ChromeOS and the Cr-48

I was lucky enough to be included in the Cr-48 Pilot program.  I really dig beta testing and seeing where the future of technology may be going.  I’m a little late in the game writing up a review of the Cr-48, as any Google search will show, but I seem to feel a bit differently than the majority of other reviewers out there.  I’m not going to say some of their claims about the flaky trackpad, horrible flash performance, and mediocre processing power aren’t true; I just going to tell you why what they say doesn’t matter in the long run…

1.  It’s beta.

2. It’s beta.

3.  Ok, really, it’s beta!  Then entire purpose of this machine is to find out what sucks, report it to Google, get updates, report more bugs, ad infinitum.

For those of you that haven’t read another review and want the specs on this machine, go here (them come back!).  To me they don’t matter much and this is why…

This computer is about the OS, not the damn hardware. Branded hardware will be better.  It just will, I promise.

I opened the case and I was greeted with a Chrome logo before I could get the screen fully opened.  As instructed, I “gently” pressed the power button, went through 4 quick steps (including a self-portrait) and was logged in using my Gmail credentials.   Without any annoying prompts or fuss all of my Chrome options automatically synced with the computer.  I was at an immediate advantage since I use Chrome as my primary browser — all of my plugins, bookmarks, options and history were included.  No annyoing login prompts for Gmail, Google Docs or any other Google services.  One of the coolest features of this is that I could go login to any other computer running ChromeOS with my Gmail credentials and it would do the same thing.  ANY ChromeOS is YOUR OS.  Some people may be put off by this ubiqutious mesh of all your data from any location but what you should keep in mind is that (best estimate) 95% of the data you access is “in the cloud” and not stored on the actual laptop anyway.  This thing only has a 16GB SSD inside.  Sure, lots of room for plenty of personal information, but from everything I’ve seen, it’s purpose is simply to keep only what is needed to run the OS on the laptop.  Your security really goes as far as how secure your password is and how much you trust Google with your data.

ChromeOS is a different experience.  You’ll actually feel right at home if you have already used the Chrome browser, but if not, you might be in for a rude awakening.  There is no Start button akin to Windows nor a comforting Apple logo in the top left corner.  The browser is the OS and the OS is the browser.  Everything is accessed from a single interface – no desktop, no icons, no wallpaper.    You start with one tab open.  With the unibar you can type in a web address, search term or you can use it to access a myriad of other features using special keywords that let to get into guts of the OS and tweak features.  So far, the available apps are lackluster but if Android Market has been any mark of  future success these will improve  in quality and in number quickly as well.  Do I have to remind you this is all still in beta?!

So far, I’ve had a lot of fun using the unit.  My son spent a large amount of time watching episodes of the Simpsons in Flash and he found it perfectly acceptable.  I can keep the unit on the coffe table as a general purpose machine.  It awakes from sleep faster than you can get the screen open so anytime you feel like reading a book or checking the weather, it’s right there.  The battery lasts around 10 hours and I have found I can use it for almost any task.  I can even get an ssh connection on a different screen and use a predefined key on the keyboard to switch between the shell and the OS.  Outside of video/picture editing and gaming — the latter I don’t do on a computer anyway — I really can see a slighly more powerful version of this computer with a release version OS as something I would use as a primary computer.  Becuase of my job, I’ll likely need a full desktop OS for some time but when I’m not working  I can chat, surf, word process, do spreadsheets, listen to music, watch streaming movies/tv/videos and 99% of the other tasks I do on a computer these days, all on a laptop expected to cost under $400.  Hardware is overrated and specs mean shit for almost all computer users.  My grandma doesn’t care how fast her CPU is or if her video card drivers are up-to-date, she just wants to look at pictures of her grandkids or videos on YouTube with as little hassle as possible.  Most people do I think.

I see a bright future for this new type of ubiquitous computing.  Imagine it: one login, any computer, anywhere and you have instant access to all of your everything.  That last sentence screams SECURITY ISSUES but I also have (a probably misguded) trust in the security systems that will be in place by the time this type of scenario actually is a reality.  Whatever the real future, from my perspective, it’s off to an exciting start.

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1Password vs. LastPass

I am coming up on 6 months of being a “full time” Mac user. By “full time” I mean that a Mac is my primary computer during the work day and I use it around 80% of the time outside of work hours. (On a quick aside, I am working on a Windows 7 laptop now and I am becoming extremely fond of Microsoft’s newest offering.)

One of the things I like about OS X is the astounding number of quality applications that perform one task but perform that task in an sleek, easy to configure and easy to learn way. Some of my favorites are MailPlaneThings and 1Password. In my line of work 1Password had become indespensible.

For those of you not familiar with the app, 1Password manages all of your passwords and sensitive data for your online accounts, can keep track of all of your software serial numbers and lets you store  post-it style secure notes.  The interface is very slick and the data is kept in a virtual vault that you open  with a master password.  Once you have unlocked your vault, all of your usernames and passwords are automatically filled when you go to web pages that require login.  Because username and password fields are auto-filled you can generate very long and complex passwords for your online accounts that you never have to remember.  For example, I use a randomly generated, 16-character password for my Facebook account that consists of numbers, letters (upper and lower-case) and special characters yet I have no idea what it is.  A password of that strength and complexity is going to be next to impossible to crack.  There are only two downsides to the application — the fact that it is Mac ONLY and that comes with a $39.95 price tag. For a mixed OS user like me the Mac-only compatibility is a frustrating issue (but I’m happy to pay for a good product).

Over the past few months, buzz has been growing around a new password management application call LastPass so I thought I would check it out.  The things that drew me to LastPass initially were the multiple-OS support and compatibility with Chrome, Firefox, Safari as well as Internet Explorer.  The next attention getter was that it was completely free.  I spent a little over an hour yesterday setting up and reading all of the details about LastPass and I think 1Password is going to have to take a graceful bow and exit stage right.  This is why…

LastPassword

LastPass is free.  LastPass does everything 1Password does.  LastPass can be intergrated with every major browser.  LastPass works on Windows, OS X and Linux. Your passwords are stored on their servers and locally in an encrypted “vault” and only your master password can be used to open the vault.  Even if someone somehow stole your vault files from LastPass.com’s servers or took your laptop your data would be safe.  Lastpass.com cannot read your vault file stored on their server. I repeat, Lastpass.com cannot read the passwords or usernames in your vault file.  As more and more of our data is stored at 3rd party locations it is vital that the our personal privacy is respected and that even if their servers were breached our data would remain safe.

The average person selects passwords that are easy for them to remember and therefore are generally too short, easy to guess and insecure.  By using an application like LastPass (or even 1Password if you prefer) you can increase your online security and privacy by an exponential amount.  You just have to remember one password, it’s easy to install, it syncs across computers and all major browsers.  What else could you want?  Just do download it and start using it.  You won’t regret it.

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Use SMTP Authentication for XenServer Notifications

The default nature of Citrix XenServer is a little on the “WTF were they thinking” side sometimes.  A good example is setting up notifications for your pool of servers.  By default you get the following screen when setting up e-mail notifications:

Pool Notifications

This is great if your e-mail server allows relaying (if it does, you are crazy) or if you want to go edit configuration files on your mail server to allow relaying from certain hosts.  If you have a well configured mail server like the one at my organization, SMTP Authentication is enabled for all e-mails accounts that need to send through the server.  You can get XenServer to use SMTP auth as well, you just have to add a few lines to a configuration file to each server in the pool.  If you have a lot of servers, you WILL want to script this.

XenServer (we are talking Citrix here btw, not opensource Xen) uses sSMTP to send mail.  There are two extremely basic configuration files in /etc/ssmtp — only one of which you need to deal with.  With your favorite text editor, open /etc/ssmtp/ssmtp.conf from the command line on your server and add or modify the following lines:

authUser=<receiving e-mail address>
authPass=<password for e-mail>
mailhub=<your mail server>

If your mail server supports it, you can also add these two options:

authMethod=cram-md5
useSTARTTLS=YES

That’s it! Save the file and copy it to all servers in the pool.  Pool notifications will now be sent using SMTP authentication to whatever server you specify.  Maybe Citrix will get their head out of their asses on this one eventually but until then…

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New Server, Same Site, MEGA Redundancy

Well, I moved the site over to new servers last night. That’s normally not too exciting but seeing that it’s running on top of all the insanely powerful hardware used in my big project, it is.

By running my site on this setup:

  • I am protected from ANY hardware failure with seamless and automatic fail over to the backup hardware
  • all my files are mirrored to fail over storage AND backed up to a 3rd location. If one fails the 2nd takes over instantly
  • all network routes have 2 or more paths (as many as 8 in some parts of the setup)
  • all storage is served by a crazy fast, completely private back-end network.
  • all links are 1Gbps or FASTER

What I’m trying to say is, outside of a direct meteorite strike on the physical rack this setup is in, this site or any others on the system should NEVER be down.  My boss even moved one of his personal sites to the system because of it’s robustness.

The biggest advantage for “normal” people is that you can have all of the benefits of an infrastructure that would costs many tens of thousands of dollars for around $0.82 per day.  If you run a business or any website that needs to be up 100% of the time and have the peace of mind that all of your data is 3x redundant as well as ready for instant, seamless fail-over, this type of hosting is for you.  Honestly, if you are running any business that doesn’t require the resources of a dedicated server it would be stupid not to move over to a system like this.  The benefit to cost ratio is just unreal.  All of that plus the fact that the network storage back-end makes your sites load WAY faster than straight disk-based hosting accounts, you just can’t beat it.

If you want to check it out, click the little link on the right side that says “Redundant Hosting Has Arrived”.

Sure this is shameless self promotion but the product is solid and I wouldn’t tell you to get an account unless I believed in it 100%.  My job literally depends on it!

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Something Has Got to Give

I’m wrapping up a BIG, fully redundant VPS hosting project I was hired to setup at my new job. Once the product launches I’m going to write a few pieces on what I’ve learned over the past 6 months. I’ll still be employed by the same company but put on new projects that will also be of interest!

Topics will include system redundancy, storage redundancy, SAN options, Xen, reviews of various software products including XenServer 5.5 and other Citrix Products, NexentaStor, virtualization in general and my thoughts on the future of “Cloud Computing”.

It should be fun, I have tons of stuff waiting to flow from my fingers. I hope you find them interesting and informative!!

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