Monday, September 16, 2013

Need Your Advice—Chromebooks in Education

I learned at a recent parent-teacher conference that the computer's in my son's first grade classroom need to be upgraded. I'm talking with my son's teacher about using Chromebooks in the classroom in lieu of upgrading the current machines.

She is very open to the idea. I've even given her my Samsung ARM Chromebook to try out, get comfortable with, and see if she likes the concept.

I think this is a great idea for all the reasons we love Chromebooks:
  • Low cost. This means replacement costs are also low and the possibility of every child having their own is high.
  • Low maintenance. No complicated, bloated traditional desktop OS upgrades necessary.
  • Low burden of training. If you can surf the web and are familiar with the Chrome browser, you are good to go. 

No one in this environment will be:
  • Crunching millions of lines of data
  • Designing building plans
  • Producing the next hollywood movie

So there is no need for all the horsepower of a traditional desktop or laptop.

But all I have at this point is an idea of how Chromebooks might work in the classroom. What I'd like to have is a sense of the opportunities—and pitfalls—before any investment is made.

If you've experimented or are currently using Chromebooks in the classroom:
  • What's been your experience/impression overall?
  • What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?
  • Are there any obstacles to anticipate?
  • Did you receive any pushback from parents or school administration?
  • How long did it take to get students acclimated to Chrome?
  • What impact did Chromebooks and access to the web have on teaching/learning?

What should be considered before we put Chromebooks in the classroom?

P.S. If we decide to move forward, I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rich Birch Discusses Why Liquid Church Chose Chromebooks Over Macbooks

+Rich Birch is a really cool guy. He's also the operations pastor at Liquid Church.

Rich recently decided to start replacing staff-allocated Macbooks with the Samsumg ARM Chromebooks. Since I think churches can benefit from Chromebooks in some very specific ways, I wanted to interview Rich to get a little more insight into his decision.

You can follow Rich on Twitter (@richbirch), Google+, and through his blog, UnSeminary.

Friday, August 30, 2013

8 Ways the Chromebook Pixel Trumps the MacBook Air

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I still consider myself an Apple guy, but the Pixel is making me rethink what the MacBook Air experience should really be about. 

I travel a lot and spend a lot of time outside of the office with clients. The Macbook Air has been my go-to device when I'm away from the office. 

I have an Apple desktop that I use in the office. But the more I use the Pixel, the more I think the MacBook Air should be a true cloud experience. I hate having to worry about keeping two versions of the same operating system in sync (referring to my Apple Desktop and MacBook Air).

After using the Pixel for about a month just as I would my MacBook Air, here are some things I think that makes the Pixel a better choice for mobile professionals:
  1. My Pixel boots from cold (and restarts) faster.
  2. My Pixel updates with one button about every six weeks.
  3. My Pixel has a higher resolution screen.
  4. My Pixel has a touchscreen interface.
  5. My Pixel has LTE built in.
  6. My Pixel came with one terabyte of Cloud storage for three years.
  7. My Pixel can be restored by logging into a new Pixel quickly if necessary. (Less down time waiting for Time Machine to restore the device.)
  8. My Pixel has a cool light bar at the top that changes colors. (OK. I know this really doesn't matter, but it was worth mentioning.)
I know, I know. You can't edit Hollywood movies or record Platinum music albums on a Pixel. But you're not likely to do that on your MacBook Air either. And now that Apple has launch iWork for iCloud, I can do just about everything I need to do whether it's in Office, iWork, or Google Docs format.

If the MacBook Air is a second device for you to use when you're mobile, would you consider the Pixel?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

11 Extensions That Boost My Productivity on My Chromebook

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I'm constantly on the lookout for new extensions to help me be more productive. I tend to get "extension happy" from time and time and need to go back and clean up the ones I don't use on a regular basis.

Of the ones I have, these are the 11 I use most often.

  1. Grammarly-Lite: Smart Spellchecker—Every place where I need to enter text is an opportunity to make a grammatical or syntactical mistake. People form their impressions about you based on your spelling and grammatical prowess. Parts of this service are free and parts require a paid subscription. It's worth every penny.
  2. Keep Awake—This is helpful when you are making presentations with your Chromebook.
  3. Pocket—Quickly save what you need to read later.
  4. URL Shortener—Use this extension when you have a lot of links to share but want to keep the look "clean." It also offers you the ability to track how many people clicked on the like you shared.
  5. Lastpass—Easily generate new passwords, complete forms with pre-determined profiles, and more with this extension which helps you utilize the power of the best password app available.
  6. Buffer—Quickly share what you need to, when you need to, and to what social networks you choose with this extension. 
  7. Google+ Notification—You don't have to have Google+ open in a tab in Chrome to quickly review your updates.
  8. Send from Gmail—Reading something and realize you need to share it with someone else via email? You're just one click away.
  9. Google Cast—When it's time to do a presentation, you'll want this extension along with your Chromecast.
  10. RSS Subscription—Yes, I still love and use RSS feeds. When one is available, this comes up in your Omnibox. Simple. Easy. Done.
  11. Google Voice—Quickly send or read text messages, listen to voice mails, or even place a call.
Please note: This is by no means an exhaustive list. 

What extensions help you be more productive on your Chromebook?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chrome Devices Eliminate Expensive Kiosks for Churches and Nonprofits

Chromebooks are already affecting enterprise buying habits.

In a bold move one CIO decided to install Chromeboxes in his Polaroid Photobar retail stores in lieu of other options. After buying one on a whim, George Garcia was so impressed that he decided to make it his device of choice to provide an incredible retail experience.

It was determined that the cost of the units, minimal effort to maintain, and overall user experience was worth the switch.

If Chrome devices are an attractive options for enterprise buyers, why not also for nonprofits and churches?

Well, one church has already made the move.

+Rich Birch, operations pastor at Liquid Church decided to stop buying Apple computers for his church staff (with the exception of those who required one for video and photo editing) and start issuing Chromebooks.

They'd already been using Chrome devices as information kiosks successfully. This was a natural next step that saved them thousands of dollars in technology hardware.

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Use Chrome Devices For Public Terminals

One option that makes Chrome devices viable for nonprofits and churches that many people are not aware of is the ability to manage public sessions with ease. This allows anyone to use the Chrome device. When they're finished, all of their data is wiped clean for the next person.

This made me start thinking about the expensive giving and information kiosks many businesses, churches, and nonprofits invest in for their campuses and live events. Some of these kiosks cost as much as $2,500 to $5,000. That just doesn't make any sense when you can accomplish the same thing with a $250 Chromebook.

These public terminals are portable, inexpensive, and easy to set up. (Oh yeah...they can be managed from the Google Apps for Business Admin panel, too.) And when it's time to change the physical configuration of the kiosks—or even the venue—for an event, it can be done quickly without the need to move around a piece of unnecessary and bulky furniture.

Chrome Devices Offer Greater Value Than Stationary Kiosks

If you are a church or nonprofit who doesn't always meet in the same physical location, you might want to consider using Chrome devices as a public terminal for giving, event sign up, information, or simply as a way for your members or donors to surf the web for free at your location. This will save you time, headache, and money when it comes to storage, set up, and expense to maintain.

One might also think about the outreach potential a church might have by setting up a computer lab of Chromebooks where underprivileged children can come to do their homework or where adults can learn essential computer skills for better paying employment opportunities.

Chrome devices don't just provide a way to improve the delivery of technology, give the user a better computing experience, and reduce overall costs. They also provide a very palatable option to help improve the lives of the people around us, too.

Are you letting image and familiarity get in the way of making the best technology decision for your members and donors?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"All Things Chromebook" Mentioned on Recent GigaOM Chrome Show Podcast

I was shocked when one my posts ended up as a point of discussion on one of my favorite tech podcasts.

+Kevin Tofel and +Chris Albrecht highlighted Why the Price of the Chromebook Pixel Matters on their latest +GigaOM Chrome Show podcast. (See: Chrome OS is getting better all the time.)

If you're not already subscribed to their podcast and you're interested in Chrome, you'll definitely want to subscribe.

The discussion around the post happens between 11:10 and 18:06. Jump to the relevant discussion, or you can listen to the entire podcast.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Google's Android Battles May Accelerate Chrome OS

There is an important conversation brewing over Android: Will the mounting intellectual property battles Google continues to face related to its mobile operating system force Google to focus more intensely on Chrome OS? (Read: Google Appears Ready to Ditch Android Over Its Intellectual Proptery Issues.)

No one knows. But we'll likely soon find out.

For now, I wanted to better understand the implications of Google's current situation and if, indeed, Google might drop Android in favor of Chrome OS. The answer to this question is far beyond my knowledge and experience, so I reached out to +Jerry Daniels to shed some light on the issue.

Below is our interview. Thank you, Jerry, for taking the time to pull back the curtains and give me some valuable insight on this issue. (And thank you also for introducing me to Quip.)

1. How did Google end up with two operating systems: Chrome OS and Android?

A short answer to this question requires cherry-picking that history to suit a thesis, point-of-view, or even a bias. I'm reluctant do either an in-depth history or a too-easy couple of bullet points. But for the purposes of our discussion, here's a basic sum-up:

  • The origins of Chrome OS are somewhat disputed. One side of the dispute contends that the OS was a single-person project not originally intended to be a web OS, but rather a super-fast, RAM resident, Linux device with which Google engineers could code. It turns out that PMs within Google say that's not the case; that it was an internally sponsored project meant to be a web OS ideal for the burgeoning netbook market. I believe it was the latter. (Read: The Secret Origins of Google's Chrome OS.)

  • Android history is somewhat more straight-forward, with Andy Rubin pitching a mobile device OS to Larry Page — a pitch which Larry could not really refuse to catch, because of Andy's standing as the Sidekick and Apple guy. It turned into a long meeting. Many contend Android was a do-anything OS and was made to pivot while others say it was going to be a photo-sharing phenom. I believe the former. (Read: Google's Open Source Android OS Will Free the Wireless Web.)

Google ended up with both OS's because they each came into play before Larry found his groove as a super-focused CEO. Before that second coming of Larry, projects were springing up all over the place in Google. These were just two.

2. However Chrome OS began, is it more or less important to Google's future than Android?

Android is crucial to Google, but only the Chrome OS architecture offers Google freedom from a pernicious OEM, legal hassles, low device profitability, lack of control, and the bad end of the web traffic/data (real value) stick. Also, only Chrome OS is different. And difference matters.

3. How is Chrome OS different?

Android and iOS are not that different. Windows and OS X are not that different. These OS's are based on the assumption that we're offline most of the time. That is their primary case in the way they manage apps, operate, and update: big app and OS downloads. Lots of binary flying around and stopping everything else. It's like someone eating everything on the table because they think they may never get to eat again.

Chrome OS operates under the correct assumption that we ARE online most of the time. Updates to its OS are fast, invisible, and always make the devices they run on better. That's because of their primary case: we're online all the time. Chrome OS doesn't try to eat everything on the table.
(I'm not the only one who feels this way: My Thoughts on Chrome OS.)

4. But can Chrome OS being 'different' make a business difference?

The economics of Chrome OS device builds are excellent. These devices require less power, processing, storage, and memory. This means cheaper, more powerful devices that run longer on a charge. They're built around the online use case and operate accordingly. All other OS's are legacy in comparison.

This is not to say that Chrome OS doesn't still have a way to go before it can deliver on its promise, though. But I do think what it stands for represents the future for Google.

5. What are the intellectual property issues Google has with Android? Are they serious enough to force Google to accelerate their investment in the development of Chrome OS?

Some of the Android legal issues revolve around their use of Java. Some folks think this problem has gone away, but it has not. Larry Ellison (of Oracle) was just on television to state how unhappy he is with Larry Page's behavior toward what Ellison regards as the “theft” of Jave for the Android OS. I don't believe Mr. Ellison is going to let go of this issue, even if a court finds in favor of Google in this matter.

Then there's Apple's relentless pursuit of Android devices that they feel violate their patents. As users, it's easy to ignore these issues, but they are real. They tarnish the brand and eat up resources. Chrome OS has none of these encumbrances. It's new and original. It's going in a completely different direction — toward the Google bottom line, too.

6. What will it take for Chrome OS to get to the point that Google is willing to ditch Android entirely? Is that even reasonable?

The metamorphosis of Android and Chrome OS will not be what we expect. The name Android will likely stick around, but the reality of Android will change a lot. It will become Chrome OS-ized just as Chromecast is an Android device that was Chrome OS-ized. The Chrome browser and the services it can access have now permeated every OS and every device. It is starting to permeate Android as well. “Ditching Android” is not really the right question, here.

7. Further, what will Google have to do to attract developers to Chrome OS? We both know that apps are what drives adoption rate for most users.

Chrome OS (and the Chrome browser) will have to offer access to device services in order to attract developers who create great apps. HTML was not really intended to let a web page or app access your device because it might open the door to malicious exploits. Google has to figure out a way to offer access but with security of some sort. Also, developers will have to make real money to create great apps and maintain them. A great development environment with a single, mainstream syntax wouldn't hurt anything either.

Not only apps, but services and great devices attract users — along with over-all user experience. Chrome OS users are delighted with their get-out-of-the-way OS that magically updates over night and reboots instantly. Apps and services? Not so much. There's a long way to go, there. Free apps are not helping Chrome OS in the long run. There need to be some killer apps for business. Apple did a smart thing with iWork. Google drive with docs, slides and sheets is great for the tech-prone of us; but it needs a pro version that's more polished and will attract pro-sumers, CTOs, and the like.

8. If Google asked you what was the single greatest opportunity and the single greatest challenge ahead for Chrome OS, what would you say?

Opportunity: It's new, fast, and different than all the others. Reach out to developers. Evangelize!

Challenge: Chicken and the egg. Where are the apps? Packaged apps, not just websites. Killer apps.

9. For the folks who want to know more about you, could you offer a bio?

“Jerry is a veteran software developer who makes a living interpreting dreams.” says my wife, Mary Jane Mara. I'm currently interim CIO and serve as head of application development for Synergy Patient-centric Healthcare of McKinney, Texas. My wife and I are also starting up a health-oriented company for technical leaders, managers and directors called Rezzzolve ( It's still in the t-shirt, prototype, and landing page stages. (Biographical link: