I Bought a MacBook Air – Hell Just Froze Over…

MacBook Air 13"When I walked in the door with an expensive white box under my arm, my son, a writer, raised his eyes to the ceiling and announced loudly “Hell has frozen over…”

“Hell has frozen over…”

Why did I move to a 2015 Apple MacBook Air 13”, after using Windows PCs from Windows 3.11 onwards? I have made a living as a Windows software developer, system administrator, tech support person and more for decades.

I have long been aware of the limitations and failings of Windows. It has been a treasure trove of bugs, zero-day exploits, crashes and malware. Unscrupulous developers have become rich selling anti-virus software, registry cleaners, disk defragmenters and optimisers, firewalls and more. Computer companies, including mine, have made a good living removing viruses and installing expensive anti-virus software, and answering simple questions like “should I turn off macros in Office?”.

Some years ago, I discovered Linux as an alternative. It is fast, reliable and safe. It runs on old hardware. Linux has software that does what almost everything that can be done on Windows. Almost.

So for the last decade I have had a back and forth love affair with Windows and Linux, often dual booting my computers back and forth for features the other O/S lacked. Only my use of Google Docs prevented loss of data when switching constantly, but things did get lost between the cracks…

I discovered Chromebooks, and realised I could do everything a normal computer user does on a Chromebook, with no drama, and at a fraction of the cost. But there were a few limits. I worked around many, and went back to Windows or Linux for the few exceptions.

Windows 10Then came Windows 10. I have tried Windows 8 and 8.1 and not been fond of either of them. I installed Windows 10 on three laptops, looking to a better future. Each one had driver issues, overheating, power consumption issues or other problems. I reverted them all back to Windows 7. Microsoft began pushing Windows 10 silently back onto each machine. This was infuriating because I had gone to the trouble of downloading and burning both 64 and 32 Bit USB installers, to save my precious and expensive bandwidth.

My internet data usage ballooned… I wrote about my frustrations on my blog here: 

Ultimately, I decided to sleep with the enemy…

I bought a 2015 MacBook Air (It was a lot cheaper than a Dell XPS 13 and about the same price as the gorgeous Dell Chromebook 13 7310 here in Australia).I am tech savvy, so it has not been too difficult, but it has not been easy. But with one or two exceptions, it has been painless and smooth. And the operating system stays in the background.

I now see no reason EVER to go back to a Windows computer. If I don’t have a Windows computer, I will never want a Windows phone, despite being impressed by many things Microsoft is (finally) doing with Windows phone.

I do have a broken HP Laptop with no hard-drive. If I need to copy massive amounts of data across the network, I boot it from an Ubuntu Live CD, do the job, and put it back in the garage, OS X is slow on file transfers… Other than that, it is smooth and easy. Sometimes I have to search for features. But when you look, the most mundane looking OS X app has amazing hidden features. It will take me years to learn them all, but in the meantime, the 80% I use is easy to find and reliable.

And most of the open-source programs I love and use are available on the Mac as well as Windows and Linux. More about that later!

For me, the War is over. It is Apple OS X and Google Chrome OS all the way.

So Long Microsoft, and Thanks For All The Fish.

I am sure you will enjoy Why I Abandoned Windows, After 23 Years.

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Why I Abandoned Windows, After 23 Years.

Windows 10Microsoft’s push to force Windows 10 on every user, want it or not, has,for me, poisoned a 34 year relationship with Microsoft, and a 23 year relationship with Windows.

I loved Windows ‘95, XP and 7. I was a developer and beta tester, and got invited to several launches. I met Bill Gates.

I lived through Windows ME, Vista, and 8. I forgave the promise and failure of “Cairo” and “Longhorn”, Magical Windows advances that never came.

My loyalty wavered with the Windows XP “Windows Genuine Advantage” fiasco, where hundreds of thousands of honest users had systems hosed because they had re-installed Windows XP at some time from the wrong disk (there was no licence verification before this, you just typed in the code on the box, and many companies bought multiple copies of Windows XP, and installed or re-installed from the one disk the tech. carried around in his bag)

Suddenly they were all asked to pay for a new copy of XP, simply because a friend had fixed their PC with HIS copy of Windows XP. A badly thought out money grab. If they did not pay, trouble for the user ensued.

I began experimenting with Linux. Linux is fast, reliable, and has a LOT of good, free software. But it has issues. Manufacturers of printers, scanners, video cards, web cameras, and a myriad of other devices write drivers and software for Windows, because it is the bulk of the market. The Linux community have to write their own drivers for most devices, and the do it because they want to use the device themselves. If you have a scanner no-one has heard of, it probably will have problems with Linux. Some major companies such as NVIDIA seen to enjoy making it hard for Linux users. Popular apps like Evernote do not work on Linux. As a result Linux is perfect 99% of the time, but the 1% is the problem. There is always ONE tool I really want that does not work in Linux, and calls me back to Windows.

Enter the Clowns, Windows 10.

I was SO looking forward to Windows 10. This would be the solution to the nightmare of Windows 8.0 brought on the world by Steven Sinofsky, who refused to listen to anyone who did not share his vision of forcing a huge change in the look and feel of Windows. He decided to ship it as he wanted, and simply “let them eat cake”. It did not work for Marie-Thérèse, and did not work for Steven Sinofsky, who was shown the door shortly after Windows 8 shipped.

I have stuck tenaciously to Windows 7, a reliable and familiar interface, usually dual-booting into a Linux system. Windows 10 would bring back the familiar look, be lighter, more secure, and faster.

I am bandwidth limited. I have great internet speed at home, but am often on the road. I downloaded the Windows 10 ISO and burned bootable USB sticks for 32 and 64 Bit Windows 10. I installed it on two laptops, and immediately hit problems. Drivers did not work. Battery life plummeted. I spend a lot of time on the road, battery life is important. Bluetooth keyboards and mice, and WiFi network connections are vital. These had problems.

I rolled Windows 10 back on my Ultrabook. Happily back on Windows 7, I planned to give Windows 10 time to fix itself…

Or not…

Then Microsoft began it’s reign of terror.

Update Now!The “Reserve your copy now!” flag in the system tray went to a recommended update. Then Microsoft began silently downloading it (all 3+ Gigabytes of it) to a hidden folder, so when you decided to update, it would be there. If you deleted the folder, Microsoft started the download again, silently. As How-To Geek noted, Update Now went from “Yes or No” to “Now or Tonight”

Remember, I have already downloaded this OS as an ISO, and used a USB installer. I HAVE IT ALREADY, but Microsoft keeps pushing it down, over and over again, to every Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 device.

If you are a Digital Nomad living on coffee shop WiFi, you will have a battle with this. If you are a Grey Nomad (Snowbird in the USA) and are on the road using your phone as a WiFi hotspot and paying serious money for data, you are in a world of hurt. If you are the young, often homeless friend of mine trying to get off the street with a book deal using MacDonalds and library WiFi to send manuscripts and e-mail, you are screwed.

You CANNOT stop this. There are tools to stop the downloads. There is advice on changing settings to stop the updates. They work for a while, but Microsoft keeps bypassing everything, and forcing another download. People who think they have stopped this process report that it turns itself back on within a couple of hours. And the average mom and pop user knows nothing about these options. IT JUST KEEPS COMING!

I owned an amazing 8” Chinese tablet. It had 3Gb of RAM, a 64 Bit Intel processor, and a 32Gb disk. It ran Windows 8.1 and Android with a dual boot option. The constant downloads forced me to try Windows 10. The updater told me my device was compatible. The 32Gb disk was filling. I was running out of precious disk space, and my tablet was crashing.

I decided to upgrade. Big mistake.

The installer worked, the device rebooted. The on-screen keyboard put characters all over the place. it was impossible to even log in. The touch-screen was not working properly. I tried reboots, USB keyboards, and everything else, I could not login. After an hour of trying, I actually managed to get access.There was no rollback option. Reboots where impossible. the option to boot back to the 4Gb Android partition was gone.

After many hours of work, I smashed the tablet in frustration, and dropped it in the Recycling bin.

Microsoft’s scorched earth “Nothing but Windows 10” policy is hurting people, again and again.

And if you get Windows 10 working OK, you have no way to keep it that way.

Microsoft has decided that all updates are required. There are NO optional updates. Unless you are a corporate user, there is no way to hold, stop or postpone updates. Everything is quietly installed. In the end of 2015 the Windows 10 1511 “Threshold” update was more that 3Gb. That is a big download if you are on limited bandwidth. And there is no way to stop it.

Windows 10? No thank you, Microsoft!

How have I responded to this last failure?

  • I have discovered that Chromebooks can do the bulk of what I need.
  • I refuse to help friends with Windows problems.
  • I have installed Windows 10 on the two Laptops in my office, and have sold them cheap. To my amazement, the woman who bought my Ultrabook wants me to install Linux Mint!
  • I have Bought a 13” 2015 MacBook Air laptop. It is now my main machine.
  • In four weeks, I have not found anything I cannot do on a Chromebook or a Mac.
  • I will NEVER again buy a computer with Windows on it. Goodby Microsoft.
  • My Windows device purchases have supplied two years of Office 365. I may use the OneDrive storage, temporarily. Or not… Given my current Microsoft antipathy, I guess not.

Along the way I have found that for some of my attempts to install Windows 7, I went back to the original media, installed that and then tried to update.

It appears Microsoft’s Windows 7 update system is patchy or not working.

In one case the new install kept looking for updates for two days before I gave up.

The free update to Windows 10 offer ends in a few months. What happens then?

People who have not availed themselves of the upgrade offer will be stuck with a crippled Windows 7 or 8.1 and no way to continue using it without constantly being harassed by Microsoft. But once they install Windows 10, their existing key will not work, and they will have to pay for the upgrade.

This will, in my opinion, take Microsoft’s push for world domination from harassment to blackmail.

Microsoft has finally realised it cannot ignore competing platforms. They have lost the mobile phone war. Their only hope for long term survival is to become relevant on other platforms including smartphones with software and services.

The Windows 10 land grab has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I am sure I am not alone. I will be forced, through business dealings, to use Microsoft file formats from time to time, but the range of software I can use for that is growing.

The days of using Microsoft Word to print faxes with company letterheads on them is fast fading. I got rid of my fax machine five years ago. My multifunction printer has fax capabilities, but I have never bothered to plug it into a phone socket.

Google Docs, ZoHo, LibreOffice, and a host of other tools can do the formatting I need. If Microsoft had allowed a slow transition to Windows 10, it would have come as people bought new PCs.

Microsoft may be surprised at how many people had never heard of Windows 10, didn’t even notice the upgrade now notifications, and have no interest in change.

Disrupting these often older people will not endear them to Microsoft when the wake up one morning and find the Windows 10 EULA on their screens after a recommended update.

If they say NO to the EULA, the already installed Windows 10 will attempt to roll back, removing the Gigabytes of installed files and trying to replace the originals. Often it works, but not always. And when it fails, the confused user is stuck with a poorly functioning computer, or even one that is completely hosed, thanks to Microsoft’s arrogance.

If they accept, Windows 10 will confuse them. It will probably kill or remove apps and drivers they have relied on for years. many cannot afford to pay a service technician to spend hours sorting their computers out for them. Many are on limited and expensive internet connections.

They rely on a computer to keep them in touch with family and friends. They use PCs to work as volunteers for clubs, groups and associations.

I have stopped counting the number of visits by family and friends that have turned into impromptu tech-support sessions. I am getting sick of it, and am now recommending they look at a Chromebook.

Their family will most likely move many of them to an iPad. Savvy family members will buy a Chromebook or Chromebox.

HP Chromebook 11If they go to a retailer, he will listen with sympathy, rub his hands together with glee, and point them at a Mac as something that just works, and not mention it has the highest commission for him.

The good news for me is that this has moved me to make a personal decision. One of my businesses has been closed with little fanfare, and I will be looking in a different direction. I like helping people, I love technology. The worst part of my business was the repetitious cleanup of infected Windows PCs. I will now focus on helping people in different ways.

Thank you Microsoft, so long, and thanks for all the fish.

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Six Steps to Using Your Chromebook Offline

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work. There are a few steps to guarantee a smooth transition to offline.

Google has made huge strides with the Chrome OS operating system, ensuring the Chromebooks can work effectively offline. Microsoft’s ill fated Scroogled campaign tried hard to make Chromebooks look like bricks when not connected to the Internet, and initially, that was true. Today, a Chromebook can work effectively offline.

“Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work”

I created this document a few minutes ago, while sitting in a bus far from WiFi.

Media playerI am listening to music played by the ChromeOS media player, and typing in a Google Document. I have successfully used Google Docs completely offline for a week to prove the reliability of Drive/Docs over a long period.   

From startup to offline use are from six to ten steps, depending on what apps you use. Let’s have a look at six of them.

The first thing to remember is that a chromebook does not run background processes like Windows, or a mobile phone. Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab. For example if you use Keep on your phone, tablet and Chromebook, you MUST open keep on your Chromebook for it to update with changes made on your phone.

“Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab.”

I use Keep frequently as a note taker on my Android phone. The ability to capture a quick note as a voice recording is exceptional. But if I want to access those notes on my Chromebook I must open Keep while I am connected to the Internet, so the Keep tab can update. I does not happen unless the Keep tab is opened.

This applies to Drive, Gmail and any other app that shares or syncs data with other devices or cloud services. If you rely on these apps and are frequently away from a network, pin the tabs and keep them open all the time.

Lets step through the things you need to do to use a Chromebook offline. I assume you are logged in, and have an Internet connection. If I describe a service you do not need or want, go to the next item. This is based on my personal useage.

1. – Open Keep. You are done. Keep is a simple but powerful note Google Keeptaker, and it synchronizes automatically and continuously. If you have a lot of notes in keep it may take a minute to download everything. This is it for Keep! I suggest you pin the tab, or open it as a separate window so it stays up to date.

2. – Open Google Drive. Go to settings and select “Offline” and wait Google Drivefor it to sync up. This can take a while. If you only store Google docs, sheets, slides and drawings, you are done.

3. – Open the Files app. If you want to save non gDocs in drive, there Files Appis another step. You must open the Files app, find the files you want to save locally, and right-click each one and tick “Available offline”.  Optionally, if there are a large number of files, copy them to a USB or SD card, and open them from there.

Files Offline

4. – Open Google Calendar. In settings, select “Offline” to enable Google Calendaroffline access to the Calendar app. This will sync all current appointments. It will NOT allow you to add new entries in your calendar at this time. But usually, you will be offline because you are travelling, so your calendar should have the information you need in it beforehand.  

Calendar Offline

Calendar Syncronizes

5. – Open Gmail Offline. Go to settings and select offline.  and decide Gmail Offlinehow much e-mail you want to store. I delete everything not vital, so my mail store is small, I select the longest time available, one month.

As Gmail Offline syncs, it starts from the latest, and saves backwards, giving a running update on how much it has stored. You can read, delete, and create mail while offline, but, obviously, nothing is sent or updated on the web until you are back in range of WiFi.

Offline EmailThe Gmail Offline app also saves starred messages. I am looking at a package dispatch notice sent to me four years ago, that I starred at the time.  This app is not my favourite, but it works fine. One gotcha is that it does not download graphics, so if you have email that is heavy on graphics, it will not be readable offline.

Some people who have multiple gmail accounts use Gmail Offline for one account, so they can have two accounts open without having to log out of their main account in Chrome OS.

6. – (Optional) Open Google Books. You may not use Google Books, Google Play Booksbut I find it a wonderful resource. Not only does the Google Play Store sell many books cheaper than Amazon, but any ePub that does not have DRM can be uploaded from your local machine. I have purchased books from Baen and other publishers, and downloaded many from sites such as Project Gutenberg. Some of my Favourite Sci-Fi authors are available on Google books, but not on Amazon. And books purchased on the Google Play Store can be downloaded and used in other e-readers if they do not have DRM added.  

I read most on my Nexus 7 tablet, but the Chromebook also provides a good reading experience. Simply look at “My books” hover over the ones you want to take with you, and select “Make available Offline” to download it. I currently have eight books available on my Chromebook.

Google Books will synchronize the reading locations, and my copious highlighting and notes between the Chromebook and any Chrome browsers I use, and my Android Reader apps in seconds. I highlight and take notes on the Chromebook, it is easier with a mouse and keyboard. I can then read and see my notes in seconds on any other device. It is a great study tool.

At this point, your Chromebook is ready to be used offline. Any time you have a connection, simply open the Keep, Drive, Gmail Offline and Google Books tabs, and they will sync.

I use a number of other tools, but what else you use is a matter of personal preference. One tool I think is irreplaceable for me is Pocket.

7. – (Optional, Bonus) Open and Synchronize Pocket. Pocket allows Pocket Offlineme to capture content from any web site, and read it later, offline. I can access it on my Chrome or Android device for offline reading. I often capture news articles, blog posts and other content relating to articles I am working on. I also often capture articles that I want to read later, when I have more time.

The “Save to Pocket” addon puts a button on the browser toolbar. Clicking on this saves the article to Pocket. Tags and annotations can be added. Then, when the Chrome App is opened, it downloads all the articles to the local machine for offline reading. I currently have several hundred articles saved in this fashion. Not everything works offline, searching does not work, but usually I have no trouble making things findable.

So that is the basics. Most people will want other apps and tools, and there are many that work offline. I will discuss some of them in future posts, and some have already been discussed.

You may also like to read:

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A Week With A Chromebook Offline – Conclusions.

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook offline for a week was not a challenge after all. With one quirk understood, I worked productively in half a dozen locations with no WiFi.

This is the week, based on my journal, recorded in Keep.

Offline: Day Two – User Error

I had forgotten a feature of Evernote for Android. It requires the paid Pro version to allow saving of offline folders. I use the paid version, but you must visit each folder and mark it for offline access to be able to use notes when offline. This only applies to the client you are using. The folders must be selected and synced before going offline.

I stored some web pages in Evernote for use while offline in my Inbox, but I had forgotten to mark it for offline use. User error!

Fortunately, I save web pages I require for reference in both Evernote and Pocket, and Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles.

“Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles offline”

I also use Google Keep for lots of notes, and it syncs automatically and has been 100% reliable.

Day Three – File Naming

Offline Document CreationAnother quirk of Google Docs offline is file naming. When on-line, a new document is created automatically, with a generic name. It can be re-named later. In offline mode, you are asked to provide a name when the document is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.

“You are asked to provide a document name when it is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.”

All my documents are numbered and named. I accidentally gave a new document the wrong number. I will have to wait another few days to correct the mistake. No big deal, just an interesting quirk.

Day Four –  The Only Failure

I rebooted the Chromebook. I rarely do this, I usually just close the lid (screen) and known it will start from hibernate instantly the next time I lift the lid. I decided to do the full power cycle to check for problems.

But rebooting while offline, a few things went wrong.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io. It works offline, and I use it to format content for blog posts. I can save from Stackedit as HTML and paste directly into WordPress. I have never noticed this problem before, but Stackedit is usually running.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io.

I initially wrote a rant about having contributed to become a lifetime supporter, but finding a need to connect constantly to a server to start the app working being a slap in the face.

I have re-done this test a number of times, and each time StackEdit has started offline with no problems. So I withdraw my rant and will wait to see what happens over time.

My faith in StackEdit is, however, bruised. It was only the fact that I had been doing all my writing in Google Docs, as most users would, and copying text back and forth that allowed me to continue for another few days without re-connecting to the Internet.

I must assume this was a one-time problem. But would the StackEdit client have re-started if I had attempted to open A Markdown file stored locally, rebooting my access to the number of files I could not access? I did not think to try, and it has behaved perfectly since then, so I have no way to know.

A Real Problem & A Solution

“Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed.”

Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed. They did not show up in a search for their names. They were not in Recent, or in the folder I had saved them to.

I tried the search in the ChromeOS Files app, my work was gone, or was invisible. This was not a happy outcome.

But all Google Docs are given long unguessable URLs that do not change. So I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.

Offline Document In History

“I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.”

 

Save Document URL
Save Document URL

I also have a master document with the names of all the documents I have created. Documents and articles not yet started are in red, in progress is blue, finished is green. I usually paste a link to each document into this master document, giving me a hyperlink to everything. I had done that with one of the three missing documents, and it opened immediately. Everything was there, just not visible in Drive.

Work continued Uninterrupted.

I had copied the content to other apps, and saved to a USB stick after applying Markup so nothing would have been lost.

Day Seven – A Stress Free Week

The rest of the week has gone perfectly. I have experimented with a number of apps that work offline, including Evernote for Android, Write Space, QwertyZen, the Calculator, Google Calendar, Gliffy Diagrams, and more.

Only once did I have a concern with Google Docs. A message opened up saying “Offline editing has stopped working, please reload the tab”. I did, with trepidation, and the document came back, with the cursor where I had left it, nothing lost.

Day Eight

I turned WiFi on and opened Drive. My missing documents popped into the list within seconds. I opened Gmail Offline and mail that had been read and deleted synced. Sent mail queued up in the Outbox went. Opened documents quickly showed spell checking working. Voice Typing came back.

With only one or two hiccups, the week had gone perfectly. If I had continued to use ChromeOS from hibernate instead of re-booting, there may well have been zero problems.

“I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk.”

I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk. Not backing up your work is hazardous at any time, and while Google Docs cannot be saved outside Drive, minimally formatted content can be copied and pasted to other file formats. Only Sheets and Presentations rely on being on-line for backups. anyone who writes can work confidently for long periods.

If you need to be offline for really extended periods, or use Sheets, Presentations and other formats for extended periods there are other options. More on that later.

 

The Last Word…

For now, my only advice is, create a number of blank Docs, Sheets and Presentations while on-line. They will be visible in Files and Drive and can be edited and closed with no drama.

More Later. Enjoy!

The decision to try offline for a week is made.

My rant about the “Chromebooks Don’t Work Offline” argument.

 

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Why Retail Sales of Chromebooks are Doomed

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

Recently a friend visited to ask my advice on a chromebook for his father.

He had visited Harvey Norman, A major Australian retailer. While they had several chromebooks in stock the Harvey Norman salesman were very dismissive of the product and told him that in a year they have not sold one. I found that hard to believe since I have personally bought two chromebooks in that store.

The problem for Google (and users) is that salesmen have very little incentive to sell Chromebooks because low cost means small commissions. And retailers train sales staff to sell the items with the biggest profit margins.

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works. You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day. So any salesman, seeing mom and pop walk into the shop will upsell them using brands and names they know. While it is ageing and tarnished in the tech. world, Microsoft Windows is a well known brand. For the non-technical person, the advice of a smiling salesman combined with a name they know, Apple or Microsoft, will convince them.

You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day.

The result will be inevitably that’s for Google to succeed with chromebooks they will have to be sold online not through retailers who simply have no incentive to sell them.

This may well mean that for these brick and mortar retailers the day will stay with windows and Apple devices until the market gradually withers and dies and then find that they have lost out to Google and online retailers forever.

I visited Harvey Norman myself the next day, and received the same dismissive response to Chromebooks. The HP 11 original version is my favourite computer. To my delight, I found they had two in stock, reduced almost to half price. I picked one up for my son, with the intention of pensioning off and old Samsung Chromebook.

Before filling out the paperwork the salesman looked at me over the top of the beautiful molded box and said “You do realise that a Chromebook is not a REAL computer…” I assured him I knew EXACTLY what a Chromebook was, and left with a half price Chromebook.

This post was written offline on a Chromebook, and moved via USB drive to post here – My Offline Chromebook challenge is half over.

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The Chromebook Offline Challenge – A Week Without Internet.

Drive is OfflineAt 11:45 this morning I walked out of my office with my HP Chromebook 11. I had synced drive and offline Gmail, Calendar, Evernote (the Android app.) and Pocket. I have opened Keep, StackEdit, and other apps that I use while online, allowing them to sync up. Then I turned WiFi off.

“At 11:45 this morning, I turned my Chromebook’s WiFi off. It will stay disconnected for a week”

I will not connect this Chromebook to the Internet for a week. I will write using Drive and Docs, and do all the work I normally do on my Chromebox on this device.

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

The purpose of the experiment is not to live without the Internet, but to test the reliability of Docs, Drive, Keep, and other tools for a long period of disconnection. Will they be reliable? Will I lose work? A common criticism of Chromebooks is that they do not work offline. That myth has been debunked repeatedly, but the question remains, just how safe is a Chromebook if it is offline for a prolonged period?

“The myth that Chromebooks don’t work offline has been thoroughly debunked…”

To protect my week’s output, I will copy and paste text into QwertyZen or StackEdit and save to a USB stick in case of total disaster.

The first loss, of course is that spell checking does not work in offline Docs. I will have to wait until I am back on-line, or copy text to another editor that does spell checking offline such as StackEdit, QwertyZen, or Write.

One drawback with gDocs (Google Docs) is that they cannot be copied and pasted to a USB drive or otherwise accessed outside Drive. And another drawback is that non Google files, like .txt, .json or .html are not syncronised automatically. These non Google documents can, however be saved to a USB stick or Dropbox, Onedrive or a Windows share for storage. They can also be set to save locally and synchronize using the ChromeOS Files app. Simply save the file to Drive, find it using the Files app, right click and check “Available Offline”. This will need to be done in each instance of drive where you want this file kept, it does not propagate across machines.

I will update my progress periodically. I do not expect to have a problem, but time will tell.

This post was writted as a Google Doc, formatted in StackEdit, saved as HTML to a USB drive and uploaded via my Chromebox.

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Old Hardware Never Dies, It Just Gets Recycled

Two Old Friends
Two Old Friends

I have spent the morning cleaning out some old hardware. A pair of desktop computers that have not been started up for four years or more.

I do not consider myself a hoarder, but letting go of old computer equipment is always hard.

Computers and technology tend to be big purchases. We invest in them.

In this case the machines were ones that I had built, rebuilt and upgraded by hand. I had used them as workstations, sitting for hours, days, weeks, months while they had whirred tirelessly away under the desk.

I wrote software and articles. Thousands of pieces of e-mail flowed across the screens. hours of music had played through the speakers.

Operating systems and software had been upgraded, replaced and, at times re-installed or wound back. Disk repair, defrag and backup software had kept them running many nights.

In each case they had become too slow for the latest software. They had been relegated to workgroup servers (an undemanding job in a small workgroup) and eventually were shelved as “backups” for newer machines.

Today their performance and capacity seems ludicrous, but each machine was a big investment, carefully chosen, and lovingly used.

I name my computers.

Old hardware never diesOver the years I have named computers after moons, characters from books and movies. Currently I am naming them after spacecraft and mars rovers. I am typing this on a Chromebox named Firefly, while my Chromebook, Viking recharges beside me.

These two were named Banichi and Jago. I will leave it for the sci-fi fans to figure out who they were named after.

Today they were carted into the back yard, minus disk drives, that will be destroyed, and added to a pile to go to the recycling depot as e-waste. Finding a home for them, minus keyboards and monitors is impractical.

I will not miss them, but I will remember them as old friends now departed.

00175 – Image Courtesy of Wilson Afonso

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Beware – Microsoft is Downloading Windows 10 Without Asking

Microsoft is silently pushing Windows 10 onto every PC running a current version of Windows

Windows 10 Screen

It is now becoming clear that Microsoft is silently pushing Windows 10 onto every PC running a current version of Windows. This is a huge 3 Gigabyte download, silently saved to a hidden folder on your Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 computer.

For those with desktop computers and fast Internet connections this is little more than an annoyance. It may even be a benefit if you plan to upgrade soon.

If you are a nomad, digital or grey, you have a problem.

But if you are a nomad, digital or grey, you have a problem. Nomads are often using very slow  or expensive metered data plans. Often public WiFi is all that is available. It may be free, but is often limited to 200 or 500 Megabytes per day.

Telstra’s pre-paid mobile data plans typically are 10$ per Gigabyte. Mobile plans start at $35 per Gigabyte. And heaven help anyone who is overseas and paying Telstra’s $3 per Megabyte roaming charges!

Microsoft is assuming everyone will want to upgrade sooner or later, so we might as well download it and hide it on your computer now.  This is, in my opinion and  egregious violation of people’s confidence and trust in the Microsoft upgrade process.

Microsoft told the Enquirer: “For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade.

“When the upgrade is ready, the customer will be prompted to install Windows 10 on the device.”

Many web sites say that by removing one Windows update, KB3035583 the process can be stopped. Unfortunately, this information is out of date. Microsoft has worked around that, and is once again starting the downloads.

If you are using Windows 8 or 8.1 you can set your connection to “Metered” and updates will wait. Microsoft has an article on Metered Internet Connections here

I can offer no easy solution for those on slow connections or Windows 7. There is one fix discussed on a Microsoft Forum, but it is technical, and a mistake may break your computer. Use it at your own peril.

I have decided that the best way to stop Windows 7 trying to download Windows 10 was to simply remove it.

I have installed Ubuntu 14.04, a version of Linux as a replacement on my only Windows PC. My ASUS UX31E Ultrabook cannot handle Windows 10 properly. Some drivers do not work, and It uses the battery too fast. I will try it again soon, but for now Linux is my Laptop operating system of choice.

Since I use my Chromebooks 95% of the time, this is not an issue for me.

If you Decide to Install Windows 10

If you have decided to go ahead and install Windows 10 despite the privacy and compatibility issues, there is an excellent video on Youtube that steps you through the changes necessary to regain some privacy. Check it out here:

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Google Voice Typing – The Future of Writing.

Google Voice Typing Active
Google Voice Typing Active

When I started my Chromebook this morning I discovered that Google had added a powerful new feature. I can now use my voice to type in Google Docs.  Impressed when I was wondering if it would work on a Chromebook. and particularly how accurate it would be, as I have found that most voice activated systems tend to work very poorly. I spend more time editing and correcting then I would have done if I had typed the entire article myself.

Google Voice Typing
Google Voice Typing

To my surprise I find that Google Voice typing works almost flawlessly. the only fault I have found is that the words new line tend to be interpreted as a new lawn, and I do not get the new line that I was asking for unless I speak very clearly, probably my Australian drawl.

As an example of how accurate the voice recognition on Google Voice typing is I have produced this entire article using Google Voice with no editing at all.

While this is incredibly useful for writers like me who I slow on the keyboard or in my case have a problem with a shrinking tendon in my right hand, I can only imagine what the future will bring for those who are visually impaired or physically impaired when Google can expand this technology to make a Chromebook completely voice activated.

I have literally not edited a single word in this rather short post about Google Voice typing. I have been a little careful with the pronunciation of words but other than that I have SAT with my arms folded and talked the whole piece.

I am absolutely amazed at the accuracy of Google Voice at the top of the screen is a message telling me we are having trouble hearing you and yet it is continuing to record my words with great accuracy.

Voice typing menu
Voice typing menu

Additionally in each sentence words are underlined in gray and if I right click I get an option of Digimon and word was several words that might have been what I meant at that point if I had been misinterpreted.

Strangely I find it very difficult to compose as I speak. when I type I have more time to think through what I want to say and therefore, I am sure write better than I speak. Or as I should have said more accurately.

Punctuation is limited to only a few options which I will now cut and paste in because there is no way I can do them using the voice recognition system.

  • “Period”
  • “Comma”
  • “Exclamation point”
  • “Question mark”
  • “New line”
  • “New paragraph”

Google Voice typing has arrived with very little fanfare, but I suggest it is going to be one of the most important features in Google Docs in the future. I have tried other voice recognition systems for riding and found them all extremely frustrating. This is working very smoothly.

Enjoy!

00170 

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Mobile Phone Distraction, and the Multi-tasking Myth

mobile phone?New Google President Sundar Pichai was recently ambushed interviewed by a rather aggressive interviewer from the New York Times about the increasingly intrusive nature of mobile phones. The interviewer was implying that it was the task of Google to make phones less distracting, intrusive and anti-social.

CONOR DOUGHERTY was obviously fishing for a quote on “phone intrusion“, and turned a real opportunity into an embarrassing attempted ambush. Sundar was too polite to tell him to move on, but I think from the editing of the interview and comments, that readers can see the trend in the questions.

His proposition is completely wrong. Everyone has control of their own phone. The apps used, and the way of using them is at the discretion of the user. We each can choose to mute alerts, close apps, or mute the phone completely.

If there is any case for intrusion, I think it is management expecting employees to stay connected to their jobs 24 x 7, via e-mail, text and phone simply because the technology is available. An example is Microsoft’s pitch for Office 365. It lets you keep working on vacation, at the kid’s recital, or over dinner.

The individual must make their own decision as to how they will respond for the welfare of themselves and their families.

The belief that we can “multi-task” if we are smart or young enough is completely incorrect. The mind focuses well only on one thing at a time. Creative people are familiar with the concept of “flow” or being “in the zone”. This is that wonderful place we go when the right side of the brain takes over what we are doing, and we become productive. Really productive. We also lose all track of time, and, often, our ability to speak is impaired.

Some companies are now hiring people based on their (percieved) ability to multi-task. And some use this mythical ability as a keystone of their resume. But the damage done by multi-tasking is now well documented.

The Guardian Newspaper quotes MIT’s Earl Miller as saying “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”

The constant distraction caused by interruptions of any type severely disrupt our ability to be productive. They can also annoy or offend others, in meetings or a social setting.

So:

  • Turn off phone notifications.
  • Let workmates know you do not reply to messages and e-mail instantly, but are batching it up to process at a set time each day.
  • Unless it is being used for notes, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY in meetings.
  • At business lunches, pile the phones up on top of each other in the middle of the table, and the first person to grab his phone pays for lunch.
  • Focus on one thing for 25 or 55 minutes, take a break, and move on to the next thing.

A smartphone is a powerful tool, and it can help us in many situations from navigating to an unfamiliar destination to providing weather, flight, and accommodation information. But if we allow to to distract us constantly with Twitter, e-mail, Facebook and Instagram notifications, we are becoming slaves to a device designed to help us.

If we do not control our phone It becomes our master, not our slave.

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Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

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Technology user, lover, simplifier, explainer.