I’ve been loving my Google Cr-48 Chromebook. While it hasn’t set the world on fire, Samsung and Acer have each released Chromebooks and they appear to be well-reviewed on sites such as Amazon.com, so there is a niche for them. And for most people it would fit their needs for web surfing, social media, and writing (I primarily use Google Docs).
For me, I struggle with finding a place for an iPad in my life despite its raging popularity; I can’t type on it too much, and aside maybe from using it for books (for which I have my Nook Color), comic books, Netflix, or Angry Birds, I don’t see any real productivity value from it. With my Chromebook, it has instant on from sleep (and 10-second boot-up time), I get access to everything on the web, can watch Netflix, play Angry Birds if I really wanted to, write in Google Docs, and a number of other things. Basically, it does what I need it to do. It doesn’t replace a full desktop, but in a superior way that the old Windows CE sub-notebooks were supposed to be, it is a PC companion.
So I thought I’d put together a number of tips, tricks, and extensions that I have found useful in my time with the Cr-48. Hopefully having some of this information in one place will be helpful to someone out there.
- AdBlock and FlashBlock. There are two great extensions that help with performance. Instead of letting sites run wild with their ads or loading Flash videos, these help keep them at bay. In FlashBlock’s case, you receive a placeholder that you can click on to load the video if and when you want. Each have customization options to tailor them to your needs.
- Use Your webcam with YouTube (and possibly other sites). You may run into an issue where a site that can use your webcam will tell you that it cannot be detected. This is because of the version of Flash Chrome OS uses. It comes with 2: the regular Flash plugin (which is disabled by default) and something called Pepper (which is Google’s customized version that is sandboxed for increased security; this is enabled by default). The problem lies with Pepper, but can be fixed. In the Omnibox (where you type in your web address), type about:plugins. You will go to a page that lists the various plugins running in Chrome OS. Next to the entry labeled Shockwave Flash, click on the “+” sign to expand this section and see two files listed. Underneath the one that has a location of “/opt/google/chrome/pepper/libpepflashplayer.so”, click the Disable link. Go back to YouTube and you will now be able to use your webcam. Note: In the dev channel for Chrome OS version 16.0.898.0, this will (eventually) no longer be necessary. The latest Pepper plugin build now detects the webcam video, but hangs on detecting the microphone. I would imagine this will be fixed by the stable release. Also note, if you use the Google Talk plugin for Chrome OS, it depends on the Pepper Flash plugin, so disabling it will also disable the Google Talk plugin.
- Enable CAPS LOCK. I personally love the replacement of the Caps Lock key with the Search key. While you can change it back to Caps Lock functionality under Settings > System > Modifier Keys, you can simply turn it on by the Left and Right Shift keys simultaneously. Repeat this step to disable Caps Lock.
- Switch Update Channels. Feeling a little daring and want to be on the bleeding edge of Chrome OS updates? Click on the wrench icon and go to About Chrome OS. On this tab, at the top it will give you the version, platform, and firmware version. Click on the More Info link, and you will see a Channel drop-down box, where you can choose between Stable, Beta, and Dev.
- Twitter fan? Try Silver Bird. Simply the best Twitter client for Chrome that I have used. The UI is intuitive, provides many options, and includes pop-up notifications when you receive new tweets. I have used this extension for a while and haven’t found anything to beat it.
- Caveat for Offline GMail. There is a web app from Google for using GMail offline in Chrome OS. It looks nice, but I found that, when enabled, it was spiking my CPU while I was trying to do other things, like work in Google Docs. If you notice sluggishness in your Chromebook, bring up the Task Manager (either by pressing SHIFT+ESC or “right-clicking”- tapping the touch pad with two fingers- at the top of the screen and selecting “Task Manager”) and see what is taking up your CPU cycles.
- Workaround for ZIP support. As of yet (though it is supposedly coming), Chrome OS does not natively support ZIP files. If this is an issue for you, try the Open ZIP and RAR With GDocs extension. With this, you can bring up the context menu on a link for a ZIP file (again, click the touch pad with two fingers, the “right-click” equivalent in Chrome OS) and the extension adds an option to send the file to Google Docs, which has unzipping capabilities built-in. From there, you can download the files to your Chromebook. It’s a workaround, but a pretty inventive one.
- Built-in SSH Client. Press CTRL+ALT+T to launch a native SSH client.