Lantronix Prints From Android and Chrome at CES

Lantronix LogoThere are times when only hard copy will do but anyone who has tried to print from a tablet will know that it’s not always easy. The main ecosystems from Apple and Google have their own printer strategies with AirPrint and Cloud Print respectively but support is spotty at best. Several printer manufacturers have gone so far as to create their own printer app which really is a pretty poor state of affairs.

Into this gap steps Lantronix with their xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition, the first Google-certified Cloud Print server which lets Android and ChromeOS devices print wirelessly to network and USB printers. Sweet.

xPrintServer

The unit is about the size of a smartphone and requires no additional software downloads or printer drivers. It’s simply a case of connecting the device to the network and it automatically finds the printers on the network, making them available to users. The xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition supports any device running Google’s Chrome browser, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop. Apparently there are over 310 million active users of Chrome, so that’s quite a few people who might want to print. Business users of Google Apps are supported too. Details of the printers supported are available from Lantronix’s website.

This new xPrintServer joins the existing Home and Office Editions which provide print services for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

The Cloud Print Edition sells for an MSRP of US$149.95 and will ship at the end of February 2014. Pre-orders are being taken now and potential customers can sign up at lantronix.com for more information and availability. Of course, if you are at CES, you can pop round to their stand for a quick demo.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.

What Would You Rather See on the Internet?

Rather logoAll of us have had the experience of seeing a bunch of posts in our social media about things we would rather not see. Wouldn’t it be great if something could just get rid of all the unwanted stuff for you? There’s an app for that! It is called Rather. It lets you replace the stuff you don’t like with things you would rather see.

Rather is from the people who created Unbaby.me (which replaced baby photos with photos of cats). Rather uses the same concept and has improved upon it.

Rather lets you create a list of stuff that you really don’t want to see anymore. It uses those keywords to identify posts and automatically replaces those posts with something you like. You can put together a list of several things that you want Rather to replace stuff with.

That helps prevent you from getting bored of the stuff you selected. To reference the example on the Rather website, you can tell Rather to show you cats and bacon. Pick a few of your favorite things. Just like that, your internet experience got a little bit more pleasant. The coolest thing about Rather is you can use it to automatically get rid of posts that include a particular website that you strongly dislike.

You must use Chrome in order to get Rather to work. Firefox, Safari, and mobile versions are “coming soon”. The app will filter things for you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. You can tailor which keywords you want Rather to remove from each one.

A Microsoft Future

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

Chromebook gets a bit more family friendly

Google is taking aim at the PC market with its increasingly better offerings of Chromebook hardware. Now the search giant is also touting “family safe” as one of its selling points.

If you are using the beta channel version of Chrome, you now have access to monitor and control what other users access through the browser/operating system. “Let’s say you’ve recently purchased the new HP Chromebook 11 and want to share it with your son. He’ll be able to use your Chromebook as a supervised user. This means once you’ve created a supervised user for him on your Chromebook, you’ll be able to visit chrome.com/manage to review a history of web pages he has visited, determine sites that you want to allow or block, and manage permissions for any blocked websites he has requested to view”, says Google’s Pam Green.

The feature is called “Supervised Users” and has been in testing in the Canary build for sometime. Canary, if you aren’t familiar, is the cutting -edge version of the browser that customers can opt for — at their own risk.

google-supervised-users

New Chromebooks

Chrome logoYesterday on the Chrome blog, Google announced that new Chromebooks from Acer, Asus, HP and Toshiba were on their way. Arriving in the next few months the new Chromebooks are based on Intel’s Haswell chips rather than the current ARM processors and the chip’s low power consumption will double the battery life.

Chromebook 14These new Chromebooks are (roughly) the third iteration of the laptops and it’s great to see new entrants, Asus and Toshiba, joining the party. HP’s new Chromebook 14 will be out before the holiday season, cost $300 and come in a range of colours. Although Acer will be bringing out a new model as well, there’s no news on whether Samsung will be refreshing its line-up. The eye-wateringly expensive Pixel seems to remain the only touch-screen model in the range but that could change as details emerge on the new models.

Google quotes that in the sub-$300 computer segment, Chromebooks have taken a little less than a quarter of the market and around 5,000 US schools have also provided Chromebooks to students. For a product that’s just 2 years old, it’s pretty impressive.

I’m looking forward to the new models as I’m currently using a Samsung Chromebook to write this article and I’m bought into a web and cloud-centric view, especially for people who actually want to get stuff done wherever they are. Neat, low-cost, instant-on devices with a keyboard make Chromebooks very handy to have around. More apps are appearing, particularly business ones and if you haven’t considered a Chromebook in the past, you might want to consider one.

Is ChromeCast the only Set Top Box You’ll Need?

ChromeCast

Today at Breakfast with Sundar, Google announced ChromeCast. This is a single dongle with a slimmed down version of Google Chrome browser. You can connect with any mobile device and push music, TV shows or movies. Android or iOS – PC or Mac with Chrome installed.

From Netflix to YouTube. Pandora to your library on your mobile phone. Even pictures and video you created on your mobile device or computer will send to ChromeCast and play on your TV through the HDMI port.

“It Just Works,” states Rishi Chandra, director of product management at Google.

ChromeCast allows you to watch on the TV while you still surf on your device. It does not take power from the device to run (depending on what you push) so your phone can go into sleep mode. GoogleCast turns your device into a remote control.

ChromeCast also comes with Google Cast SDK for developers, which will launch later today.

Chromecast will cost $35 and comes with 3 months of Netflix. You will be able to get ChromeCast at Best Buy, Google Play or Amazon.

How This Changes the Set Top Box Wars

In the last few years, we saw the fight for the HDMI port. Apple TV, Boxee, Roku and Google TV have been fighting for Over the Top Television options. However, with ChromeCast, you basically removed the set top box and turned whatever device in your hand as the remote.

It also turns the TV into a smartTV for $35. All you need is your remote and your controlling device.

ChromeCast Remote

ChromeCast Remote

 

Google’s Chrome browser gets Now…sort of

There have been hints and rumors circulating for several weeks that Google would bring its popular Now feature over from Android and into the Chrome web browser. Now, pun-intended, it seems is that time, but only a little bit.

The latest build of Canary, the development channel version of Chrome, has been updated to version 28 and with it comes a Now feature that users can enable. Canary can thankfully be run side-by-side with a stable or beta build of the browser so that users are not forced to run it full-time — a good thing since it can be buggy at times.

Today, when I fired up Canary build 28 and accessed chrome://flags I found the ability to enable Now (it is disabled by default). You will need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the Flags page to find it, as it is the last entry. Click “Enable”, but do not get your hopes up yet. It is early, and so far it does exactly nothing. The Google Now server URL still remains secret, rendering the service useless for the time being.

Still, this means the service is coming to your computer, though I expect it to be less useful here than on an Android device that moves around with you, but it remains to be seen what Google may add to a computer version of it.

google chrome flags

Another Use for All Those Cat Photos

Finally, there is a use for all those photos of cats that people have been posting into social media! I mean, other than the current uses, which are either to make people smile, or to give a person something to post onto their Facebook page. No matter what form of social media you are using, one thing remains constant – there will be cats!

Another thing that is extremely common is for new parents to post lots and lots of photos of their new babies onto their Facebook page. This makes a certain amount of sense. Most people have “friended” several members of their family on Facebook, and posting a few, adorable, photos of the new addition to the family is more economical than printing out all those photos and mailing them to one’s relatives.

Sometimes, though, the new parents go a bit overboard, and post more image of their baby than most people want to scroll through. It’s not that the baby of your relative, or friend from high school, isn’t cute, but the overexposure has led to you desiring a break from seeing his or her baby face all over Facebook. Unfortunately, one cannot ask for less photos of Junior to be posted without committing a social faux pas

A company called Unbaby.me has the solution! It is designed for people who are using Chrome. Add Unbaby.me to Chrome, and configure the extension. Refresh your Facebook page. All those photos of the “little one” will now be replaced with cats.

The plug-in will scan through your Facebook feed for words and phrases like “cute”, “adorable”, and “first birthday”. It will automatically replace the image connected with these types of words with a photo of a cat. If your relative is posting multiple photos without adding a text description it might slip through the cracks, and not be replaced by a cat.

What if you don’t like cats? You can mess around with the settings to have Unbaby.me show you photos of something else – like dogs, cars, or bacon. Personally, I am curious if the plug-in would be useful in removing all those political images that are cluttering up my Facebook feed.

Google Chrome Now Available on iOs

Google Chrome As of today Google Chrome browser is now available on iOs devices. Now you can sync your tabs between your computer, any android device you have and your iOs device. So if you open a tab on your Chrome browser on your desktop, it will be available under Other Devices on your mobile device in almost realtime. I did have to refresh the page for the new url to show up. You go from tab to tab by swiping with one finger and the edge of the page. Like any Chrome browser you can search or type in a url from the same search bar. You can also search in incognito mode. Which means it will not show up in your search history. To get to the incognito tab, other devices, bookmarks, find in page and settings just tap on the icon with four lines in the top left hand corner. You can also email a page directly from the browser by tapping the same icon and then email.

The bad news is that on iOs Google Chrome has to use the Uiwebview engine provided by Apple for all third-party browsers instead of the Apple’s Nitro JavaScript engine. According to the critics, this makes the browser slower than it is on comparative Android devices. It will also be slower than the Safari browser on iOs which does have access to the Nitro JavaScript. Also like all third-party browsers on iOs devices you can’t make it your default browser.

I think that most users will not notice the speed differences, after all we are talking about at the most seconds. The biggest strike against the Chrome browser on iOs is it isn’t the default browser. Unfortunately only Apple can fix this problem and they are unlikely to do that.