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Chromixium – Test Drive Your Computer as a Chromebook

chromixiumI love to test drive different Linux distributions.  Tools like YUMI make it so easy to see how new distros run on the computer you use daily, without losing what’s already there and running well.  One of the latest distros that impressed me is Chromixium 1.5.

Chromixium is maintained in the UK by a group of Linux guys trying to emulate the Google Chromebook experience as a Linux distribution anyone can download and run for free on their exiting computer hardware.  Now that Chromebooks have pushed the threshold of laptops into the $200 range, wouldn’t you like to just see if you could survive using what is essentially a cloud terminal?  Half the magic of Chromebooks are that the apps, and thus the processing, are in the cloud so the computer you are working on does not need much of a brain, just a decent internet connection.  Faster brains are also the reason we buy new computers, so the logic could be inverted to reason that running a Chromebook-like OS on your existing computer would breathe years more use into it.  If you apply that math to your organization, that is a lot of potential money savings.

So what did I think of Chromixium 1.5?  It’s the best way I’ve seen to test drive the Chromebook experience yet!  Google Apps are where I do most of my work, so it was a natural fit.  WordPress is also cloud-based, so yet another fitting piece.  YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, Facebook, pick your internet distraction; they worked for me.  Now that Google Photos is a decent app to organize pictures and I can use Pixlr to do more detailed edits, even basic photo graphics can be done.  Don’t like it on a laptop?  Run Chromixium on a desktop for the comfort of your keyboard, mouse, big screen, and desk.

There are other, more complete, Linux Distributions out there and several more that are light-weight for older equipment that are not so “Google-centric.”  Xubuntu still tends to be the best overall experience from my vantage point.  For those that have not even given reasonable chance for Linux though, I think Chromixium is a great gateway into that consideration, as a first step away from Windows into what could still be considered a viable mainstream platform.

For a more detailed analysis of Chomixium, check this review:


Batteries vs Convenience

amazon-dash-buttonI love gadgets.  But I don’t like the environmental unfriendliness that their batteries typically create.  So I draw the line on many gadgets where I feel that batteries are a bigger negative than the small labor they are bypassing or perhaps the wire that really isn’t a nuisance.  A simple example of this is using a wired mouse and keyboard at my desktop.  I don’t care that the wires may look messy if the price is wasting batteries.  Besides, you’d be surprised how often I’m beckoned to troubleshoot a problem caused by dead batteries that the user didn’t realize were part of the system.

The arrival of the “smart home” and “the internet of things” has brought some cool things within economic and practical reach of many American consumers.  The most recent news-worthy gadget is the Amazon Dash Button.  It is a button for a specific product that you get from Amazon and place near where you would typically use the product.  When you see you might be running low, you simply press the button and it pops up on your smart phone as an Amazon order item and you can choose whether or not to order it.  Convenient?  Sure!  But do we really need it?  Probably not, so you can bet the marketing departments at these big companies will be giving them to us to push their product.  I’m not against clever marketing, but I do think those folks have a propensity for masking the waste involved.  The stack of unsolicited college fliers addressed to my daughter in our mailbox each day is testament to that.  That’s why I look past the “cool factor” on these and say “c’mon man, do you really need this?”

Read more about the Amazon Dash at The Gadgeteer.


Open Source Software to Liberate Your I.T.

libreofficeI became interested in open-source software in 2000, when I first learned Linux.  My passion for it now is based on improved IT operations.  Not having to worry about versions of software across an organization being out of sync because of licensing costs and management is so liberating.  So many resources are wasted on tracking licenses and keeping up to date on purchasing new ones or determining what new equipment you can buy and how it impacts the software you own versus must pay to get upgrades for.  Also, do you have to buy the new version of Microsoft software to be able to test it?  What if you want to consider another product, do you have to buy those to test them?  Licensing truly makes for a tangled web.

tuxEnter open-source “free” software.  Not all open-source software is free, but enough of it is that the terms are often used interchangeably.  Download and try the programs.  The cost is typically the time it takes you to learn them.  Most are designed using accepted operating standards to lessen the learning and adapting curve for users.  Each typically works with the data of commonly used programs, so adapting them into your environment does not typically force you to change the standards that you exchange documents with (ie docx and xlsx).

Linux is probably the best known Open Source software, but hot on its trails is Libre Office.  Where various distributions of Linux typically serve as a replacement for Windows operating systems, Libre Office replaces “Office” applications like Word and Excel.  Many successful apps like Libre Office are written with versions for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh.  So even if you don’t want to switch to Linux, you can take advantage of Libre Office.  Try downloading a copy to your computer and see what I mean

Want to give Linux a try?  Start with YUMI, a free tool that you can use in Windows to find and download different Linux versions.  You start with a simple USB thumb drive and YUMI will help you download multiple versions of Linux to try out.  It steps you through the process and you then have a tool to start-up any computer with to try out Linux.  Most versions are test-drive that you can use without impacting the existing installation of Windows with.  I use it frequently since many Linux distributions are utilities I use to fix computers with.  It can be a great tool to clean viruses off of your friends Windows computers with.

So what are you waiting for?  Give open source software a try.  Certainly you have better things to do with the money you are spending on vendors like Microsoft and Apple that try to lock you into their perpetual renewal systems that lock you in tighter every cycle.


Storage Keeps Getting Smaller

sandisk-200gb-microsdSmaller storage seems great and is an advantage, but don’t be careless with it.  Sandisk’s new 200GB microSD card looks great.  Data CD’s used to seem big but you could fit 300 of them on this device that may be smaller than your pinky fingernail!  Sounds amazing, right?

My cautionary advice is three-fold:

  1. It is so small that it might be easy to lose.
  2. Aside from whether it is your only backup or whether you will need to spend a lot to buy a new one if lost, can you recall what data was on the lost, miniscule device in the first place?  The more it holds, the less likely you are to recall the inventory of data you entrusted to it.
  3. Something that small makes data piracy that much easier.  You employees and visitors can download lots of your company’s data onto their smartphone, key-chain, or whatever device mounts and hides this tiny vault.

So, enjoy the fact that something so tiny, with no moving parts, is available.  It makes the last generation of stuff that much more affordable to all of us.  But please use it wisely.  Keep track of it, and perhaps keep an inventory of the directories you write to it.  I still use DirPrint as a free utility to print directories of important locations, but there are lots of free directory listing apps out there.


Android Update Delays Explained

androidpit-nexus-4-bootloaderSmartphones can be so neat because new features come out constantly.  Unfortunately, sometimes we are stuck waiting for system updates to get those features on our current phones.  Why does it take so long for them to get to us?  The site Android Pit has published a very good article lending some sense to the delays.

Basically, the Android change which starts at Google has to go to the phone manufacturer to be updated for your device and then to your cellular carrier for their updates to make sure it functions properly on their network.  All three of those parties have programers trying to make new stuff that they can get paid for, so you can imagine that your year old phone will take a back seat to writing new things for new devices they want to get paid for.  Your device will bring no new money to them, so guess who gets thrown on the back burner.

Before you get too dejected, some new features really don’t work that well on older phones.  Sometimes enabling the cool new feature or compatibility drives your performance, stability, or battery life down the tubes.  So be careful what you wish for.  Choose your updates wisely, both the software, and when you might want to replace the device.


Desktop Control of Your Smartphone

iogear-keyshair30-300x211I’ve used Airdroid for years to use my desktop or laptop to control my phone.  I find the keyboard and mouse much easier than fumbling with my thumbs when I’m at a desk.  Airdroid can be a hassle and a possible security concern though.  That’s why when I saw a review of the IOGear KeyShair it caught my eye.

The KeyShair looks like a flashdrive, but it acts like a KVM (a device that lets you use one keyboard, mouse, and video to control multiple computers).  You plug the small device into a USB port, run the software, pair the bluetooth with your phone and you can then toggle between your keyboard and mouse controlling your smartphone or your computer.  In fact it can flip between four devices if need be.  So instead of fumbling with your phone to reply to a text, you’d look over at your phone screen, press a hot-key on your computer and start controlling the phone with your mouse and smoothly enter your reply text at your keyboard.

Maybe I’m just showing my age, but if you can fly on the computer and are derailed switching to the mobile device constantly, check out the IOGear KeyShair microsite and see if this might be a solution you appreciate as well.


Android Trick to Add Number Row to Keyboard

keyboard_number_0One of the great things about Android is that you can customize the various components to fit your particular habits.  It has done this better than iOS for years.  While iOS8 finally let’s iPhone users pick a custom keyboard, most are not free, nor do any I could find have an on-screen keyboard with a dedicated number row above the qwerty keyboard.  Switching from the letter to number screen has always been a pain, especially when entering passwords or trying to fire off a quick text.

The Google Keyboard is free in the Play Store and has customizable views and Swype capabilities.  Once you’ve seen the speed of “swyping” words instead of pecking individual letters, you’ll never go back.  Of course you don’t lose the ability to speak your type as well with the microphone key.

Customize away with the instructions here: How to add a dedicated number row to Google Keyboard – AndroidPIT.

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