Lunch & Learn: William Howarth on Chrome and Chromebooks for Research and Writing.

William Howarth uses Chrome to write, research, and work.

William Howarth

William Howarth

On February 13th, 2013, William Howarth, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University was joined by John LeMasney and Janet Temos of Princeton’s Educational Technologies Center (ETC) to talk about the use of Google’s Chrome browser and the Chromebook in writing and research. Chrome is a web browser created by Google and allows you to visit and interact with web sites and services on the Internet. The Chromebook is a laptop from Google (collaborating with manufacturers) that runs only Chrome and nothing else.

Howarth began by showing the way that he uses Chrome as a browser on Mac OS. He discussed how he uses Chrome’s New Tab Page to store shortcuts to key applications that he uses every day. Previously, he has used an iPad, a Kindle Fire, and is now focusing on using Chrome as his main place of doing work digitally.  He said that part of the reason that he has settled on Chrome is that he feels like Google is the contemporary technology thought leader, set to dominate in business, mobile, and shopping. “Google runs the Web”, says Howarth, citing that in January 2013, they were the most used search engine, far ahead of others, and that in December of 2012, they had the leading browser, 47% of users, far ahead of Firefox or Internet Explorer. He suggested that their leadership and success is due to their emphasis on both speed and universal, cross-platform access.

Chrome

As a browser, Chrome is fast (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57547157-93/google-chrome-has-gotten-26-percent-faster-this-year/), and it runs on all major platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Linux (http://support.google.com/chrome/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=95411). It works on desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. But it is more than a browser, according to Howarth, because it strongly supports and integrates web services and can function as an operating system, especially in the case of the Chromebook, where the browser has settings for the display, sound, and hardware (http://support.google.com/chromeos/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1047362). When Chrome is an operating system, it is referred to as ChromeOS, to signify the extra abilities of hardware management, etc. You do not need to have a Chromebook to use ChromeOS, because you can boot ChromeOS from a USB key using the Vanilla Bootable USB Key Chrome OS project (http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/) managed by a Googler named Liam McLoughlin.

Chrome is self-upgrading: just restart it, about an eight-second reboot on the Chromebook, to upgrade to the latest version. Customize Chrome via themes (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/themes?hl=en), extensions (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions?hl=en), and apps (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/popular?hl=en). Chrome comes with basic cloud storage of 5 Gigabytes via Google Drive (http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2736257), though you may use other cloud storage as well. Extensions add functionality to the browser itself, such as the ability to select text, and upon copy, automatically add surrounding quotes, URLs and other citation material to the buffered text (Copy URL Plus). When you sign into Chrome with a Google account, you track all the changes you make to the settings, history, extensions, and web apps, which are the synchronized and made available to all of your other Chrome installs. In Chrome, if you install a web app on one running instance, the web app becomes available to your other instances of Chrome.

Researchers and writers can use Chrome for notes, files, and storage. Some notable apps in this regard are Evernote, Dropbox, Box.net, and Google Drive, all available for install at the Chrome Web Store. Google Drive‘s docs features allow you to share, edit, distribute, and collaborate on files with others in real-time for free. If you decide to adopt Google’s cloud based lifestyle provided by Chrome, Howarth suggested getting familiar with Google’s Drive, in which you can create documents, spreadsheets, drawings, forms, and presentations. It has an integrated PDF viewer and the ability to create PDFs, Word documents, and other Office documents. It also has a print preview and print features. You can upload, share and store any kind of file you wish in Drive (http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2424368).

Chromebooks

The Chromebook is a simple idea, executed simply: A laptop form factor that does only one thing: run ChromeOS. Howarth explained that the Chromebook solves some mobile computing issues for him. He can’t type easily on an iPhone or iPad screen keyboard, and prefers a physical keyboard. The iPad bluetooth keyboards work for many, but not for him. “This machine is low-cost, lightweight, easily portable, and is more durable than a netbook” says Howarth.

The recent Samsung model is 2.4 pounds, has an 11 inch screen, costs $199 or $249 depending on configuration. The Mac Air, by comparison, is about $1,000. In 2013, there are four known makers of Chromebooks: Samsung, Acer, Lenovo, and HP, though the most commonly sold devices are from Samsung and Acer (https://play.google.com/store/devices). Howarth suggests that a bluetooth mouse may be helpful, but that the screen and keyboard are very good, while the trackpad is usable. You can store and move files to and from a USB key to extend the storage of the Chromebook.

He notes that there are some differences in the user interface for Chrome on other operating systems and Chrome on the Chromebook. But essentially, the experience is the same. If you work online most of the time, as Howarth does, he suggests that you look at Chrome as a solution. “No matter what machine I’m using, I’m in the Chrome browser” he says.

Pros and Cons of Chrome:

Cons:

Some fear a Google technology monopoly, privacy issues, and invasive advertising. (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505124_162-57569867/google-privacy-issues-in-forefront-again/)
There is some question of the future of Google’s two operating systems, Chrome and Android, and if and how they will coexist. (http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/05/17/google.chrome.android/index.html)
Cloud: is it a fad, or is it here to stay? With cloud based storage, different problems may emerge, such as synchronization failures. (http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2565956)
A Chrome user who does not use a traditional operating system is more or less dependent on online access, despite progress in offline use of Chrome applications, such as those in this app collection (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/collection/offline_enabled?utm_source=chrome-ntp-icon).

Pros:

Lower costs than traditional laptops
Google constantly grows, innovates, and integrates as part of their brand (http://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/quarterly/innovation/8-pillars-of-innovation.html)

Future:
Chromebooks will come in bigger, faster versions (HP has a 14″ Chromebook coming, Google HD display in the works).
Howarth believes that Chrome will have its biggest impact in education, from primary and secondary right up to Universities.

For the recorded portion of Professor Howarth’s talk, please see the video below.

https://mediacentral.princeton.edu/id/1_ql8kpv7q

This entry was posted in Educational Technology, Lunch & Learn and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.