Saving Web Pages for Later from Chrome, Firefox and Safari

The Web - The Best Research Tool
The Web – The Best Research Tool

The web is a wonderful asset for writers and researchers. It is the ultimate research tool. But how do we save what we find for later?

The problem is keeping the information at our fingertips for later access. This is especially a problem if we work some of the time with no internet connection. Perhaps on a plane or train, or in a remote location where WiFi or Internet is expensive,  limited, unsafe or simply unavailable.

If you work on a Chromebook, this is an even bigger problem, because there are fewer options to store web pages and research material offline. But there are ways.

The three best ways to save web pages and web based notes offline.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper

Clip to EvernoteIf you are an Evernote user, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Evernote has the brilliant Evernote Web Clipper. It allows web content to be clipped in a number of formats and saved to Evernote.

Clipped articles can be saved in specific folders, and you can add tags.

Clip to EvernoteA particularly nice feature is the ability to highlight text on the page before it is saved. Selecting snippets of text allows you to colour them.

It is also possible to select a range of text in an article BEFORE clicking the save button on the toolbar, and save only that text to Evernote.

Clip to EvernoteThe downside of using Evernote is the fact that it cannot be accessed offline unless you have access to the Evernote App on Windows, Mac, Android or iOS. On a Chromebook, you will need to have the Evernote Android App installed, and that, at this time, is less than perfect on Chrome OS. This should improve over the next few months at the Android store rolls out to all capable Chrome OS devices.

2  Save to Pocket.

Save to PocketPocket is a free service (with a premium option) that allows pages to be saved and viewed on the Pocket web site, or in the Pocket app on Android and iOS or using a Chrome plugin. All work offline, as long as you have downloaded the latest content before going offline.

Save to PocketIt has fewer options than Evernote Web Clipper, but it is reliable, but allows tagging after saving.

3 Save to Keep

Save to KeepThis is a very simple and fast plugin that saves the URL of the page you are looking at and selected text to Keep.

Keep works offline, but the save option only saves the URL and a simple snapshot of the header. It will also save highlighted text. If you simply want to capture a thought or paragraph, this is a great option.

Save to KeepRemember though, it is text only, formatting disappears.

It is excellent for quickly saving things, but is not much use if you want a full article with images and formatting offline. It definitely has a place in my toolkit though.

These are the tools I use. They all work on Chrome, Safari and Firefox. You should be able to get them working on pretty much any platform.

There are others, including Sent to Kindle and Shareaholic that I have tried in the past.

The save to Kindle plugin works well in Chrome, but provides a text only capture. It also requires a Kindle reader to be installed on a tablet or phone, it ignores Chrome, Windows and macOS readers.

The Shareaholic plugin also works well with multiple sites, but is more of a social sharing tool that a save tool.

Please let me know what you use in the comments.

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.

 

00178

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.

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 

Chromebooks Can Now Access Windows Servers, OneDrive and Dropbox (Updated)

00162-smb-playstoreI was excited to see a post from +Yoichiro Tanaka on Google+ that he had posted a new App in the Chrome store for ChromeOS devices.

It is a new service for the Files app that allows Chromebook and Chromebox users to connect directly to SMB (Windows) server shares. I immediately installed it and connected to my NAS4Free server with no problems.

The NAS4Free share appears in the left pane of the Files app, and everything is immediately available.

I was ecstatic, for the one downside of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes is that the only way to connect to a local resource is to use FTP by typing and FTP address into the browser.

For example to play a video from my NAS server required me to connect with ftp://192.168.1.250/ and then right-click a file and save it locally to play the content. SOME FTP content will play directly in the browser, but most has to be saved locally.

Compared to the point and click possible between Windows and Linux machines and network shares, ChromeOS has been pretty clunky.

00162-services-in-file-managerUnfortunately, I was unable to connect to my ASUS router. It has a 3TB USB drive connected and shared as SMB and FTP. All attempts to date have failed to connect. This is unfortunate, but for an App that has only been available for days, it is a VERY GOOD start. SMB is a difficult protocol to cope with. Microsoft spent years trying to break connections from any device that was NOT Windows until they finally realised it was in their best interests to let everybody connect to their servers.

UPDATE: The latest version of this app now connects to everything in my office perfectly. I have connected to a NAS4Free box, ASUS router and a Seagate Wireless Plus Mobile Storage / Wi-Fi hub that is my travel server.

The Service/App is not perfect. Pausing a video during playback causes a timeout error, and I wonder if the failure to connect to some of these SMB devices is simply the slow speed of low powered devices such as router based SMB shares and NAS boxes that take time to spin up sleeping hard drives.

I am confident that Yoichiro will continue to work on this, as long as he gets some encouragement, and with time it will sort out the problems.

New File Services
New File Services

As I worked away with this I noticed something new in the usually simple Files left pane. A new item at the bottom. Add New Devices!

And behind that button is OneDrive, WebDAV and Google Cloud Storage.

00162 0 dropbox-app-storeAdded to this the exciting Dropbox implementation done as the first proof of concept for the new API Google released, and some seriously exciting things are happening in the Chromebook / ChromeOS world!

I do NOT want ChromeOS to grow into the bloated sloth that is Windows, but by adding features such as connecting to local network devices, the ability to connect to Bluetooth headphones and speakers and access phones via Micro-USB / OTG in just the last month or so.

ChromeOS is getting very interesting.

 

HP Chromebook 11 Charging – revisited

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

I have had a comment on a recent post from Kathy, concerned that the HP Micro-USB charging port is not living up to it’s potential.  She was concerned by the “Low-power charger” message.

I decided to redo the last group of tests, to be sure.

last night I ran my HP Chromebook 11 flat by playing the Iron-man movie continually until the battery was dead. I do NOT like or recommend ever running a battery below 18-20% as this can damage the battery. I am not an Apple fan, but they have an excellent web page on battery care for laptops and devices with Li-Ion batteries here

I plugged the charger into my basically dead Chromebook four hours ago, and rebooted when the battery reached 9%. The results, with the computer asleep and only being checked every hour where:

  • Hour 1 – 33% up 24%
  • Hour 2 – 56% up 23%
  • Hour 3 – 78% up 22% (with the PortaPow fast  power only cable)
  • Hour 4 – 84% up 6% (with the computer in constant use)

smoothing out the results, this is about 24% / Hr, or four hours to pretty much full charge. The original HP charger does this in a whisker under three hours. not a bad comparison.

Interestingly, temperature is a factor for battery life, and fast chargers heat batteries up, as does fast discharging doing things like playing video at full screen and full screen brightness.  As a result, I have chosen, where possible to charge all my devices as slowly as possible.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My most used option for the HP Chromebook 11, my Nexus 7, and my phone is a one meter illuminated charging cable. I have purchased three different types, and the common factor is usefulness rather than speed. They glow red when charging, and turn blue when charging stops. They charge at about half the speed of the fast PortaPow cables, but I plug all my devices in at night, and by morning, everything has been charged slowly but effectively.

When I travel, speed becomes more of an issue, and I go to the fast charging options.

The HP Chromebook 11 and  the “Low-power charger” message

I have no inside information here, but I see devices described by my HP 11 as “Low-power chargers” charging at a pretty good rate (See the figures above)  My feeling is that the HP charger uses a customized “hardware handshake” or unique resistors between the signal and power lines. I am sure no matter how powerful the charger, and good the cable nothing but a genuine HP charger will be considered the full powered option. It does not mean the the charger is not doing a good job. Slower? Yes, but that is not always a bad thing.

I have worked for days with a 2 amp Nexus 7 charger slowly charging ( and sometimes discharging) my HP Chromebook 11 while it is being used. When I close the lid and the computer is suspended, it charged at a pretty fast rate.

I am currently writing this on the HP 11 with Drive, Gmail and a couple of other tabs open. It has charged only 5% in the last hour. But in my experience, a Windows Laptop being used while charging can often take 8-10 hours to charge. Assuming a 20% starting point, that is 8% per hour, so the difference is noticeable, but not catastrophic.

This computer has now been charging for four hours, three in sleep mode, one in constant use, and the battery has gone from 9% to 82%. Not a bad average, given that my $1800 ASUS Zenbook takes four hours to charge from 20% while not being used.

The thing to remember is, if you use the machine constantly, the charger will keep it going. Any USB charger will bring it back up overnight, and that USB charger can also charge your phone, tablet, headphones, keyboard, mouse and more. And the slower charging rate will preserve the battery in your Chromebook.

Also worth mentioning is that the power-bank you bought to recharge your phone or tablet can also keep the HP Chromebook 11 running longer. Everything from a 2600 mAh lipstick sized charger to the 10400 mAh Soshine power bank beside me (review coming) can keep that HP Chromebook 11 running longer.

My Takeaway:

  • Any USB charger can charge the HP Chromebook 11
  • Any HP Chromebook 11 charger can charge a myriad of other devices
  • Lower powered chargers may take longer, but they will extend battery life
  • The HP Chromebook 11 & Charger is a VERY light travel solution, and can charge other devices
  • pick the best cable for the job you need

If you have doubts, look at the numbers, and, does it really need to charge in three hours? What is your real usage model? In my case, a trickle feed keeping it going all day and an overnight top-up is perfect, and any charger can do that…

Enjoy!

QwertyZen – A Writers Text Editor for Chrome

I spend a lot of time writing in ChromeOS on a Chromebook and Chromebox. I am always looking for a reliable, distraction free text editor, a Writers Editor.

QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface
QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface

I have used several text editors, and all work well but have issues. Some have no save capability, some do not work offline, some have no spell-checker and some are cluttered and allow no font and color options. Some are not persistent.

 

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and has an uncluttered interface

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and does all of that. It has an uncluttered interface, saves, works offline and on Chromebooks and Windows machines and has a good spell-checker.

When you start typing the interface disappears, showing just the text and nothing else. Moving the mouse over the page brings up the interface. The file name is at the top of the screen, and the word count, letter count, target, and average reading time shows at the bottom of the screen. A simple menu system appears on the left side. This allows full screen mode (and back) file save, save as, and open, new document, and an additional nice feature, the ability to set a target.

Setting targets

Is there any writer or blogger who is not trying to reach a target word count? Articles need to be a certain length. Most of has have a personal goal of a certain number of words per day. This can be set for each document, and a green popup appears in the corner of the screen when the target is reached.

Settings

The QwertyZen Interface
The QwertyZen Interface

The settings tab is simple and basic. Font and background colour, font size and type and line width and height can be set.

It is also persistent. If I close my Chromebook down, when I restart and open QweryZen, the last document is still there, waiting to be edited and saved.

A small but nice feature is a findable cursor

I set my background to a dark blue and my font to white or light blue. Many text editors show the mouse pointer as a fine black bar, making it impossible to find the mouse location on a dark background without clicking on the page to see where the cursor will appear. In QweryZen the mouse Cursor is black with a white outline, making it clearly visible at all times.

It does not have a built in ability to print, but I can open any text file from Google Drive as a doc and print it, in the rare cases I want to print a .txt file from my Chromebox or Chromebook.

QweryZen cannot be registered in Drive as an App, so clicking on a text file will not open it in QweryZen, but I simply open files from inside QweryZen using the File List option.

I would like to see a search or search and replace capability. A recently opened files list would be nice. Autosave would be a nice option. I can survive without all of them, though.

Other than that, I am VERY pleased after a few hours of use. I have now deleted Caret and Write Space to remove confusion and clutter, and am using QwertyZen as my sole Chromebook text editor.

This review was written in QwertZen

“He’s Dead, Jim!” – Upgrading the Memory in My ASUS Chromebox

"He's dead, Jim"
“He’s dead, Jim”

My ASUS Chromebox has been working well for more than four months, but I am beginning to see the dreaded “He’s dead, Jim!” screen.

I have begun to use more Chrome Apps, and I keep a lot of tabs open. I will often scroll through 30 blog posts in Feedly, and open interesting posts in tabs in for later reading. So 20 tabs and 3 or 4 apps is not unusual. And the result is the “He’s dead, Jim!” screen appearing regularly. Basically, Chrome OS is running out of memory. It does it gracefully, stopping the pages I am NOT viewing, bit it is annoying. When I switch to a previously opened tab, I see the message, and have to re-load.

I have never had a current tab die, but having to refresh each page is a pain. So today, I upgraded my ASUS Chromebox with another 4Gb of RAM.

I have been running continuously for five hours, and deliberately opening more apps and tabs than I normally open.

Cog - Lots of RAM left
Cog – Lots of RAM left

I have not lost a single tab or app, and Cog is telling me I am using about 60% of available RAM.

The Chromebox is running well. I cannot say faster, because speed has rarely been an issue. I have rebooted and run the Octane benchmark, and it is slightly faster, but that could be random noise. But importantly, I have not once been bothered by issues relating to running out of memory.

I really believe it it time for Chromebook manufacturers to crawl out of the crib, and start building Chromebooks and Chrome Boxes with real performance. The Chromebook Pixel was an outlier, but one loved by a fanatical and vocal, if small fan base.

We may not need another Pixel, but we definitely need a few high end Chromebooks. From my experience here, I think a Chromebook with a good quality 1080p screen, 13” or above, minimum 4Gb ram, expandable, 32 or 64Gb drive and a good backlit keyboard is sorely needed!

The Australia tax will make it 50% more expensive here, for no reason other than the fact the the manufacturers can get away with it, but I will still pay for a premium Chromebook.

You may like to read my original review of the ASUS Chromebox or why I think Google Drive / Docs users would not have suffered the same fate as Sony in the Sony Hack.

Enjoy! – Phil Stephens

Would the SONY Hack Work on a Google Drive Based Business?

Your Information IS your business, Keep It Safe

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

A modern business of ANY size is largely the sum of it’s data and documents. Keeping them safe and private is crucial for the survival of your business. Are you safe if you use Google services?

Security in the Post Sony Hack World

The Sony Pictures hack has shone the spotlight on the security issues posed by Internet connected systems, particularly those using Windows desktops. Sony, it will probably be revealed, got hacked via a spearfishing attack. Spearfishing is aiming a carefully crafted attack at an individual using personal information to make the attack seem like an email or document they expect, know, or want. Once they have allowed it into the network, lax security procedures and poor passwords gave them access to everything. However they got in, poor security procedures will ultimately be revealed to be the main culprit.

Sony Hack
Sony Hack

Passwords were stored in unencrypted files named “passwords”. Thousands of email messages stored in Microsoft Outlook .PST data files were copied. massive numbers of documents were just copied off the Sony servers and out to the web. It is obvious that security was lax, but the reason all this was copied is basically that it was all sitting on Sony servers, and the passwords were weak or available to the hackers.

This was a failure of the classic server-client network on a huge scale.

Security in the Google Cloud World

Google Drive Logo
Google Drive Logo

On the other hand, a business that keeps it’s workers on Chromebooks and stores data in the cloud is going to be in a better position to defend it’s data.

The documents, spreadsheets and mail are all stored on Google’s secure and backed up servers. Access is via individual user passwords. Documents can be private, shared with individuals, shared with domains (everyone in the business) or publicly.

There is one huge security advantage to this. Instead of documents being emailed around the company, they can be shared via email. This means that all that is sent is a link. A document in an email can be forwarded, copied and stolen. The document link will only work for someone logged into Google Drive as the recipient of the document. Anyone else that gets the link will not be able to access the document. This is a huge step up from emailing documents.

An Example of the Dangers of Sending Documents

Some time ago, I worked for a very large organization that used Microsoft Office. Everyone used Outlook for email. People inside the company sent contracts, proposals, memos and other documents as Word documents attached to emails.

In one large department, Instead of saving documents on the corporate servers, they began to go back to Outlook to find the last version of the document and worked on that. Then they sent it or saved it back to Outlook. Corporate data was not being saved on the file servers. Outlook .PST files grew to huge sizes.

Then, one Sunday night, the mail server for that department ran out of disk space. It tried to alert the Sysadmin, but there was no space on the server to process the email. The whole system collapsed at 2:35 AM and no-one knew anything was wrong until they arrived for work on Monday.

The lack of disk space had also prevented backups from running properly. Tape backups had failed weeks before, but no-one had checked the logs. It took two weeks to get the mail system running, and many users had lost hundreds of documents and revisions of documents. Some lost their entire email history, address book and calendar. For weeks, email flew around the organization begging for recent versions of contracts, proposals and other documents to be sent back to the originators. The fallout went on for a year or more.

As the Sysadmin for my department, I began monitoring the size of Outlook data files, and began delivering scathing warnings if they began to grow to large.

It was a lesson I never forgot.

And the Winner Is…

If Sony had been using Google cloud storage, how may this have played out?

E-mail would have been protected by storage in Google’s cloud. Google mail is accessible by web browser. The connection to Gmail is by a secure HTTPS connection. This would have made intercepting e-mail difficult to impossible. Attachments would have been replaced by links, and not accessible to the hackers without the relevant passwords. Email would have remained secure as long as passwords remained secure.

I have mentioned secure passwords a few times. A cloud based solution needs good password security. Sony obviously were using bad passwords and poor password procedures.

For Google Docs (the business version of Drive) User policy is controlled centrally by the Administrator and allows policy like good passwords and two factor authentication to be enforced.

Lastpass
Lastpass

A corporate account with Lastpass would have saved a lot of grief. Lastpass creates and stores secure passwords. Instead of using “Monkey” or “123456” everywhere, Lastpass will generate a real, unique and secure password for every site and then store it for you. Every time you visit that site while logged into lastpass, it will paste the password and username into the browser for you.

And even better, it is really secure, really cheap, and uses two factor authentication.

Singing the Praises of Two Factor Authentication  

Two factor authentication simply means you need something other that the password. The password is easily stolen, but a second form of identification means the password is not enough

The second factor or token can be one of those key-ring devices that shows a number every thirty seconds, a fingerprint, a retinal scan, or a usb dongle that has to be plugged into your computer before you can log in.

Every teller at my bank has to swipe a card and type a password before they can use a terminal. That card is their second factor.

The simplest one for most of us is an app for our phone or tablet. I use Google Authenticator. I have registered my Google Mail account, and when I login, I have 30 seconds to type in the six digit number displayed on my phone or tablet. I also have a sheet of six emergency codes. I keep that paper very safe, and have never had to use it. I always have a phone or tablet in range when I sit down at the computer.

The Cloud IS Secure

00131-drive-iconsAs we can see from this, using a cloud service like Google Docs is no less secure than storing everything on a local server.

Is it absolute security? No. No-one is even sure such a thing exists. It is all relative.

If the FBI, NSA, ASIO or GCHQ want your data, they will get it. But Google is working hard to make this process more difficult for them, and is making great strides.

This is a low friction, low cost option to provide secure storage and sharing of your data with high reliability, and no cost for a big IT team to keep it working.

REALLY Secure Information in the Cloud  

Some things really are secrets, rather that just private. There are ways to put the absolutely most secret things in the cloud to. They just require a little work to get them there.

More on that later – Enjoy!

ASUS Chromebox Review – The ASUS Chromebox Is A Winner!

 

ASUS Chromebox
ASUS Chromebox

The last step in my conversion from “Full” PCs running Windows or Linux has occured. I pre-ordered the ASUS Chromebox with the Intel Celeron 2955U Processor and it arrived two days ago. I have been using it constantly, and I am very impressed.

It took me a long time to decide to try a Chromebook. The “It’s just a laptop with a browser” crowd kept me away for quite a while. Once I bought a Samsung Chromebook, I was hooked. I Took the 31 day Chromebook challenge,  using nothing but the Chromebook for a month (well, I did give in a couple of times) and I was hooked. I love ChromeOS! I have gradually moved further and further away from Windows and Linux.

The ASUS Chromebox is a not very exciting looking black square, about 120mm square and 35mm high. It is surprisingly heavy, with the ASUS logo and Chrome logo on top, and an Intel inside hologram sticker on the front. The back is an array of connectors, including the ability to connect two monitors, one by HDMI and one by Displayport. I have connected mine to the HDMI port. It has Ethernet, 2 x USB3, Audio out, and power in. On the left side is an SD reader, and on the front two more USB3 ports. It has vents on the bottom and back, and in use is just a little warm on top. It seems to be fanless.

ASUS Chromebox
ASUS Chromebox

There is also Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless. It ships with the VESA mount that allows mounting it on the back of a monitor, but my monitor does not have the mounting point, to my dissapointment.

Having the power switch in the corner creates a psychological urge to mount the box at a 45 degree angle with the button facing forward. This makes sense in many cases given that then the right and left sides would have the connectors for SD card on the left and 2 x USB on the right at 45 degrees to the front, and quite reachable. In my case it does not work because of the direction cables must be laid to reach desktop openings.

It boots to a logon in five seconds or less. I am using a 1080p monitor, and the screen scrolls smoothly. I am impressed by the speed. I can play video, edit, and browse with multiple windows open. Scrolling is limited by load time not CPU. I have not yet seen the checkering that is common while scrolling on my HP Chromebook 11. I bought the HP for its light weight and USB charging, not the speed, and I am happy to compromise when I am mobile. But the flicker free, fast performance is a great on a desktop computer.

I am not a big fan of benchmarks, but I ran the Octane test and it runs at about 11,000. That is similar to the speeds I am getting using Chrome on a high end Core i5 Ultrabook running windows, and considerably faster than the HP Chromebook 11.

The (small) manual said I can sleep the Chromebox by pressing the power button, I am not seeing that happening though, it just seems to lock the screen.

It came with a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse. I do not like the keyboard, and have replaced it with the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse I have been using for my Chromebook when it is up on its desk stand.

I am currently spending a lot of time in the office, so I have been using it constantly and It has performed flawlessly.


For a Chromebox of this performance, costing $250 (in Australia) delivered, with wireless keyboard and mouse, I consider it an excellent buy.

You might like to read my assessment of ChromeOS at the end of the 31 day challenge here: