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Welcome to the Dec 05, 2009 issue of
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TODAY'S TOPIC: CHROME OS & THE "CLOUD"
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With the release of Google's Chrome Operating System to software developers two weeks ago, lots of publicity has appeared about "Cloud computing." So it seems the right time to consider the details and the implications of Chrome OS and the "Cloud" - what are they, and what do they mean for you and me? (You notice above that we've added a link to our new Offsite Backup Services webpage: we must face the plain facts that most people don't backup their files, so perhaps it's time to let the "Cloud" do it for you automatically.)

First, exactly what is this new Chrome OS? Many reviews have been flying back and forth in the past two weeks, some saying it's the Windows killer, others saying it will never catch on, and still others are pumping out various bits of misinformation. One article even stated that with the advent of Chrome OS, the mantle of the "evil empire" will be passed from Micro$oft to Google Inc.! I've taken the time to read over a dozen of these reviews and watch a couple YouTube video demos of it Click to see full-size! (click on the thumbnail photo), so here goes: Chrome OS is Google's customized version of Linux OS that is slimmed down to boot up quickly - the beta boots in under seven seconds and they want it to start even quicker, like turning on your TV or cellphone. Instead of loading the whole operating system when Chrome OS boots up, it only loads the bare minimum of drivers, enough to run the Chrome browser and connect to the Internet. Other subsystems will load on an as-needed basis. Thus it's a browser-centric operating system, and all applications will run through the browser.

This is where some of the misunderstandings arise among the reviewers: they say that all your data will be on Google's servers and you won't keep any of your files on your computer, because they understand browsers in their present incarnations: Micro$oft's IE, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari presently all let you access websites or a few somewhat underpowered online applications over the Web and store very little data on your computer, not much more than a cookie or two from each website you visit, and some web pages of recently visited sites in your browser's local cache memory. It is indeed true, however, that Chrome OS computers won't have hard disks, just 16Gb of flash memory (at least to begin with), like the early netbook computers.


THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
With computers these days you can do more and more with less and less: soon you'll be able to do everything with nothing!


But times they are a-changin' - with widespread high-speed broadband Internet and the advent of faster 3G and 4G wireless access, the upcoming HTML 5.0 standards and the DOM (Document Object Model), the Chrome OS applications will download quickly and the user's data will be stored locally on the user's computer. The upcoming applications will be more robust, more complex and more of them. Importantly, and often misunderstood, you will be able to run your favorite applications and access your data files when you're not connected to the Internet. When you reconnect, you can access new applications, existing applications on your computer will be refreshed, and your data files will be automatically backed up in the Google "Cloud."

Additionally, Google will automatically eliminate any bad stuff like viruses, trojans and other malware by downloading fresh copies of applications and even the Chrome OS. Google is busy adding server farms all over the world: one of the latest is located in suburban Chicago and consists of 700,000 square feet of shipping containers crammed with multi-core servers and disk drives all wired together into a huge virtual server, each container complete with its own cooling system, etc.

In order to ensure that Chrome OS will run smoothly on users' computers right off the bat, Google is already working with major computer hardware firms to develop the necessary software drivers for video displays, 3G and 4G wireless adapters, printers, scanners, etc. These Chrome OS-customized computers will be thin and light, like today's netbooks, but with full-sized keyboards and somewhat larger screens, likely 12-inch or 13-inch diagonally instead of the present 10-inch netbook screens. And independent software developers now have beta copies of Chrome OS to begin writing their third-party applications for.


Click on Online PC Support for worldwide PC service   &   Offsite Backup Services for securing your files!

Google's official version is called Chrome OS, and Google will approve what hardware and software will work with it, but independent software developers can also write applications for the open-source version called Chromium OS. I expect that computer nerds or geeks will install the latter on their existing computers, then twiddle and tweak them until they finally get Chromium OS running properly. But Google is aiming for the mass market, so they want to be sure that Chrome OS runs well on netbooks specially built for it when it's released to the public next fall.

You've no doubt heard of Google's Android OS - also based on Linux - for smartphones: well, Sergey Brin, one of Google's founders, has publicly stated that as smartphones get smarter - "Android and Chrome will likely converge over time" (http://gizmodo.com/5410862/chrome-os-and-android-are-destined-to-merge-somehow). So what we can see right now in Android-based smartphones may give us a clue as to what's coming in the future.

But already today, you can have a completely web-based little computer: the "litl" (http://litl.com/) that's based on the litl OS, a self-updating operating system like Chrome OS, with a focus on the Web. It's based on the Linux Kernel and the GNOME desktop environment. Then there is Intel's and Linux Foundation's Moblin OS (http://moblin.org/): version 2.1 has just been released for netbook and nettop computers, including the Asus Eee PC my wife has that's running Windows XP at present. Her 40Gb "D" drive doesn't have anything on it, so there's space for a dual-boot system... hmm.... Moblin OS is a version of Linux customized for these PCs that boots up almost instantly and gives the user access to a browser, Web-based email and lots of other Web-based applications. Then if you need to, you can click on a button in Moblin and go directly into your Windows OS to run your tried-and-true Windows programs.

Of course, the folks at Micro$oft aren't sitting still: not to be outdone by Google Apps, they're creating a web-based version of MS Office in addition to the whole Micro$oft Live series of programs. Micro$oft has announced that the Azure OS, a high-powered "Cloud"-based OS, will be available for business customers next month. They've hired Jonathan Shapiro as a main developer on the Midori OS project, possibly Internet-based and reported to be an offshoot of Micro$oft's Singularity OS project. There's also Micro$oft's Gazelle OS, a browser-based OS - some people say Google copied at least the idea for their Chrome OS from Gazelle.

If the Micro$oft folks were really smart, they'd put together a free "Windows 7 Web" version that boots up really fast, launching Internet Explorer with tabs pre-set to My MSN, Windows Live Hotmail, a Windows Live Messenger with Skype-like video, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Movie Gallery, Writer and the online MS Office apps. Like Moblin OS, it would include a button to launch right from Windows 7 Web into a full version of Windows 7 that can run all the users' trusty old hard-disk-based programs. If they were to time it right, it could be included in Windows 7 Service Pack 1, and also be pre-installed on netbooks with the option of "upgrading" (paying for) a full version of Windows. Micro$oft already has the drivers written for Windows 7... are you guys at Micro$oft listening? Hey, you already have 6 versions of Windows 7, why not round it out to a 7th version?

Click to see full-size!Also, right now you can try out a couple of "virtual computer" operating systems: GlideOS (http://www.glideos.com/), a full suite of productivity and collaboration applications with 10GB of storage for the free account that lets you set up and administer up to six family member accounts including child accounts, but the free account may not last forever, as their website states. For $4.95/month or $49.95/year you can get a Premium account: 25Gb of storage for up to 25 users. It will run on most cellphones and smartphones as well. Both the free and Premium accounts are ad-free.

You can also download their "Glide One" application for the PC, Mac, Linux or Solaris operating systems and keep your online files in sync with your notebook or desktop computer files. It can sync files with Outlook, MobileMe, Windows Live (Hotmail), AOL, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, standard POP and IMAP email, Firefox and Thunderbird, and many more Windows apps. It can also sync files with smartphones running the Android OS. It does all this by converting those file formats to its own formats when you "sync up," and then back to Windows or Android formats when you "sync down." So GlideOS combines features of an online backup system as well as a "virtual computer." If I were one of Google's founders Sergey Brin or Larry Page, I'd be offering the Glide people a handsome buyout, and then incorporate all these features in Chrome OS! I found only one small drawback: both GlideOS and the next one have rather garish rusty-red default desktop wallpapers, but I changed them right away to a more soothing blue background.

Another "virtual computer" is Click to see full-size!G.ho.st OS (http://G.ho.st) that gives you free 15 Gb of storage and lots of web-based programs. It runs on PCs, Macs, web-enabled cellphones, etc. Like Google, G.ho.st uses the advertising-driven business model to finance itself, so you will see some ads in G.ho.st Mail (based on Yahoo! Mail) and other applications. You can upload your files once from your old computer to your G.ho.st virtual computer, then use any PC, Mac, smartphone, etc. anywhere to access your stuff online. When you start G.ho.st it takes several seconds to load your virtual OS and desktop, and when you exit its window in your browser it saves your environment.

Well then, what is the "Cloud"? Many major computer hardware and software players including HP, IBM and Amazon are getting into this game, and each seems to have a slightly different definition. Some call it "virtual computing," others call it "Cloud computing," or "Software as a Service" - renting the applications on a distant server each time you use them, rather than buying a license and installing them on your computer. It often means your data also is stored somewhere in the "Cloud. Online backups are another form of the "Cloud". The questions remain: What about those hundreds of thousands of hard-disk-based Windows programs, several of which many people use day in and day out? And do you really want to give up control of your personal or business information? Are you really so irresponsible that you should hand your information over to someone else to safeguard for you? Your information defines your identity, whether as a business or a person. And lastly, what happens if the particular "Cloud" you're using goes belly-up and your data disappears, or when their server farm or the Internet is down for several hours or a day or two, leaving you "dead in the water" during that time period? I already have lots of files on my two websites, but they're backed up on my computer, on two DVDs and on a flash drive. These are just a few of the items to consider before making that big jump into the "Cloud."


In our last issue we told you about AVG's Link Scanner program that checks for malware inserted into legitimate websites. As we mentioned, however, it unfortunately doesn't run on Mac computers, which leaves them vulnerable to "phishing" and Java-based malware. But if you use the Firefox browser on a Mac, or if Link Scanner conflicts with other programs on your computer making it run too slowly, you can get similar protection: see "10 Firefox extensions that enhance security" at http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=1160&tag=nl.e055 - one of these add-ons, WOT (Web Of Trust), recently found an infected website as I was about to go to its home page, preventing Firefox from opening it. So it works!

The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk, your computer. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!

Yours truly,

Dr. Bob the CompuNerd

Dr. R.D. HoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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