Archive for the ‘google’ Category

On Google Chromebooks

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The Google Chromebook is an interesting product to watch. I’ve been a fan of and using them since the early Cr-48 days. In fact, two Chromebook laptops were in service in our household until just a few weeks ago when the Samsung Chromebook broke (although I hope to repair it soon).

These laptops sit next to our couch in a stack as a set of floater laptops we use for random surfing. If any of us are just looking for a quick bite of information, we generally pull out the Chromebook rather than walking over to the Macbook that sits on our kitchen counter. The Chromebook is also great for our son to use when building LEGO from PDF instructions.

Browsing is far better on the Chromebook than it is on any Android or iOS device I’ve used, hands down. I find the browsing experience to be frustrating on an iPad or my Galaxy 10″, while the Chromebook experience is flawless. The device is basically ready-to-use for browsing as soon as you lift the lid, in contrast to the fair amount of time it takes to get logged into the Macbook (especially if another user has a few applications open in their session).

The hardware itself in the early models was slightly underpowered, but that doesn’t really seem to matter much unless you’re playing a particularly intensive Flash video or HTML5 game. Scrolling is fairly slow on complex sites like Google+ as well, but it’s never been a showstopper. The touchpads have also been hit-and-miss in the early models. For what we use it for, the hardware is pretty decent. I imagine that the next generations will gradually improve on these shortcomings.

What makes these devices a hard sell is the price point. The cheapest Chromebook experience you can get today is the Acer (@ $300). Considering the fact that you are buying a piece of hardware that effectively does less than a laptop, I would find it hard to justify spending that amount if I were looking at hardware today. Even though I prefer to use the Chromebook when surfing over the tablets or the full laptop, I feel like the cost is just too much for a single-purpose device like this.

For Chromebooks to really take off in the home market, I think that a device with the equivalent power to the Samsung Chromebook 5 needs to be on the market at a $199 price point. I could see myself buying them without a second thought at that price. Alternatively, if we saw some sort of Android hybrid integration with the Chromebook, I think that this could radically change the equation and add significant perceived value to the device.

I don’t see the Chromebox being popular in households ever – I believe that we’ll see the decline of the non-portable computer going forward at home. Now, if I were running a business where a large subset of employees could get by with just web access, I would definitely consider rolling these out. The Chromebox looks like it could be a real game changer for business IT costs.

Upcoming Google+ features: hashtag autocomplete, new circle management, and more

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I’ve been snooping around the Google+ code a bit and found some more upcoming features.

Hashtags are getting a bit of a boost with auto-completion. When you type the hash character, you’ll see a list of potential auto-completions (this doesn’t appear to be hooked up to any data). When you hit space, it turns into a blue block containing the hashtag, which acts like the blue blocks that contain + mentions:


Circle management looks like it might be dropping the circle visual metaphor. The new interface lists your circles on the left, although this wasn’t working very well, so it’s difficult to say what the final result will look like:

The new interface contains two menus: one replaces the existing Relevance drop-down, while the other contains some interesting new menu items. Increase and decrease circle size appear to change the size of the circles on the circle management page. Might be an internal option for the user experience team to eyeball the correct sizing:


There’s a new “more” dropdown on a profile page that doesn’t seem to do anything:

Photos are getting some tweaks. The photo previews are appearing larger in the photos tab, and there’s a new “Link to this photo” option:


There’s a new “Recommendations” link on the left side of your home screen that links to a page that doesn’t exist yet. Clicking on the Recommendations link takes you to a 404 page at http://plus.google.com/plusones/posts.

You can now control who can post on your public posts. This might be useful for celebrities, although I’m not really sure who it’s targeted at:

Individual posts are now getting a “Hangout” button. Discuss a post in real-time with others that have seen it!

You can now mute a person, in addition to a single post:

Games may appear in the right sidebar:

The post sharing dropdown is getting a bit of a makeover with item icons:

I’m not sure if this welcome page was already there, but I haven’t seen this screen before:

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Google+ upcoming feature discoveries: Google Experts, the Facebook wall and more

Monday, September 26th, 2011

I was snooping around the Google+ source code, trying to get early access to the new circle sharing feature when I came across some interesting features that haven’t been discovered yet.

The first feature is pretty small and looks akin to Facebook’s wall, letting users write on each other’s profile without showing the post in the timelines of other users:


The second one is far more interesting. It looks like there’s a new product brewing inside Google named “Google Experts”. The product looks sounds like a version of Quora, letting you post questions and gather answers. Questions work like posts do today: you can mention other users, comment on them and share them.


Another interesting takeaway from this code dive: it looks like the Google+ team is working on ensuring the product works on Google Apps domains. The message that notifies you that Google Experts has been enabled has a placeholder for the domain. I imagine that this might be currently running on the google.com hosted domain. :)

I’ve also found the start of a new profile privacy wizard. With a bit of code wrangling, you can get it to pop up on your profile page. The Google+ team is obviously working on matching some of Facebook’s more streamlined privacy controls:

Finally, I’ve come across the wisps of Google Voice integration on your Google+ profile. I haven’t figured out what this will look like yet, but it appears to give visitors an option to call you from the webpage without revealing your phone number (like the existing Google Voice widgets):

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Follow me on Google+: Matt Mastracci
Or Twitter: @mmastrac

On the advancement of science and the useful arts

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

(this is an expanded version of my Google+ post here)

Apple is quickly burning my goodwill towards with these silly patent fights. Two out of three of the patents were found not to be infringing, while the last one is a software patent that basically describes the functioning of a mobile device that deals with photos.

At this point, it’s probably worth pointing out that Apple’s notification bar is pretty much a rip-off of the Android one. And you know what? I really don’t care.

Companies should be riffing off each other’s designs and improving them as they do. We’ll get a lot further than if we give one company total control over a single domain. Apple has taken the Android notification bar and improved it, just as Google has done with various iPhone features. Both companies have built their mobile operating systems on the prior art of thousands of other inventions from the last thirty years.

As many people have stated, patents are a monopoly to advance science and the useful arts. They are not a monopoly to advance the profits of any given company, though that may be a side-effect of their existence.

Copyright and trademark law already exist to prevent direct copying of design. Would Apple have released the iPhone in the absence of software patents? Very likely. Would the iPhone/Android rivalry shaped up the same way without software patents? Very likely.

In their current form, software patents have been hindering the progress of computing. With that in mind, I say it’s time for them to go.

See this post on Hacker News

Follow me on Twitter: @mmastrac