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Something to Chrome about

Something to Chrome about
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First Published: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 08 19 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 08 19 PM IST
Using your computer just to check your email is quite a chore, and sometimes, rather dangerous. It may take several minutes for your computer to whir, click and churn before it splashes an ominous-looking log-in screen. Once you do enter your details correctly, it gives you a song and dance of sorts, but still no email. An overwhelming clutter of icons, a busy-looking task bar and abrupt notifications that intimidate you about your virus checker being out of date still fetch you no email. Meanwhile, your bloated operating system (OS) may automatically start several megabytes of download for a software patch without your knowledge. You eventually wade through menus and icons to read your mail.
Thugs, criminals and a whole bunch of creepy fellows you wouldn’t ever invite into your home freely invade your inbox through snippets of code. They subject you to phishing attacks, attempt to infect your computer with malicious software or flood you with emails that embarrass and offend you.
Fetching emails on a computer is quite unlike filling a room with light using a light bulb. Switch on the bulb and the room is immediately illuminated. Switch it off and it’s gone. It’s so simple, it can be done by children.
Too smart to be simple?
If computers are so smart, why can’t they simplify themselves? Especially if all you wish to do is browse through your email, Facebook or Skype, buy tickets, job hunt, shop, download music, stream videos or explore all the delightful new paradigms the Internet serves up so rapidly? More importantly, would you ever buy a car that crashes like your computer?
Google feels the crux of all these problems lies with the OS. It’s that clever jumble of software that helps Microsoft amass a huge fortune through monopolistic business practices, enables Apple to mesmerize people and empowers Linux to bring digital freedom to consumers across the world.
Yet, the OS itself is decades old and has grown brittle with age. Shockingly, Internet support is an afterthought, especially for Windows. Hence all your problems.
Imagine an OS designed from the ground up, boldly and intelligently embracing the Internet. Fortified against viruses and other attacks, it is also shorn of everything else, thereby offering you nothing but a safe and efficient Internet experience.
Google took a seemingly innocuous step in this direction by launching a new browser called Chrome. Surprising, because Google entered the highly competitive browser market almost 18 years late. Yet, according to official sources, it has already captured 30 million users worldwide within its first nine months. People apparently love the idea of a light and safer Web browser that renders all kinds of Web pages faithfully while blacklisting potential harmful sites. Best of all, the Chrome browser is free, so go to www.google.com/chrome to get started.
Caught like a deer in the headlights, Microsoft has responded with a brand new browser called Gazelle that tries to ape Chrome’s new generation features.
Back to basics
The next step caught everyone unawares. The search giant suddenly announced the Google Chrome OS (GCOS) on its official blog site: “Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight to start up and get you on to the Web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal, to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the Web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS, so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates.” Consumers may expect GCOS by mid-2010.
Google has partnered with various manufacturers to initially offer GCOS pre-installed on highly affordable netbooks. This paves a smooth initiation to computing and the Internet for “the next billion” people. Google also promises to keep GCOS free and open-source and have it run on any computer. GCOS is fundamentally based on Linux, and does not limit itself to the Chrome browser. Feel free to use Firefox, Gazelle, Safari or anything else. Evidently, Google stands to profit from anyone who hops on board the Internet.
Cloud configurations
The basic premise is the fruition of a much anticipated paradigm: Web-based applications. The Web has already given birth to a new genre of “cloud computing” and social Web applications. Microsoft has announced that the next version of Office will effectively run in your browser while being hosted off the Web. Ditto for Apple and its iWorks. Google already offers Google Docs. Search for any category of software today and you will find some level of Web integration.
Mercifully, Google is not the only one eyeing cloud computing while welcoming “the next billion” people. Microsoft’s Windows7 OS and its Live.com services are strong contenders, as are Apple’s Snow Leopard version of Mac OSX and its Mobileme.com services. Intel’s Moblin project also offers a fair degree of overlap. Then there’s Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) and Google’s own Android platform.
Confused? For the first time, consumers have something they’ve never really had with their OS—choice. And that’s the most fundamental thing to wish for in the digital age.
GCOS Alternatives
If you’re a tech enthusiast and can’t wait till mid-2010 to try out GCOS, you have many alternatives to immediately experience a refreshing approach to computing:
• UNR discards the traditional desktop metaphor for an intuitively simpler interface. Despite its name, UNR works on any computer. Impressively enough, you can test it without actually installing it on your PC. Just download UNR for free, follow the directions on the site on how to install it on a USB thumbdrive and then boot a computer through the thumbdrive.
• Moblin is an initiative spearheaded by Intel which is primarily aimed at a new range of mobile devices such as nettops, netbooks and in-vehicle infotainment systems. You can download and play with it at
• Android is a mobile OS that can run on many handsets. It may eventually emerge a strong contender to Apple’s iPhone, as Android is inherently open and free. Recently, Android has successfully been ported over to a few netbooks.
Listen to music on TuneWiki
This free application is on top of BlackBerry’s App World. With TuneWiki, you can scroll the lyrics to a song karaoke-style. It also lets you see what other users are listening to (‘Break the ice’ by Britney Spears is huge in Azerbaijan). You can see what people nearby are listening to. On the Android version (the application is also available for BlackBerrys and iPhones), you can see where in the world others are listening to the same song. Songs can be bought on the site and forwarded to friends. From the iPhone, users can let friends on Twitter and Facebook know what they are listening to.
Flawless prints
Canon has announced a new printer which, it says, can resolve common photo printing flaws. The Pixma all-in-one device employs Auto Photo Fix II technology to correct errors through exposure correction and improvements in face detection and scene analysis, plus brightness and saturation correction. The new Pixma inkjet printers also include software that enables users to print a specific area of a Web page. The $150 Pixma MP560 Wireless2 Photo AIO Printer has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. The printer, which employs five inks, can deliver borderless 4x6-inch prints in about 39 seconds.
Sony’s new camcorders
Sony has taken the wraps off two camcorders that can store up to 25 hours of high-definition (HD) video in their built-in flash memory. The $1,100 HDR-CX500V and $1,300 HDR-CX520V handycam camcorders both capture full 1,920x1,080 HD video: The CX500V is equipped with 32GB of built-in memory, while the CX520V has 64GB. Its new Face Touch feature lets you prioritize faces by tapping a detected face on the 3-inch touch-screen LCD. The camcorder will optimize focus, skin colour and brightness for the selected individual for the entire recording session.
Next must buy
The EyeClops Bionic Eye SE (Swivel Eye) is a TV microscope that is the best possible way to turn your big-screen television into a Petri dish. Arriving in stores next month for $40, the SE is about the size of a baseball. After you insert five AA batteries (not included), you connect the EyeClops to your TV’s composite video port (the yellow plug) and toggle on the three LEDs on the device. There’s a single magnification level and the threaded focus cap makes it easy to explore, say, the microprint on the back of a dollar bill or the finer hues of a butterfly’s wing. This gadget might be sold in toy stores but don’t let that overshadow its potential as a scientific exploration tool.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jul 21 2009. 08 19 PM IST