Category Archives: chrome

How open source has commoditized computers

mac-snow-whiteAs I type this blog entry, from my wife’s newly purchased MacBook AIr, I marvel at the power of open source. Thanks to open source, we are no longer bound to a particular vendor, operation system, or anything else.

My wife’s old netbook was the last machine in this household that ran Windows. Back when we got married and lived in a smaller house, the desktop computer in the living room ran Ubuntu LInux. It took my wife little effort to learn how to drive that machine, considering she primarily used computers to browse the internet and a little bit of picture management when making Shutterfly books.

I introduced her to OpenOffice (later migrating to LibreOffice) for writing. I then threw in Dropbox and gave her her own folder to keep her own written works. With all these in place, it didn’t even take a whole day before she was up and running, editing her manuscript on the new Mac.

By moving to a handful of open source projects, the need for a particular vendor evaporated. Now we can pick a machine based on more important things like: quality, performance, and tools. I got her a maxed out 13″ MacBook Air (8GB memory , 512GB SSD disk).

Suffice it to say, she is definitely happy. You can even see the decal she just ordered up above! I have gone in and done a couple extra steps, like installing Crashplan to back things up. I am also installing Homebrew in case I need this machine as a backup development workstation. I also flipped on remote login support so I can ssh into this lightweight laptop as needed. It truly is a thing of beauty. Ahh! Goodbye Windows!

What’s most important in a browser?

I’m really fascinated at how quickly Google’s Chrome browser has displaced Firefox as the browser of choice. Everywhere I go, people seem to use Chrome. Pay it mind that I run in development circles. Most of the people I see using a computer as devs like me.

Chrome came out in 2008, but probably didn’t start really buzzing for perhaps a year or so. It was around 2010 when I really picked it up and used it full time. My first annoyance was that I would have to give up Firefox’s hallowed Ad Block Plus plugin that had slimmed down many web sites and generally ripped cruft off their pages.

I loved that plugin and everything about Firefox. Firefox was stable, didn’t have the nasty atrocities of Internet Explorer. All my co-workers had used Firefox at work. I dreaded visiting some web pages that only worked in IE, branding the site inferior for clearly having been developed solely in IE. Thankfully, this tended to be internal sites for expense reports, time cards, and other things many of us loathed working with, but was really a small set of sites.

Three years later, and I only use Firefox in the sense that I have two Gmail accounts: one personal and one for work.  My primary browser is Chrome. For personal email, I switch to Firefox. It’s had some nice side effects, such as keeping my alter ego on twitter (https://twitter.com/nashvillejug) conveniently logged in so I can start tweeting during one of our monthly meetings.

Bottom line: I gave up the best tool of all time, ad blocking, and accepted something else. And it appears everyone around me has as well. When we have a new web site to contend with (like the place where our new stock option grant was dispensed), emails quickly fly around how the site doesn’t support “bleeding edge Chrome”. We all seem to grimace together and begrudgingly dig up Firefox or even Safari.

Why? Because Chrome is totally focused on usability. The “omnibar” is a single place where you either enter a web address, a fragment of a web site, or some search criteria, and it goes from there. You don’t have to figure out which field to input your data. It has instant search capabilities to help dredge up sites you have already visited based on what you’re looking for. It also appears to gather metrics and hence tries to find the closest, most recent site based on what you enter.

That is worth the cost of seeing some ads on a web page. For a company that is based on serving up ads, Google seems to do a pretty good job of making them palatable and relevant. I’m no fan of ads, but if they were less targeted, they would be more annoying. And if everyone dropped ads as the way to fund web sites, there would be a lot more paid-for web sites. So in the end, I accept ads. It’s a small price to filter them out of my head in exchange for a really effective browser that efficiently lets me do my job.