Showing posts with label Chromebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chromebook. Show all posts

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Thoughts on Windows 10 S

Microsoft officially announced a version of Windows 10 to, primarily, take-on Chromebooks in the education sector. Windows 10 S is centred on the Edge Browser, Office 365 applications and the Microsoft Store. The goal is to target schools with a simplified operating system that is secure, easier to maintain and whose performance is not compromised with low-cost hardware.

It is understandable, in the education sector, to maintain security, to lock laptops to known sources to simplify maintenance. Outside education general users may find the operating system restricting but I still think there remains a substantial user-base that will choose Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S works better with entry level hardware (specifically with smaller storage) and the popularity of a capable entry-level laptop, as demonstrated with the HP Stream range, could mean many users find their needs better met, considering the limitations of low-end hardware, by adopting Windows 10 S.

However, the same case cannot be made with higher end hardware. Other than the Surface, which offers a free upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro, there will be a $50 fee to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. The problem is that I cannot see a significant demand to opt for a more restricted operating system, on mid-range to high-end hardware, when a device's specification is capable of running Windows 10 Pro with no compromises. The added fee might further put-off users that view it an unnecessary cost to a machine that is expected, for its price category, to do more.

Even in the entry-level category, Microsoft might struggle against Chromebooks, whether in the education sector or beyond. Compared to the Edge browser, Chrome offers a richer catalogue of applications and extensions. Further, a wider selection of applications is further extended, compared to the Windows Store, with the gradual rolling out of Google Play to more Chromebooks.

To make Windows 10 S work in the entry-level category, the main issue is if Microsoft can get third-party developers to develop applications to enhance the Microsoft Store. There is the possibility that Microsoft might revive 'Project Centennial' - a project aiming to renew the desktop PC - through converting desktop apps to universal apps that may be accessed via the Windows Store. Continuum is another example of Microsoft aiming to push the continuity of applications from the traditional desktop to other devices in a PC connect era. At this moment, however, Chrome OS and its gradual integration with Google Play, is the better option in both education and cloud-centric computing.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Microsoft's version of Chrome OS

Microsoft has a tendency to be one step behind and then try to catch up. Not long ago Microsoft ran advertisements that rubbished the idea of Chromebooks. Microsoft’s response to Chromebooks may be seen in, for example, the HP Stream range i.e. to offer Windows 10 on low end hardware. However, while these laptops are functional, with some frustration with the low RAM and storage, the streamlined Chrome OS remains better suited to low-end PC hardware. I previously posted on the need, in this PC connect age, to differentiate operating systems to meet different use-case scenarios. Google understood this early on when they released their first Chromebooks in 2011, despite being ridiculed by some, at the time, for releasing a ‘glorified web browser’.

Microsoft, finally, appear to catch-on with the release of a cloud OS version of Windows. From the information provided this is a version of Windows made specifically for low-end laptops and will come with Office applications, the Microsoft Store and One Drive support built-in. The difference between Windows Mobile and this cloud version of Windows is that it will come with desktop-lite versions of these applications. I think this new operating version of Windows will be an in-between operating system comparable to Chrome OS. However, Chromebooks have developed since their first release, with access to the Google Play now being gradually rolled out. Again, Microsoft will have to catch-up – not only will they need to beef-up the Edge browser to measure-up against the Chrome Store but will also have to increase the catalogue of applications available through the Microsoft Store to at least compare, in some way, with Google Play. At the moment, many of the popular applications are absent from the Microsoft Store.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Finally, the ideal Chromebook

I think, finally, we have the ideal Chromebook. Toshiba will be releasing a new iteration for their Chromebook 2 and it meets the check-list for the ideal Chromebook, in my opinion. The base model comes with a good IPS display (judging from the previous iteration), 4GB RAM, an Intel Celeron Broadwell processor, good battery life and is priced similar to the previous iteration when released (it is also just under three pounds, matching the weight of the previous Chromebook 2, despite not being fanless). Possibly, the only missing option, would be the a 11.6 version of the Chromebook for those who prefer a more compact option. What makes the Toshiba Chromebooks successful is that Toshiba listens to Chromebook users and decided to respond to the one area that users flagged regarding the Chromebook 2 - lacklustre performance.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The problem with Chromebook displays

The Achilles heel of many Chromebooks is poor matte finishing on sub-standard LCD TN panels (the Acer C720 is a good example of this). Most of these panels strain the eyes; something accentuated with a matte finish that mutes colours, brightness and generates a foggy like haze effect over the display (I am specifically pointing out Asus and Acer as the main culprits in producing sub-standard displays). I would not say this is predominantly an issue of preference between glossy or matte but the use of sub-standard panels with a lack of care when applying a matte finish (e.g. the anti-glare used on the HP Chromebook 14 is better than what Acer and Asus offer).

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(1) The Dell 13 Chromebook's flexible choice in configuration would be something different. However, I would classify the Dell 13 Chromebook as tilting to the premium than mid-range, due to its build quality and needless extras (e.g. back-lit keyboard); Dell also market this as a 'business class' Chromebook, rather than a general consumer product. The ideal Chromebook, something that manufacturers oddly neglect, would be of similar build quality to existing Chromebooks but with a good IPS display and good enough performance.    

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Acer R11 and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook

Acer announced a flip Chromebook of their own but instead of running an ARM chip, it comes with a Celeron Braswell processor (N3050), 1366x766 display (it is likely that this is an IPS display) and the the 'choice' (1) between 16GB/32GB storage and 2GB/4GB RAM (in the UK the 4GB configuration is the standard option for Asus's Rockchip based Chromebooks; this may similarly be the case with the Acer R11). Other than the Acer R11 flip Chromebook, Lenovo is releasing their own entry level Chromebook (Chromebook 100S) that costs $179 and comes with a Baytrail-M processor, coupled with the regular 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. There will be more costly models with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage; however, what makes the Lenovo 100S Chromebook different is that it is priced similar to ARM based Chromebooks released by the likes of Asus, Hisense, Haier etc., but with a preferable Intel based processor. At similar price, there is a Windows 10 version of the 100S (Ideapad 100S) but comes with a start configuration of an Intel Atom Z3735F processor. I think the Acer 'Aspire One Cloudbook', as an entry level Windows 10 laptop, is a more attractive option with its Intel Celeron Braswell processor at $189.

(1) Choice isn't really choice, as manufacturers, in Europe, tend to release 2GB RAM as standard, with a 4GB RAM model more difficult to find.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The standardisation of Chromebooks

Chromebook specifications, generally, tend to be standardised; the current batch, with some exceptions, adopt the Nvidia Tegra K1 and Celeron Baytrail-M processors (with the recent addition of Rockchip), 16GB SSD, 2GB RAM and a TN panel display. Dell offer something different with their Chromebooks by allowing some choice for the user to configure their device. The latest Dell 11 Chromebook, for example, can be configured in regards to RAM and touch screen. The 4GB version retails for a reasonable £189 and comes with a Baytrail-M processor; the previous generation sells for an identical price but comes with a more powerful Celeron Haswell processor. The plus side, with the newer generation, is that it comes, in the words of Dell, with a "Mil-spec tested for drops, spills on the keyboard and track pad, vibration, heat, humidity, dust and dirt" (the military spec is due to the device primarily being directed at schools). Other manufacturers do offer variants, e.g. 2GB and 4GB, but these are different models and the 4GB version is often difficult to find and when available, retailers can hike prices significantly (Dell, by selling devices direct to users, control the retail price and only increase the price of the 4GB version by £20). In general, Dell offer the best Chromebooks and their new 'mid-range' Chromebook 13 further expands options beyond the present standardisation of Chromebooks.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Chromebook specs comparison chart

This website has an excellent overview of Chromebook devices since their initial release in 2011. It shows a stark increase in battery life, with some Chromebooks now reaching up to 13 hours. In regards to performance, then 2013 saw a performance spike with Octane scores figuring between 11000 - 12000 due to the release of Haswell based Chromebooks, though only a few Chromebooks were released late that year. It is an oddity with Chromebooks that prices fluctuate more with RAM and display, then with performance (this probably due to the relative scarcity of Chromebooks with an IPS display and/or 4GB RAM). For example, the HP Chromebook 11 with an IPS display, powered by an Exynos processor, retailed at a similar price to the Acer C720 that came with more than a 50% performance increase.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The problem of underpowered Chromebooks

The main advantage of Chromebooks is in cloud based web apps that require minimal maintenance by the end-user. With a stripped down and simplified computing experience, there is a mistaken assumption that Chromebooks work well with low-end hardware offering performance better suited to mobile level devices. This is further confirmed by manufacturers that market the idea of Chromebooks as a secondary device for 'basic' computing needs. Thus most Chromebooks offered by retailers  come with lower end Celeron processors bundled with a meagre 2GB of RAM that suffice for the marketed light use scenarios. However, Chromebooks can be more than this and the growing web based tools require more memory, other than an adequate processor that briskly renders and loads large documents from the cloud.

Late 2013 saw a number of Chromebooks with Haswell Celeron processors that offered very good performance, even with 2GB of RAM. Since then, however, the trend has been a move to ARM based processors (Exynos, Rockchip RK3288 and NVIDIA Tegra K1) and Celeron Baytrail-M processors (N2830 and N2840) that require no fans and extend battery life but offer near 40% decrease in performance compared to the Haswell Celeron. This move compromises the hassle free computing that Chromebooks are meant to offer with, at times, sluggish performance and longer rendering of documents through Google Docs. While Chrome OS is a stripped down cloud based operating system, it is closer to a desktop experience that can be throttled with mobile class hardware. The next step from manufacturers seems to further expand in the use of ARM based processors and low-power Celeron Braswell chips that offer no performance improvements over Celeron Baytrail-M (in fact, performance with Braswell is less than the chips they are replacing).

Seeing the continued trend with underpowered but power efficient chips, then it makes sense for Google to optimise the working of their native apps (Google Docs, Youtube, Google Music etc.) with chip-sets offered by Chromebook manufacturers. Of course, the ideal case scenario would be to complement this optimisation with more powerful processor chips that provide a performance bump to handle most web based applications e.g. Intel Celeron Broadwell based processors.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Chromebook killers & other nonsense

The new Acer Cloudbook is described as a “Chromebook killer" by some but this fails to identify the use and niche that the Chromebook fills. It also points to Microsoft's continued failure to see the Chromebook as something more than a budget device that meets light computing needs; instead of producing an alternative to Chrome OS, the response was low-end hardware partnerships with OEMs shipping full Windows (the 32 bit version) but with the license fee for Windows wavered, to keep costs low. With this step the advantages of cloud computing were ignored for full Windows, bundled with a one year Office 365 subscription (Microsoft may be ending the one year Office 365 subscription). According to Microsoft's logic, why get a Chromebook, when at similar cost there is full Windows and Office 365 (you can do more with that!). It would make more sense for Microsoft to identify what makes Chrome OS different and then develop the now defunct Windows RT as a cloud based operating system built around the snappy Microsoft Edge browser, bundled with key productivity apps from the Microsoft Windows store. In other words, this approach would rely on both the Windows store and Edge browser, with cloud based tools synced from a Microsoft account. Around these two points the tools are there for Microsoft to develop an alternative cloud based operating system, if there is only the imagination to make use of the intuitive metro interface and to bundle the Office store apps with OneDrive storage. In its own way, the Lumia phones have taken this direction and run far better with mobile hardware than Android phones.

Chrome OS, in contrast to full Windows, is a stripped down OS that is more than a browser. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are a different way of computing and one that releases the need for maintenance of a bloated operating system from the user (there is good reason schools are increasingly adopting Chromebooks, as they significantly cut maintenance costs, other than the low cost hardware that Microsoft aims to counter). Chrome OS's virus and hassle free computing works better with low-end hardware, compared to Windows, as the end-user has less to deal with and this removes the clutter for users to then utilise tools that meet their needs (cloud computing is not ready for power-users at this moment). The misnamed Acer Cloudbook is a different computing concept to Chromebooks and meets a different need; it should also be noted that Acer is the largest manufacturer of Chrome OS devices that sell very well.