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Bill Bennett

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Acer’s stunning $400 C720 Chromebook

You can buy an Acer C720 for under $400 if you shop around. It’s one of the cheapest computers on sale in New Zealand – if not the cheapest. It costs much less than you’d pay for even the cheapest Windows 8 laptop and about 25 percent of Apple’s most basic MacBook.

That low price means a few limitations. On the outside the C720 looks a little plain vanilla. It’s grey and made of plastic, not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. This is clearly a straightforward workhorse computer, not a fashion accessory.

Despite the utilitarianism, or maybe because if it, I rather like the C720. It’s well built – like a Russian tank. And it comes with all the right modern ports including HDMI and USB 3.0. Heck it almost cost me the price of the C720 to add USB 3.0 ports to my old desktop warhorse.

Play it loud

The speakers are loud and not especially high fidelity. I found this out the hardware when accidentally navigating to a site with an autoplay ad and deafening my household at 7am.

While the chiclet-style keyboard is no match for my MacBook Air, it’s usable. I have some trouble with my touch typing and I’m not as fast as normal, but it’s a step-up from the Touch Cover 2 you can add to a Surface tablet.

I have a minor niggle about the control key being in the wrong spot – I keep hitting alt by mistake – but that’s not a major problem.

Although the Trackpad works, it’s a little erratic, but you can do two finger scrolling. I’m spoilt by the MacBook Air’s trackpad, but frankly the Acer C720 does a better job than most Windows laptops.

For me the Acer C720’s weakest spot is the display. You can’t reasonably expect much when you’re paying under $400 for laptop. And you don’t get that much. The screen measures 11.6 inches and resolution is 1388 by 768. It’s perfectly readable.

C720 surprisingly good overall

There’s a Celeron processor, 4GB of Ram and a 16GB SSD – all more than enough to keep everything ticking over nicely. It’s not fast, but the lightweight software overhead and Google’s cloud doing the heavy lifting means it doesn’t need to be. I’ve been using the C720 solidly for nearly two hours and the battery is a 84 percent. I suspect the measure is non-linear, but it looks like I can get a day’s work out of this baby on a single charge.

On the whole I’m staggered by how much computer Acer has shovelled into the $400 C720. It’s plain and utilitarian yet functional. If the Soviet Union was still in business and made personal computers, this is what it could have come up with on a good day. It makes you wonder how much of the value and cost of other computers goes into supporting heavy duty operating systems.

Apple, Microsoft sue Google, Android phone makers

Last week Rockstar Bidco, a group of phone makers including Apple and Microsoft, filed a suit against Google and Android phone makers for infringing five of its patents.

The patents were acquired from the wreckage of Nortel for US$4.5 billion after a bidding war. Google lost that auction. The winning consortium includes Apple and Microsoft as well as BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony.

Now, as expected, the patents are being used against Google and its Android partners. The defendants are Samsung, LG Electronics, HTC, Huawei, Asustek, Pantech and ZTE Corp – pretty much everybody who is anybody in the Android world.

Rockstar patents certainly not worthless

Because Google also bid billions for the same patents, it’s going to find it difficult to argue they are worthless.

All Things D has the main news story and a copy of the litigation document.

Yes it’s a mess.  And yes, it shows there’s something rotten with the entire patent system. As John Gruber at Daring Fireball points out, don’t feel sorry for Google. It is just as bad.

So what?

What does the patent action mean in practical terms for phone users like you and I?

Rockstar’s action hangs on five patents that revolve around matching search terms with advertising and user data. In other words, serving personalised advertising. This is central to Google’s business model. Apple, Microsoft and their partners are attacking the core of Android.

Should the Rockstar consortium win, Google will probably have to pay damages. Phone makers may have to halt sales – at least temporarily. It’s possible a settlement will include changes to Android. This could, in turn, mean forced upgrades and even some loss of functionality. Maybe even breaking some apps. All of this will be a short-term disruption.

It could also mean paying licence fees to Rockstar. This will undermine Google’s free-OS-and-apps-in-return-for-advertising business model. It will almost certainly make Android a more expensive option for phone makers. Google may just make advertisers pay more to target Android users.

There’s little chance Google and it’s partners will take this lying down. There could be protracted litigation. If they have any means to retaliate, you can rest assured they’ll be firing their weapons in the coming days. One possibility is less Google support for non-Android operating systems.

Google’s Chromebook Pixel pushes boundaries

Chromebook Pixel
Chromebook Pixel

Google’s new flagship device is the Chromebook Pixel: a US$1,300 laptop with a Retina-like high-resolution touch screen and a 32GB SSD. It uses Google’s Chrome OS which means applications run in the browser, not as native apps. Two models are on sale in the US, one is Wi-Fi only, the other has 4G mobile networking.

The specification is quite a turnaround from earlier Chromebooks. Only last week I wrote about the unappetising cheap, low-end laptops sporting ordinary specifications. The Chromebook Pixel turns that description on its head. There’s enough power for demanding users thanks to a 1.8Ghz Intel Core i5, integrated graphics and 4GB of Ram.

Most of the extra money pays for the screen, which is a 12.85 inch display with a whopping 2560×1700 pixels – that’s more pixels per inch than Apple’s 13 inch MacBook Pro. It should much smoother, easier-to-read text and make graphics sharper – although users will only get the full access with specially updated web pages.

The other highlight is the touch screen, which paves the way for a ChromeOS tablet – that sounds more interesting to me than an Android tablet.

For now high density displays are still something of a freak-show. Google’s move suggests they will quickly become mainstream.

Google’s move is strategically interesting, the company is aiming for high-end users, not those worried about budgets. I suspect it’ll be taken seriously in corporate IT shops, especially those committed to the cloud and Google apps.

My books listed on Google Books

Usborne guide to understanding the micro30 years ago I co-wrote The Usborne guide to understanding the micro. The title has been out of print for a generation. I was surprised to find it listed at Google Books.

My book also still on sale at Amazon.com. Mind you, the sellers don’t want much for it.

The Usborne micro guide was my first book and, in sales terms it was the most successful although it was not the most lucrative. I can’t find any evidence but remember it featured on some best-seller lists and total sales ran to hundreds of thousands. If you know, please get in touch.

Usborne translated the book into a number of other languages including German. The cover of that version is below and, sigh, doesn’t feature my name. There were other language versions, I spotted  a Spanish translation in a shop somewhere in Spain. There were at least three reprints of the English edition.

Oddly the picture shown at Google Books isn’t the cover but the title page from inside the book.

Usborne Guide To Understanding The Micro

My other books haven’t fared so well . And as for this one from 1984. I wrote it under the pseudonym Gordon Davis after I saw a player with the same name score a goal for Chelsea one weekend. For some reason Google added the word ‘Bitter’ in the name. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Wave bye bye

Good riddance to Google Wave.

Did you ever understand what the fuss was about?

Wave may have been clever programming, but it didn’t do anything  that other applications already did better. Even Google has better tools for most Wave tasks.

It did instant messaging although Google already had one and a half tools that do the same job very well.

Wave did communications. Why bother when Gmail is so much better?

Wave was a collaboration tool. Who needs that when collaborating on Google Docs is so easy?

There was a social media twist to Wave, but Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are all simpler to use and way more polished.

Wave had a bad user interface and was difficult to use.

More importantly, it was difficult to understand what was going on and what one was supposed to do.

No-one will miss Wave.

Publish Google Docs to WordPress site

Want to publish directly from Google Docs to your WordPress site? Setting-up Google Docs is a chore, but easy once you’ve done the hard work. Here’s how I did it.

Google Docs may not be the world’s best word processor, but you won’t find a better way of collaborating on documents. Sharing and collaboration works far better than with Microsoft Word.

Recently I used Google Docs to edit some shared documents which would eventually become WordPress posts.

After writing the first post, I cut and pasted the text into WordPress. It wasn’t pretty. Eventually I used WordPress’ paste as plain text function, but that loses formatting.

I decided to investigate posting directly from Google Docs to WordPress.

There are a number of guides explaining how to do this, but an online applications like Google Docs is a moving target – some of the steps explained in the guides have changed in recent updates.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Get WordPress ready to receive Google Docs. Go to the Dashboard, select Settings, then Writing.

  2. Select the box where it says:
    XML-RPC Enable the WordPress, Movable Type, MetaWeblog and Blogger XML-RPC publishing protocols.

  3. In Google Docs, open the document you’d like to post in WordPress.

  4. Pull down the Share menu in the top right hand corner of the screen and select Publish as web page.

  5. You should see two items, the second says This document has not been published to your blog.

  6. If this is the first time you’ve tried posting to your WordPress site from Google Docs, there will be a message saying: You need to set your blog site settings before you can post documents to your blog.

  7. Click on the link.

  8. If you use a hosted WordPress.com blog, then click the first button (which is selected by default) and choose WordPress.com from the pull-down menu next to the word Provider. If you run a self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll need to select the My own server / custom option then choose Metaweblog API and your site address. It is important to end the xmlrpc.php – which is normally in the home directory.

  9. Add your user name and password.

The process isn’t foolproof – I still ended up needing to edit some HTML code which came through from Google Docs – but if you’ve build your workflow around Google’s tools, this is relatively straightforward.