I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography, time lapse and the occasional well deserved rant. Follow along with a monthly email, RSS or on Facebook. About 7,250,102,787 people have not visited yet so it might be your first time here. Suggested reading: Got It, or roll the dice.

Leaving Chrome

Leaving Chrome

My Chromebook was stolen over the weekend. The good news is that I didn't lose anything given the cloud only nature of the device. The bad news was that I didn't really want to get a new one.

I loved the cost and the boot speed and being able to do nearly everything I needed to with a browser-in-a-box.

But the nearly was a deal breaker. I sometimes need to VPN and the Chromebook wouldn't. It just wasn't compatible with our flavor of VPN and I didn't want to buy another Chromebook on the off chance that Google would eventually fix this. I also have to use Skype (I'd rather not) and this isn't really possible on the Chromebook either. Imo.im was good while it lasted. IM+ is horrible.

I've abandoned the Chrome dream and picked up a Surface Pro 3.

(Read the full Chromebook adventure: Part 1: Going Chrome, Part 2: Staying Chrome? and Part 3: Leaving Chrome)

Staying Chrome?

Staying Chrome?

I've been using my Samsung Chromebook at work for around ten months now. It's not my main computer but it's a meeting survival powerhouse for email, instant messaging and note taking. The battery lasts approximately forever, it boots immediately and the decent keyboard and trackpad are just miles ahead of fumbling around on a tablet.

There are two problems for me with the Chrome universe. One will probably get fixed, one could be a deal breaker.

The first issue is VPN support. Apparently we use some sort of old, fiddly Cisco VPN that ChromeOS simply won't talk to. I filed Issue 261241 in the Chromium bug tracker and hopefully it will get fixed soon. If you're struggling with the same thing please star the bug report.

I can work around the VPN problem by using LogMeIn or Chrome Remote Desktop. But I can't live long without Skype. Actually I'd be perfectly happy to never use Skype again but my company runs on about fifty thousand Skype chats. I used Imo.IM for a while but they were forced to drop Skype support. Right now I'm using IM+ which as far as I'm aware is the only working Skype option for a Chromebook (please tell me if I'm wrong) but it's buggy and can't restore a connection between sessions. I either need to find a way to kill Skype at work or wait for (or write) a better web-only client.

Probably worth sticking it out, Gartner reports a 8.6% fall in PC sales but predicts Chromebooks growing to over 12 million units by 2016.

(Read the full Chromebook adventure: Part 1: Going Chrome, Part 2: Staying Chrome? and Part 3: Leaving Chrome)

(Image by he4rtofcourage, CC).

Going Chrome

Going Chrome

I came to Chrome OS by a circuitous route. Initially I though a browser in a box was a silly, under-powered toy. But then I needed a meeting machine for work.

To start with I decided to use an old Macbook. It was running OSX 10.5 (Leopard) which is a bit out of date so I thought I'd update it to the latest 10.8 (Mountain Lion) goodness. But this turned out to be impossible to do from my desk. Before I could go to 10.8 I'd have to get physical media for 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and patch it up to the point where it would accept an upgrade. This meant shipping a disc or visiting an Apple Store and getting smarmed at. Unacceptable.

So I decided to ditch OSX and install Windows 8. This was a cheap online purchase and a painless install... but Windows 8 is a disaster on a non-touch device. Everything takes an extra few clicks or a half-mile scroll to the right. 

Live tiles seem like a good idea until you realize that you're not looking at the start screen often enough for them to be of any value. If Microsoft had introduced a permanent ticker at the bottom of the screen or a secondary tile screen on all Windows 8 certified devices life could have been more interesting. 

Removing the start button so you have to go into touch and swipe mode to do anything is a pain. A boot to desktop mode would be great for older devices.

The deal breaker though is the increasingly assertive Windows Update. Twice in meetings it decided to reboot the computer. It used to be you could delay updates for hours but Windows 8 just knows that the latest patch is more important that whatever you happen to be working on and cheerfully pulls the plug. 

Admittedly you can figure out how to find the vestigial, non-Windows 8 config for Windows 8 and go to manual mode. And then figure out how to turn off the nagging for not having the recommended Windows Update setting. But but by this point you realize that you've got a operating system that is about updates first and getting work done second. And Windows 8 Windows Update doesn't even update Windows Store apps so you've got a live tile nagging for updates every five seconds as well. 

On top on the Windows 8 horror the Macbook was old, heavy and had a puny battery. Also, after installing Windows 8 the only software I needed to install was Chrome and the office VPN client. Once this sunk in I ordered the new Samsung Chromebook.  

Setup on the Chromebook is: 1. Login to your Google Account (with support for two-factor authentication), 2. Choose a wallpaper (optional). 

I'm not likely to use a Chromebook as my primary machine any time soon. It is however a meeting powerhouse for email, IMs, calendar and note taking. I replaced Skype with imo.im (which I've used on Android for a while). Full Outlook web access took a bit of head scratching - see this post for details. Google Apps and Hangouts work seamlessly as you'd expect. It's light and the battery lasts all day.

The only niggle so far is that Chrome OS doesn't support the flavor of VPN that my company uses. It would be nice to get to the wiki, but it's not a deal breaker (If you have a Cisco VPN that insists on a group name go vote for this bug). 

Microsoft and Apple should be really rather worried.

Updated 2013-07-17 13:54:

Two quick updates.

Providing a group name to use with Cisco VPN devices was added in Chrome 28. Unfortunately it still doesn't work for me. I've filed issue 261241 on the chromium bug tracker for this - you can star this issue if you have the same problem.

Skype has managed to block Imo.im so that no longer works for Skype on a Chromebook. I'm using IM+ for now, but it's not nearly as good - it doesn't remember passwords and it keeps silently losing connectivity so it's easy to miss chats.

(Read the full Chromebook adventure: Part 1: Going Chrome, Part 2: Staying Chrome? and Part 3: Leaving Chrome)

Full Outlook Web Access on Chromebook

Outlook Web Access

When trying to load the Outlook Web App on a Chromebook you'll find that you can only access the 'light' version. It's pretty easy to fix, you just need to spoof the user agent. 

On a regular desktop computer launch Chrome and type chrome://version in the address bar. Find and copy the user agent string. 

On your Chromebook install the User-Agent Switcher extension. After this installs click the icon and choose Settings. Enter a new customer user agent - name something like 'Chrome Desktop', the user agent string is the one you copied from a desktop PC above, group is Chrome, type is replace and enter a character or two for the indicator flag.

Next click the Permanent Spoof list tab (still in User-Agent Switcher) and enter the domain of your outlook site (i.e. outlook.mycorp.com) and choose the user agent we just created from the drop down list (i.e. 'Chrome Desktop').

Finally log out of Outlook Web Access. You should now be able to uncheck the 'light' experience and get the full version of the Outlook Web App.

(Read the full Chromebook adventure: Part 1: Going Chrome, Part 2: Staying Chrome? and Part 3: Leaving Chrome)