Things have been kind of dull on my personal tech front for a while, but as I futzed around with my home network last night to solve a couple of persistent problems, I realized this was starting to change. The latest developments:
Google Chrome: I downloaded and tried out the Chrome browser shortly after it was released to the wild as a beta in 2008. I thought it was fast, clean, lightweight and unnecessary. I was a Firefox fan, and Chrome didn’t solve any problems I had.
But this week, as part of performing some beta testing of my own on some new website layouts, I downloaded Chrome again. It took about a day to become my favorite browser, although breaking up with Firefox is hard to do.
Chrome is still fast, clean and lightweight. But now it takes extensions, just like Firefox — and it’s powerful. It also has some subtle interface changes that I really like. Firefox, meanwhile, is starting to feel bloated and slow.
Check out Google Chrome. You might like it.
Cheaper e-readers: I’ve always thought of Kindle as the Apple of the e-book world: Brilliant, easy, fun, stunningly overpriced and restricted/closed in ways that I really dislike.
Kindle has gotten cheaper since its inception, but it’s still expensive, and Amazon’s walled-garden book model is the sort of computing action I think people should oppose on general principle.
But the walls are coming down. Borders, for example, is selling an e-book reader for $150 that uses e-ink, has the same screen size as the Kindle, has Bluetooth syncing (but not true wireless networking), and supports several open publishing formats as well as Adobe’s DRM format. That’s the intro price; it’s not unreasonable to think we’ll have a decent-quality $100 e-book reader a year from now.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix: Now we start taking the express train to Geektown. After I got done playing with the network last night, I put Ubuntu Netbook Remix on a thumb drive, used it to boot up my netbook — and found that it would, for the first time, connect to my network without a hassle.
I promptly obliterated Windows XP from my netbook forever and fully installed the OS, a version of Ubuntu (which is in turn a flavor of Linux) that is specifically designed to work on the smaller screens of netbooks. Linux is so much more efficient than XP, and Ubuntu is so easy to use by Linux standards, that this was a no-brainer.
I mostly use a netbook for on-the-couch web surfing, streaming music via bluetooth to my stereo and watching films while I travel, and Ubuntu will cover all of these bases nicely, so I have no concerns about erasing my only version of Windows XP.
For those of you keeping score at home, this now means that my wife and I have two work laptops with Windows XP, one work laptop with Snow Leopard, one home desktop with Windows 7, one home desktop with Ubuntu and one netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Remix. We also have two BlackBerry phones and a iPod Touch — and, what the heck, the landline phone (Vonage) and even the DVD player run through the network. We’re just a little bit wired.
Building a cloud: “Cloud computing” is one of those phrases that some techies think is clever, but which is really just indecipherable for normal, healthy people. What it really means is that, as computing power moves deeply into almost everything we do and use, we need a place to Keep Our Stuff so it’s accessible by all of these devices.
Google wants you to use the big-computing model for this, where they become a “cloud” that floats along with you, holding everything you want. I’m not too excited about this, so I want to build my own cloud.
That means I’ll have to create some network-accessible storage that can be reached online. Meanwhile, I can scale back the size and amount of storage I place on individual computers — and probably scale them back in power so they are smaller and quieter.
It’s surprisingly cheap to go this route — I probably could do it for less than $100, using parts I already have — so this will probably be my next Geek Time Challenge.