Archive for the ‘ Hardware’ Category

Test Driving a Chromebook and ChromeOS

When you’ve been using computers as long as I have change doesn’t always come easy. But, at Mozilla we have a saying that “The Web IS the Platform”. I’ve spent a LOT of time over the past year researching how much one can actually do using only “Web Technology”.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of years there is an ongoing debate (meaning argument) about HTML5 versus “Native”.  The more I experiment with HTML and the associated technologies, the fewer use-cases I find that truly require native platform technologies.

In May of 2011 a co-worker came back from Google I-O with a “Chromebook”. He described it as a net-book that only ran the Chrome browser. As a Microsoft employee I was a good corporate citizen and ran Internet Explorer as my primary browser. (Though I used Firefox for development work). IE doesn’t really have an extensibility model (and no, I don’t consider ActiveX a viable extensibility model) so I hadn’t really come to think of the browser as a container for application type functionality.

Spending the last 14 months embracing Firefox (and by association, Google Chrome) I’ve learned to be comfortable doing things in the browser  that I historically felt the need to do with a native Windows app. So, thinking from the perspective of Mozilla’s “The Web IS the Platform” and seeing the amazing progress we’ve made with FirefoxOS (an HTML5 Operating System for Phones) it makes sense that my “second look” at Chromebooks might leave me a bit more open minded about the potential.

Then it happened a couple of weeks ago. I stopped in to my local Best Buy store to upgrade my phone and they had an end-cap display of Chromebooks. They had two models on featured.

The Samsung ($249) had more elegant, Airbook-eske lines but they had the same size screens and RAM and they both booted in the same 20 seconds. However, the Samsung ($249) had only a 16 gigabyte SSD whereas the Acer ($199) had a 320 Gb hard drive. Since the both booted at the same pace I opted for the cheaper Acer with 20 times the storage.

Acer CHromebook

The plan was to see how much real work that I could to without having to revert to a “full” laptop. I have to say the the experience has been FAR better than I expected it to be. To begin with, I’m getting almost 5 hours of battery life which is 20% more than the manufacturer’s estimates.

The file manager takes a but of getting used to but once I did I was able to organize my files and easily move them between local storage on the hard drive and my Google Drive. One of the cool things about this is that I’ve been able to copy ripped movies t the Chromebook hard drive for in-flight viewing. They play just fine.

I plugged in a Microsoft wireless desktop (Mouse and Keyboard) and they “just worked”.

I found a plethora of apps to meet most of my daily needs.

Between Google Apps, Zoho, and Evernote I have most of my basic needs fulfilled. I also found a collection of other useful apps.  A couple of ToDo list managers, source code editors with built in FTP support, a web based irc client, basic image editors, etc.

I wrote the blog post, cropped the image, and posted all on the Chromebook.

So, what can I NOT do.

Well, I can’t run Zend Studio or other IDE / Editors of choice. I can’t to rich Video, Audio or Image editing (though I can do simple stuff), I haven’t found a batch FTP program yet. The list is pretty small.

There are also little annoyances like the inability to rearrange the order of the icons in the application launcher (which seem to be on the bill for the next ChromeOS update.)

VGA and HDMI support. Wired or Wireless network access. 3 USB ports with drive and device support. 320 Gig hard drive. All for $199.

It may not ever be my ONLY computer, but I probably could have gotten though high school and college with it and it’s almost instant on makes it a great personal data assistant !

The Kindle Family Experience.

Myself, my Wife and my 8 and 9 year olds all have Kindles and reading together is an encouraged nightly activity.

From the very first clunky version I’ve thought that the Kindle would change content delivery. My kids are many times more likely to read a book if it’s in the Kindle than when I provide them with the same book on paper.

The Kindle Fire expands the content delivery experience to Video, Audio and Applications.

The more I talk to companies about building standards based apps the more I believe we’re on the verge of a huge surge in new software development.


2 Buildings, 4 floors and FINALY super wireless internet access !

Verizon sold the territory I live in to Fairpoint. FIOS will never be available where I live (at least not in my life time.)

Comcast has always made be pay for two separate broadband accounts. (2 buildings – pay twice.)

Well. The company she worked for was a Microsoft service provider. When Microsoft suddenly decided not to renew their recurring contract, her employer pretty much closed up shop and she was out of work.

This was a good catalyst to consolidate expenses.

So we’re getting rid of my T-Moblie wireless. My wife’s Verizion wireless, my office Fairpoint land lines, and our home Comcast Phone and internet access.

Step one – 7 Acre Wide Wireless.

I want Hi-Speed wireless access without degradation from the far corner of my office building to across my driveway to the far back corner of the source on both floors.

image

My new setup starts with adding a really good base wireless hub.

wnr3700 

I choose the Netgear Rangemax WNDR3700 Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router

[ Get  One HERE ! ]

At over $150 dollars it’s not the cheapest but it’s worth the extra money.

There were about 200 4/5 star reviews on Amazon.com and about 50 1/2 star reviews.

This is a great case of non technical folks (many of whom THINK they are networking experts) being frustrated and blaming the product for their lack of knowledge.

I unplugged all mu networking devices and started from scratch.

I plugged the WNDR3700 into my Comcast Cable modem and then with a physical cable connected the WNDR3700 to a computer.

The first thing I did was update the Firmware to the latest version.

After rebooting the WNDR3700 I set the SSID Names (one for each channel), Password, and DHCP address range as I desired and rebooted the device again.

Pressed the wireless connect – and BANG!

The WORST signal anywhere in the buildings on my property’s 4 bars.

I  connected a  Cisco / Linksys SR2024 24-port 10/100 Switch that I already had to the Netgear router. (Though I plan to upgare to the gigabit version).

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[ Get One Here ! ]

My hard wired connections at peaking at about 30mb down and 3mb up. (Stay tuned – I’m going to improve this soon.)

The WNDR3700 also has a USB NAS feature so I picked up a Seagate Expansion 1.5 TB USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive.

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[ Buy One Here ! ]

I plugged this drive in and went into the device options of the WNDR3700’s admin facility to set the network name of the device.

BANG – 1.7 terabytes of NAS easily accessible from all my machines connected to the WNDR3700.

Setup was EASY and everything worked as I expected.

Now for the HARD part.

The router is in my office but I need SOME hard wired connections in the other building (my house).

This means I needed to bridge the wireless signal from my office into a wired hub in my house.

After a good deal of research I selected a Buffalo Technology AirStation Turbo G High Power Wireless Ethernet Converter

4140Q213J2L__SS500_ 

[ Get One Here ! ]

Setting this guy up was a bit more difficult because, even though this device has 4 wired access ports,  I needed to bridge the signal into my home Ethernet wiring system and I wanted to extend it with a combination hub (Wireless / Wired).

Though not really necessary for wireless access since the WNDR3700’s signal is so strong, I decided to add 2 additional wireless/combination routers to my scheme since I already had a couple of good modem routers. (One in the house proper and one in the basement.)

I have two D-Link routers from previous use.

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A D-Link DIR-655 Extreme N Gigabit Wireless Router.

[ Get One HERE ! ]

And the slightly older D-Link DIR-625 4-Port RangeBooster Wireless-N Router

DIR6251Omxq2sBL__SL500_AA300_

The secret to adding these 2 routers trough the is on syncing the configuring settings.

The default device IP address is 1.1.1.1

First I changed the device IP address to something gin the same subnet as my WNDR3700 but OUTSIDE the DHCP address allocation pool.

Next I configured each of the D-Link routers with device IP Address and DHCP address allocation pools all in the same subnet (making sure there could be no conflicts).

After wiring everything up – they didn’t work :)

To solve the last problem I needed to synchronize the wireless channels being used.

On ALL THREE wireless routers I turned OFF automatic channel scanning and set to channel to fix on channel 11 (11 is the default on the Buffalo Air Station) .

In the D-Link routers the admin settings look like this.

Channel - 7-27-2010 10-56-08 AM

After setting these options and rebooting all 3 modems in my network (and updating the router firmware) – everything is working FINE !

Awesome wireless and hard wired connections available everywhere.

TODO:

1.) Upgrade my main office switch to GigaBit.

2.) Upgrade my Cable Model (and Comcast Account) to DOCSIS 3

If selected the Motorola SB6120 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 eXtreme Broadband Cable Modem

SBEX-q26-01

[ Get One HERE ! ]

Give it all a try :)

Next I’ll tackle phones :)

USB 2.0 Coolness.

I’m a mobile guy and USB devices are an integral part of my day.

I found this little beauty at Circuit City. It has a total of 7 ports. 4 on the front and 3 on top.

The ones on top are great for dropping USB keys onto.

It also has an external power supply (so it doesn’t suck up 2 USB ports on your PC).

You can pick them up HERE.