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.

 

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

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: