Monday, November 26, 2012

Chromebooks force digital simplicity

It's easy to get wrapped up downloading various applications for a variety of functions. As I would read about what other apps bloggers were using as part of their workflows, I became curious and felt compelled to give them a "test drive," too.

What I didn't anticipate was how complicated all these different applications would make what was intended to be a simple publishing process. At one point, I realized I was using four different applications to create a single blog post for The Content Matrix.

Pre-Chromebook, here is what my blog post system looked like:

I used...
That's ridiculous! Sometimes you don't realize the layers of complexity you create for yourself until you take a step back.

The Chromebook has pushed me to adopt digital simplicity, especially in the areas of writing and publishing blog posts.

Today, I use Google Docs exclusively to write, style, and set up every blog post. When I'm ready to post, I simply copy and paste the final version into Wordpress. That's it!

The only complicated part about blogging should be finding the next topic and doing any necessary research to write on the topic. The tools needed to write and publish the post should be simple. That's how it was intended to be from the beginning.

I love Google Docs for creating blog post content because...
  • It auto-saves my work.
  • It works offline.
  • I can easily organize every document based on my preferences.
  • I can add hyperlinks and notes to myself.
  • It's clean and uncomplicated which keeps me focused on content creation.
  • If necessary, I can share it quickly to collaborate or get feedback.
The Chromebook single-handedly simplified how I create and publish blog posts.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Chromebook won't just be a great laptop experience. It may—in fact—become the catalyst that ushers in an "era of digital simplicity" that gets people refocused on the impact of our work rather than managing the complexity of the tools we use to accomplish the work.

How has the Chromebook forced you to simplify your digital habits?

Monday, November 19, 2012

The perfect Chromebook is just one feature away from reality

I'm back to using my MacBook Air while my Chromebook is being evaluated by Samsung.

One of the things I miss the most about my Chromebook is the battery life. I'm only getting about 3 to 4 hours from my MacBook Air as compared to 6 hours on my 550. That's disappointing to say the least.

Given all the excitement around the latest Samsung ARM Chromebook and the ACER Chromebook, this is a vital feature I wish one manufacturer would figure out how to expand to a crazy-long capacity.

What qualifies as "crazy-long capacity"? I'll tell you.

In a perfect world (that is...Ben's perfect world...), the Chromebook would have the battery life of my iPad—nearly 10 hours.

Now that would be...well...perfect.

Is this reasonable, or am I way off?

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Chromebook is awesome until it doesn't work!

One of the things Google has done to be more appealing to businesses is move into live support for Google Apps and Chromebooks. This additional support includes email and phone. Google has always been excellent at online documentation and keeping a variety of support-based Google Groups active for troubleshooting and minor problem resolution.

But what happened to me on a recent business trip was nothing short of troubling. And it necessitated more than an email, group thread, or piece of online documentation.

The Screen Went Black...AHHH!

This was my first trip only taking my Chromebook. I had become confident enough while testing it around the office to "fly solo" on my next business trip. I even copied all my necessary files to the small but available SSD, so that I could access the files offline should the wifi or 3G connection not be strong enough to run the presentation. (Read more about how to conduct an offline presentation using a Chromebook.)

I was reviewing my slides the night before when my screen went black. Not blank...BLACK. I couldn't do anything. I turned it off and on again and nothing changed. All time seemed to stop. It was already late at night. I was reviewing everything one more time before calling it a night.

I had no idea what to do next.

Thankfully, I woke up the next morning and everything appeared to be working fine. I was able to conduct the presentation, and everything went off without a hitch. However, I couldn't let it go. My confidence had been shattered.

Google's Live Support

When I got back in the office the following day, I contacted phone support for Chrome OS and the Chromebook. They were extremely helpful. All of our conversation was documented via an email thread that utilized the very best of what we have all come to love about Gmail.

The person on the other end was patient, friendly, and very helpful. In the end, it appeared that it may be a hardware issue caused by the unit overheating. That meant I would have to call Samsung.

Honestly, my first reaction was, "Why can't you take care of this?" However, that was my only option. The rep did guide me through the process of contacting Samsung for resolution and gave me the option of reaching back out to him if Samsung proved not to be helpful.

I've already spent too much time resolving an issue that should have been simple, but I tried to keep an open mind. (Keep in mind, I'm not the "IT guy." I'm not paid to solve IT issues from my company.)

Samsung's Resolution Process

Samsung was helpful. They issued a call tag for me to ship the device to a facility where they will determine the cause of the problem and replace it—if necessary—at no cost to me. That's comforting...except for the fact that it will take up to THREE WEEKS from the time I ship the device to resolution.

Google's customer service was superb. Samsung was helpful. However, when Google branded the Sansung device, they should have anticipated that customers would be expecting Google to manage any hardware related issues...or at least coordinate the transaction. I shouldn't need to call Samsung, too. (Maybe my expectations are too high.)

Business Continuity—Still In Progress

In the meantime, I'm left without a Chromebook (which isn't my primary device) for three weeks. I expected Samsung to issue a replacement immediately. I guess the "business continuity" option is really left to me. In other words, I would need to have multiple Chromebooks on-hand in the event one goes down. While this is common practice for large IT departments, it bursts the bubble of the "reducing the IT costs for small business" argument made by Google.

I'm not a Google-hater by any means, and I still believe in the Chromebook. But for this to really become a business solution, there still are a few more kinks that need to be worked out.

The rest of the story is to come. Stay tuned.

Have you had any technical issues with your Chromebook? What has been your experience with Google's relatively new live support option?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Google Goodies come with your Chromebook

I had heard about the promotional offers that came along with the purchase of the new Chromebook, but I initially thought they were only available to those who purchased the new Samsung Chromebook. Having just purchased the 550 3G version a month prior to its release, I just assumed that the offer wasn't available to me.

I was wrong. (And big thanks to Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols for pointing this out.)

Which devices are eligible for the latest Google Goodies?

  • Chromebox 3
  • Chromebook 550
  • The new Chromebook

What exactly are Google Goodies?
  • 100 gigs of Google Drive space for two years (Retail Value: $60.00/yr or $120.00 total)
  • 12 Go-Go Inflight Internet Sessions (Retail Value: $12.70/day pass or $152.40 total)

Yep. That's a total of $272.40 in services. Not a bad deal, in my opinion.

There are a few things you need to know:
  • You must be running Chrome OS v23 to be eligible for the offer.
  • You have to claim your Google Goodies by meeting certain criteria. If you do, then you can go to Chrome Goodies to redeem the Google Drive offer.
  • Redeem your inflight wifi through GoGo Inflight services on a plane that is wifi equipped and a GoGo Inflight partner.

Have you redeemed your Google Goodies yet? How has it helped you be productive.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How to conduct an offline presentation using the Chromebook

The offline capacity of the Chromebook is certainly growing. This is a very good thing and continues to add a lot of value to the capacity of the Chromebook to truly be an everyday computer.

While I am connected to the Web most of the day and do most of my work and personal related tasks online, presentations are a "sticky area." I never trust the wifi connection in the room where I'll be presenting, even if the client or host ensures that it's a "fast" connection.

That being the case, I've been nervous at the thought of using my Chromebook for a presentation. There is nothing worse than getting in the middle of a presentation only to have aspects of it fail due to slow, inadequate, or a completely absent connection to the internet.

The only alternative I was aware of was not a great one. I could export the slides from Google Presentations as a PDF. The only problem with that is that I couldn't access "full screen" mode, and I had to scroll through the slides. I consider this option very unprofessional and not one I was interested in using.

Now that my Samsung Chromebook 550 3G is running Chrome OS v23, I now have access to Quickoffice Viewer. (This was previously not available for v21.) Quickoffice allows me to view native Microsoft Office files—particularly PowerPoint—through its viewer offline.

Here is what I did:

  1. Open Google Presentations (or now called Slides).
  2. Export your presentation as a .PPT file. You can export as a .PPTX file, but I had some formatting issues change the layout of the slides. Since Quickoffice is a view-only option, I wasn't able to correct the inconsistencies. I did not have any issues with the .PPT file version.
  3. Click CTRL+M to open the native Chrome OS File Manager.
  4. Click on the "Download" tab (which is your local storage).
  5. Click to open the presentation file. Quickoffice immediately takes over. 
  6. Move cursor to bottom right hand side of screen where you get the options to print, save, etc. (This is similar to how you save a PDF you are viewing online.)
  7. Click on the play icon. You are immediately placed in full screen mode.

Things you won't be able to do:

  • Automation 
  • Slide Transitions
  • Deploy embedded videos
  • Interactive functions

These are not an issue for me because I think they are more distractions than enhancements. (Personal preference and philosophy.) However, it may be an issue if you need them in your slideshow. When I do need to show a video, I simply save the video file to local storage just like the presentation file. Then, I open both and switch between full screen tabs. (This is not perfect or seamless, but it gets the job done without much hassle.)

Of course, if you are presenting to a large enough group, you've likely already emailed your presentation file in whatever format you choose to the event organizer who will run the presentation from the control booth. For most people, they will never give a presentation in that type of setting. This post is intended to help those who run their own presentations in small group settings.

Even though there are some drawbacks, this process at least allows me to run a presentation without the fear of the wifi connection inhibiting the flow of or distracting from the intended experience. This means I still get to travel and use my Chromebook...whew!

What other tips and tricks have you learned about using your Chromebook for presentations?