This morning Apple announced updates to their MacBook Pro laptops, and while some of the rumored upgrades didn't make it in this time around (where is my SSD boot partition?), the new systems are still an improvement from the previous models. All three sizes of MacBook Pro were carried forward (13", 15", and 17") with processor upgrades on the 13" and 15" taking the total number of possible prices to five, ranging from $1199 at the low end to $2499 at the high.
From the technical point of view, these new systems are exciting because they are the first Macbooks to use the newest Intel chipset, Sandy Bridge. Very fast, and with a new architecture that promises to make these new laptops blinding for most common operations, these laptops are the equal of most desktop systems for even processor intensive tasks like rendering video.
For the average user, two new features are likely to make the most difference. Apple has upped the resolution on the built in webcam, which promises HD video quality for recording and for apps like Facetime. The other upgrade is harder to get a handle on just yet, but promises to be potentiall important for the future: Thunderbolt (the protocol formerly known as Light Peak).
Thunderbolt seems to be Apple's next-generation connection, co-developed by Intel, and hopefully soon to be seen in lots of other laptops, desktops, and peripherals. It leapfrogs USB 3.0 in terms of overall connection speed (Thunderbolt starts at 10Gbps, USB 3.0 at 3Gbps or so), and in technical versatility (Thunderbolt is also capable of carrying video signal a la Displayport). More than anything else, it seems poised to change the way we deal with peripherals, since it has the bandwidth to be capable of being a single connection that carries everything; display, external hard drive, camera connections, and more. USB will still be around for a good long time, and it's entirely possible that Thunderbolt may end up being the Firewire of the next decade…really useful if you need it, but ignored by the vast majority of the world.
Boingboing is reporting that the first DMCA notice specifically relating to 3D printing has been sent. I wrote about my increasing fascination with fabbing over on the ALA Techsource blog this month, and the copyright issues that are going to be brought to light in this new creative arena are in their infancy. This will get very messy, very quickly.
Anyone want to make a guess as to when libraries will start trying to organize and collect these 3D files? Is anyone out there already?
Engadget is reporting that the Kno tablet, which was being pushed as an answer for electronic textbook access, appears to be trying to sell off its hardware division. Kno apparently has managed to ship only a few hundred of their tablets, and with this latest piece of news it appears as if the hardware side of their business isn't going to be the savior of the higher education eBook set. If you had been waiting on a Kno, it looks like you'll be waiting a lot, lot longer.
For those of you that have been holding out for a non-iPad tablet, you’ve got just about a week to wait. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab has been out for some time, the first tablet to launch with Android 3.0 Honeycomb (the version of Android designed for tablets) will launch next week. The rumor mill seems to have settled on an on-sale date for the Motorola Xoom of Feb 24th, or next Thursday. The 3G model is set to sell for $799, with a free upgrade promised to 4G when it become available. A wifi-only version looks like it will retail for $600, identical pricing to the iPad 32Gig.
Who’s been waiting for this? Anyone going to run out and buy one immediately?
Google today announced the launch of Google OnePass, a flexible payment subscription service aimed at publishers who want to have recurring payments for content. This seems to me a response to Apple's recent announcement of their subscription service for the iPad, since OnePass allows for web-based subscriptions to mobile devices.
It will be curious to see which publishers decide to go with the Google model, and how it will effect library purchasing moving forward.
Engadget is reporting that Barnes and Noble’s Nook 3G is running short on supply, and that bulk orders of the device are being turned down. This almost certainly means that the device is on its way out, perhaps for an updated version. Keep an eye out as B&N sells through their existing supply for an announcement of a new Nook. If you or your library is in the market for them, but not in a hurry…you might want to wait a few weeks before you jump in.
Google enables mobile printing for Gmail and gDocs via its CloudPrint service for any of its supported mobile platforms (Android 2.1+ and iOS 3+). This means that you’ll be able to print using these services from your Android phone, your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to any printer attached to your Windows 7 PC. Clever, and potentially very useful, especially as the tablet form factor becomes more central in offering library services.
I sat down with my new Cr-48 with one goal in mind…use it until I couldn’t. That is, try to see how much of my normal computing life I could handle just in a browser, just in the cloud. The answer, in the beginning was just not that much. That wasn’t a fault of the Cr-48, or of ChromeOS, but of my own predispositions and expectations about computing. As I mentioned in my Overview section, the metaphor of “just a browser” really took me some time to wrap my head around. Once I reworked my assumptions about how this computer-shaped-object was supposed to work, it became much easier to just Do Work on it.
And overall, I was able to get quite a lot done. I’m definitely on the early-adopter side of moving to the cloud: both of my books, all of my articles and blog posts (including this one), and pretty much every other piece of text I create lives in Google Docs until it has to go somewhere else. I sync my Outlook calendar to Google Calendar, and I use Gmail for my primary email address. So the move was much less difficult for me than for someone not already used to working in the cloud….for someone still tied to saving files locally, organizing folders, or use a lot of non–web based programs, this would be a very difficult computer to begin using.
The final grade for Google’s first attempt at a ChromeOS machine is quite a mixed bag. Here’s my breakdown:
Ridiculously fast resume
Rethinking my computing experience
There is a lot of potential here, both for users and for Google. If ChromeOS becomes widely adopted, the benefits for users are huge: always having your computing environment with you, automagical syncing of all your data, better security, faster web experience. For libraries, if you aren’t providing a lot of customized software for your patrons, and the majority of their use is of the web browser, ChromeOS could solve a lot of your IT headaches. Even if you do need non-browser software, Google is working with Citrix to provide SaaS over the web in a variety of ways, and the potential for doing something with virtual machines over the web for those use-cases is becoming a reality. Google is betting big here, and as this technology matures, I’m not sure I’d bet against them. We’ll see what the next year brings, but ChromeOS is definitely something that libraries should be watching.
The Cr-48 itself is a capable computing platform. The highlights of the performance are definitely in startup and resuming from sleep. Since it’s operating a very lightweight operating system, and using solid-state storage to do so, you can go from Off to working in about 12-15 seconds. If you simply close the lid and put the Cr-48 to sleep, resuming is as instantaneous as the backlight of the LCD coming on. The browser itself is quick, although I have had some startup delays as it tries to negotiate a network connection.
Loading and dealing with websites doesn’t seem to phase the processor, although as you start cranking up the resolution on videos, you can see things start to stutter. Moving to HD video on YouTube, for instance, really gave the hardware some trouble…standard definition video wasn’t any problem, though. While I can imagine there are obscure plugins that aren’t supported in ChomeOS, there is one massively popular site that simply doesn’t work with the Cr-48: Netflix. Netflix streaming works with Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin, which isn’t available for Linux, and the ChromeOS browser has no way to handle this limitation. I’m sure that Google is talking with Netflix about this, but until they move to some form of HTML5 video streaming, it’s just off the table. Hulu has some problems as well, but this is due mainly to the poor Flash support for Linux.
Dealing with more pedestrian web fare, creating documents, even editing photos in Aviary was no problem. There’s a ton of things that ChromeOS handles just fine, and I was able to do quite a bit of work on it. The hardware performance while working was average. I love the keyboard, as it is reminiscent of the chiclet-style of the current Macbooks, but the trackpad needs some firmware love quick. It’s just very quirky, and had trouble recognizing two-finger taps much more often than I’d like. I’d give the keyboard an A grade, while the trackpad gets a D…overall, it’s like that kid in class that gets average grades, but could be really good if they just put in a little more time.
Let’s talk about the actual hardware of the Cr-48. One of the most interesting things about the Cr-48 is its very mysteriousness…Google won’t reveal who built it (other than a note in the box saying that’s it’s using an Intel chipset). It has no logos, badges, or other identifying marks on it at all. It’s just a black obelisk of a laptop. Google also made it very clear that this isn’t the sort of hardware that will eventually go on sale with ChromeOS installed, and that we should see actual for-sale hardware with ChromeOS sometime next year. But if this is what they are using as a rough reference for Chrome-capable hardware, well…there really isn’t much there. It’s got 2gigs of RAM, and a 16 gig Solid-state memory hard drive, 12 inch LCD screen, and much-discussed redesigned keyboard. There’s exactly one USB port, an audio jack, an SD card slot, and a VGA port…that’s the extent of it.
Noticeable for it’s absence is an Ethernet port…this is a machine that is, at least right now, completely and utterly unusable without an Internet connection, and yet there is no mechanism to hardwire it. The wireless is solid, and the fact that it has a built in 3G connectivity via Verizon is a huge bonus. Google has been able to broker really groundbreaking deals with Verizon for ChromeOS: 100Mb free every month for the first 2 years, $9.99 for unlimited bandwidth for a day at a time with no contract involved, or the ability to buy 1GB, 3GB, 5GB packages per month, again with no contract. Really interesting model, and I’m hoping that continues through the remainder of the ChromeOS hardware.
The screen is ok, but certainly not as high quality as those found in Macbooks or other high-end laptops these days, and looks to be 1280 x 800 resolution. The trackpad is perhaps the worst part of the physical experience of the thing, with an odd feel and performance that just feels off. It purports to handle two-finger scrolling and two-finger right clicking, but the recognition is quite bad, and it is in serious need of a firmware/software update. The thing that most reviews seem to be making a big deal of is the revision that Google has made to the standard keyboard layout, mainly in their removal of the Caps Lock key. In it’s place is now a “search” key. Other changes include doing away with the Function keys at the top of the keyboard.