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Monthly Archives: February 2013

So last Saturday night, one of my big storage hard drives died. It was from an accidental fall, but I lost over a terabyte of data.

I’ve been working with computers on and off since I was maybe twelve. In the last twenty years, it’s been pretty exclusive. One of the appallingly normal things that happens of course is when a hard drive goes tits-up on you.

At this point in life, I am goddamned tired of it.

I didn’t lose much. 95 percent of what was on that drive is recoverable because it’s stored someplace else–On Apple’s iTunes servers in this case. I replaced the drive with a NAS (Network Attached Storage) unit and will spend the next week or so putting the contents back together.

The reason for this is that Apple started making purchased iTunes content available online. “Stored in the cloud,” in the modern marketing vernacular. When you buy something, it downloads to your computer, and is also available from them directly.

So, when you think about it, what would be the point of storing the media files locally? Part of it is in order to have the content available in a network outage. Sure, we live in an era of robust bandwidth and fast access, but we’re a clipped fiber-optic line away from the dark ages even now.

Also, it’s because there’s part of me that still lives with the old way of computer thinking. All the content I own, I want “near” me. It’s all intangible, but I still gotta have it close. It’s really one of the minor absurdities of this current internet age.

I’ve been dabbling with the whole “life in the cloud” thinking since 2002 when I got my first wireless card for my Dell. When I went back to Macs in 2007, part of the impetus was that much of the software I wanted to use was available online, and open-source. Plus the computer was leaner and lighter than the Windows machines of the period.

Hard drives are finally superfluous, and SSDs are cheap enough to get and throw into your machine, if it didn’t already have one. Back in 2007, I figured most of my crap would be stored online by 2010. It took a little longer than that, but it’s true enough now.

The Macbook Air was a hint of that life to come. The 11-inch machine I got in late 2010 had a 64 GB SSD, 2 GBs of RAM and was in a package smaller and thinner than the last PS/2 keyboard I owned. Astoundingly small. It still gets me how thin and light that computer is.

When Google introduced Chrome OS and the Chromebook concept, the Macbook Air felt like the hardware counterpart of the impossible dream Chrome OS represented, a life lived online. No more computers with vast amounts of storage on spinning disks ready to fail. In fact, the hardware was supposed to become essentially irrelevant.

This video from Google back when the CR-48 prototype was introduced demonstrates this concept in appalling detail. Made all the more sickening when I think Google could have sent ME one of those pilot computers! I signed up and everything. Damn.

Yesterday, Google introduced its newest reference model Chromebook, called Pixel. Now to this point, all extant models of Chromebook followed the example of the CR-48: A modest amount of RAM by current standards–from 2 GB to as much as 4 GB–and a small SSD, no more than 32 GB usually. An internet appliance disguised as a laptop. Acer introduced the C7 which, intentionally or not, was the real steal among Chromebooks, in that you’d buy the hardware for $199 and upgrade the RAM and storage easily and cheaply with off-the shelf components. This was because it was essentially a low-end Windows machine retooled slightly.

Lenovo, Samsung and HP released models of Chromebook that hewed closer to the CR-48 concept than Acer, but all with the subtext that the hardware was not so important.

Enter Pixel. At first glance, it looks a bit like the CR-48 crossed with a Retina Macbook Pro. Gorgeous, well built, faster that the rest of the Chromebook brand, and with a sinus-clearing pricetag. For $1299, you get a laptop with a 12.85 inch touchscreen in a 3:2 orientation (harkening back to the days before wide-screen laptops became all the rage), backlit keyboard, aluminum body, 32 GB SSD, WiFi and an i5 processor. For $1449 you get all that, a 64 GB SSD and LTE access. You also get three years of one terabyte Google Drive space, which if bought separately of course is more expensive than this machine.

The blogosphere and commentosphere have not been kind to Pixel. Those who are unclear on the concept deride this machine as a $1200 web browser. Others actually go so far as to recommend Apple computers as better buys than this machine. Astounding when you realize comment trolls HATE Apple with a passion usually reserved for Obama. Or atheists.

The haters are stuck in an old way of thinking about their computers and their data–that your machine must be completely autonomous, able to handle e-mail, coding C++ and video editing with nary a sweat, whether you actually do any of that or not. In that paradigm, RAM and storage and running native apps are the only things to consider with computers.

This is the mindset that Chrome OS would supplant. Nothing is kept on the local machine. Nothing. Everything is online, so viruses and software bloating are not an issue.

Among those who actually get Chromebook, the pricetag on Pixel is still an issue. Chrome OS was supposed to make the hardware irrelevant. It’s hard to sustain that argument with a $1200 computer. It’s a valid point.

My take on it is, Google brought out a proof-of-concept with basic hardware–an oversized netbook really–with CR-48. It was offered for free because those who received the computer were volunteer testers, and the OS still needed tweaking. The first Acer and Samsung models were pretty much built on the same hardware profile, save for the Samsung Series 550, which was billed as the top-end model with more RAM and a faster processor than the Series 5.

The next generation diverged in various ways from the CR-48 reference. Acer’s was probably the most radical, and definitely the cheapest. Lenovo and HP both brought out machines that also diverged from the original in variously interesting ways.

The common denominator in all of them though, they’re cheap. Build quality is variable, but acceptable for the price.

Pixel is Google’s example of the high end. Most every aspect of this machine, based on the specs, is something we as adopters of the Chrome OS have wanted in a “dream Chromebook.” As I think about it, I believe most all the specs on Pixel were mentioned in Google’s Chromebook forum as things that would make the experience better.

I am using an Acer C7 myself. I got it back in November with the tacit understanding I was going to void the warranty and open the case, upgrading it as much as possible as soon as possible. This now has 16 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD. The upgrade took only a few minutes and required twisting five screws (four for the SSD). It also has a larger battery, answering the main painpoint for the C7, its short battery life.

As I read the specs of the new Pixel, my only concern is the RAM. In Chrome OS, the more RAM you have, the more tabs you can open and leave open in Chrome. On previous models you could have as many tabs open as you wanted. After a period of inactivity however, the OS would purge some tabs in order to open up space, so when you returned to a tab it would end up needing to reload. Also, in my experience with the Series 5, there were also instances of stuttering video which may have been RAM or CPU related (it used an Atom processor).

Well with 16 gigs of RAM, that ain’t a problem. I have 20 tabs open here, of which I access maybe half to two-thirds every day, whether here or on another device running Chrome–a real benefit of Google’s ecosphere. None have needed to reload as yet. My usage is not too different from other Chromebook users, except for the number of tabs. Apparently more than five is aberrant behavior.

Most of my data is online now, spread among several sites for various purposes. Their access is platform agnostic, as it should be. Apple’s is not, as you’d imagine. I am, for all intents and purposes, a denizen of the online world.

Which is why that hard drive dying like it did galled me so much. “Aren’t I past this? Aren’t we all past this?” I asked myself as I ordered its replacement.

Almost, but not quite.