Google’s technology stack is distinct from Apple’s and Microsoft’s because it doesn’t include a full-blown desktop operating system.
On one level this doesn’t matter. Chrome functions well for basic everyday computing. I found I could deal with mail, research information online and write my stories without skipping a beat. Even adjusting to yet another word processor failed to cramp my style.
So much of my day to day work is handled by online applications such as Xero or Evernote that I can get most things done directly from the browser. Yet on my second full day working with the Chromebook I bumped up against barriers that didn’t exist in the Apple or Microsoft technology stack.
The first problem came when I needed to load a photograph onto my web site. I find photos from a number of sources. Usually before posting them, i crop them to make the images more interesting. I may apply a little processing – I’m no photoshop expert so I usually play with the presets. Then I reduce the image size to fit the space on the web page. This is preferably to letting the WordPress software handle image resizing on the fly.
There’s rudimentary photo editing software built-in to the Chrome OS. You can adjust brightness and contrast or crop images. There’s an auto-adjust button, but that was greyed-out for the images I was preparing. Changing the image size doesn’t appear to be an option.
I found plenty of photo editing apps in the Chrome app store – most are free. Although the various apps have star ratings from other customers, I’m flying so blind in this world I don’t even know if the ratings are meaningful. You can read user reviews, but these don’t seem to be always rational or sensible.
My first port of call was Google’s Picasa, I’m sure I’ve resized pictures in the past with this tool on other computers. If the Chromebook version can do this, I couldn’t find the control and I had no success googling for help. After about half an hour I came across the Pixlr Editor app.
Pixlr is like a two-dollar shop Photoshop knock-off. It’s not pretty, but it does all the basic photo-editing tasks I need to the standard I need. It’s free, lightweight and uncluttered. I’ve bookmarked the app and will give it a try when I back to normal computing at the end of my Google stack week. It may replace Photoshop and, over time, save me a small fortune in subscription fees.
Later in the day I needed to do some work on myl website. Normally I run a local copy on a desktop PC using the Bitnami stack, navigate to the folders and work on the PHP or CSS files using a text editor, or in extreme cases a tool like Dreamweaver.
I simply couldn’t find an easy way of doing this from the Chromebook. Admittedly the computer and its OS were never designed for this work, on the other hand a cloud-centric computer ought to be an ideal tool for designing and managing websites.
One option would be to buy some online hosting space and work on the site using FTP. Although there’s no obvious FTP client in the Chrome Web Store, I found mention of tools for working with PHP and CSS files on Dropbox or Google Drive. It looks interesting and would be worth following up if I had to live long term with a Chromebook. In the short term I don’t have the time to invest on learning how this works. My web development will have to wait until next week.
Skype missing in action
Apple’s Facetime and the old-fashioned telephone voice service are my normal communications tools. My family all have Apple kit, so we can videoconference when we’re apart. I spend a lot of time interviewing or chatting with contacts on the phone. Toll calls aren’t that expensive and the land line quality is important – I need to accurately hear people’s exact words if I’m going to quote them.
Skype is our fall-back for family communications. Sometimes you can get a Skype voice-only call over connections that can’t handle Facetime. And some people I work with – particular overseas – like to make Skype calls.
Sadly Chrome OS doesn’t support Skype. Google suggests Chromebook users make do with Google Hangouts. I’ve never found this service to be worth the effort, although I know of people who love it. My problem here is that I have incoming requests for calls from people and Hangouts is not of the list of options.
The good news is that I can take the Skype call on the Sony Xperia smartphone. There may not be a Chrome app for Skype, but there is an Android one. I’ll take a longer look at that and the phone tomorrow.