook gets to control more of the settings. So if you have multiple users, and can't find a setting you know exists, try to see if the first user on the device has it.
Strangely - every user has a settings to clear out the device completely - there is no protection to avoid having your device completely erased. So, let all other users of your Chromebook know to not hit that Factory Reset button in Advanced Settings even by mistake.

* Be careful of changing the language in the settings. There is no way to cancel that. Once set, it will say "you need to reboot" and if you forget and keep that setting and reboot, the device will be in that language. Will make it basically unusable if you don't know that language! A cool feature to play with, but pretty dangerous.

* Chrome Remote Desktop absolutely is the key enabler to making the Chromebook the only device necessary for most usage. Once in a while, I need to connect to one of my home or server Windows or Linux systems. Easily done now! Just start Chrome on the remote device, enable it to allow sharing, and now the Chrome browser can show you all your remote devices. These are tied to the Google Account, and may requires you to make sure ports 443 and 5222 are not blocked by your router devices.
So now I can run Windows apps on my Chromebook using the remote computer. Awesome!
[Update] Well, after a week of this, not always a enjoyable experience. A bunch of times it reported strange errors - "your network is not compatible" - what? And sometimes the screen just pauses for too long - even though the network is fine and other tabs open web pages just fine. Still, is usable more-or-less, and hopefully, it will only get better eventually.

* Chromebook can play .mp4 files, but be careful of AVCHD formats. Some cameras use that for full HD, and those files are difficult to play. Even VLC Player on Windows or Linux seems to have problems. Best to set your camera to use the more prevalent MP4 format.

* Offline mode is very tempting, but it has serious bugs in it. I lost hours of work editing a document offline in the browser. When it went back online, it silently displayed the older online version and lost all my offline edits. Definitely to be used at your own risk.

Missing feaures:
* No way to create a local shared folder. So each user on the Chromebook gets their own local "Downloads" folder in the File Manager, and a cloud based Google Drive, but no way to make a new folder that everyone can see and use.
* No way to edit text files locally. Scratchpad is a Chrome apps that allows quick text file editing, but it always makes a file in the cloud too. Sure, you can edit it offline - but note above that offline edits can sometimes be silently lost, and there is no way to avoid files going up into the cloud too.
* No way to run Firefox. Chrome refuses to support features like "type and find", but have to live with the Chrome feature set since there is no way to run Firefox on Chromebook.
* Scratchpad is a great app, necessary to jot down notes. But it's UI is all messed up. Editing an existing doc, moving the cursor back and forth, causes the lines to get all garbled. So, this again is not ready for prime-time.
* Offline editing missing from Spreadsheets, and even when available like for Scratchpad, is clumsy - asks which version of the doc you want to save - so you have to remember if things started out-of-sync yourself, or start keeping two copies each time you reconnect.

Added applications:
* Looking for a good offline editors. For images, at a minimum, need to be able to crop and save .jpg files, with ability to vary JPG quality. For text, need something that keeps files local and will never sync to any online account given that the risk of losing docs on sync is too high. Nothing good found yet.