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Google stack day two: Bumping against Chromeís limits
Posted on 29-Nov-2013 08:48 by Bill Bennett | Tags Filed under: Articles

Chromeook OS

Googleís technology stack is distinct from Appleís and Microsoftís because it doesnít include a full-blown desktop operating system.

On one level this doesnít matter. Chrome functions well for basic everyday computing. I found I could deal with mail, research information online and write my stories without skipping a beat. Even adjusting to yet another word processor failed to cramp my style.

So much of my day to day work is handled by online applications such as Xero or Evernote that I can get most things done directly from the browser. Yet on my second full day working with the Chromebook I bumped up against barriers that didnít exist in the Apple or Microsoft technology stack.

Photography lesson

The first problem came when I needed to load a photograph onto my web site. I find photos from a number of sources. Usually before posting them, i crop them to make the images more interesting. I may apply a little processing Ė Iím no photoshop expert so I usually play with the presets. Then I reduce the image size to fit the space on the web page. This is preferably to letting the WordPress software handle image resizing on the fly.

Thereís rudimentary photo editing software built-in to the Chrome OS. You can adjust brightness and contrast or crop images. Thereís an auto-adjust button, but that was greyed-out for the images I was preparing. Changing the image size doesnít appear to be an option.

I found plenty of photo editing apps in the Chrome app store Ė most are free. Although the various apps have star ratings from other customers, Iím flying so blind in this world I donít even know if the ratings are meaningful. You can read user reviews, but these donít seem to be always rational or sensible.

My first port of call was Googleís Picasa, Iím sure Iíve resized pictures in the past with this tool on other computers. If the Chromebook version can do this, I couldnít find the control and I had no success googling for help. After about half an hour I came across the Pixlr Editor app.

Pixlr is like a two-dollar shop Photoshop knock-off. Itís not pretty, but it does all the basic photo-editing tasks I need to the standard I need. Itís free, lightweight and uncluttered. Iíve bookmarked the app and will give it a try when I back to normal computing at the end of my Google stack week. It may replace Photoshop and, over time, save me a small fortune in subscription fees.

Web development

Later in the day I needed to do some work on the digitl website. Normally I run a local copy on a desktop PC using the Bitnami stack, navigate to the folders and work on the PHP or CSS files using a text editor, or in extreme cases a tool like Dreamweaver.

I simply couldnít find an easy way of doing this from the Chromebook. Admittedly the computer and its OS were never designed for this work, on the other hand a cloud-centric computer ought to be an ideal tool for designing and managing websites.

One option would be to buy some online hosting space and work on the site using FTP. Although thereís no obvious FTP client in the Chrome Web Store, I found mention of tools for working with PHP and CSS files on Dropbox or Google Drive. It looks interesting and would be worth following up if I had to live long term with a Chromebook. In the short term I donít have the time to invest on learning how this works. My web development will have to wait until next week.

Skype missing in action

Appleís Facetime and the old-fashioned telephone voice service are my normal communications tools. My family all have Apple kit, so we can videoconference when weíre apart. I spend a lot of time interviewing or chatting with contacts on the phone. Toll calls arenít that expensive and the land line quality is important Ė I need to accurately hear peopleís exact words if Iím going to quote them.

Skype is our fall-back for family communications. Sometimes you can get a Skype voice-only call over connections that canít handle Facetime. And some people I work with Ė particular overseas Ė like to make Skype calls.

Sadly Chrome OS doesnít support Skype. Google suggests Chromebook users make do with Google Hangouts. Iíve never found this service to be worth the effort, although I know of people who love it. My problem here is that I have incoming requests for calls from people and Hangouts is not of the list of options.

The good news is that I can take the Skype call on the Sony Xperia smartphone. There may not be a Chrome app for Skype, but there is an Android one. Iíll take a longer look at that and the phone tomorrow.

[digitl 2013]

digitl on Google+

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