• 2011-03-10 14:00:00

    Additional storage for Google Apps users

    I have been using Google Apps for a number of years now and I have gotten so used to it that I cannot fathom any other way of operating. I am sure that some of you share that sentiment. :)

    Limitations

    Up until a few months ago, Google Apps had its limitations. The actual Apps was in some sort of a jailshell, isolated from the whole Google suite of applications. For that reason you could not use your Google Apps login to enjoy the service of Google Reader for instance. You had to be sneaky about it. You had to create a Google Account with the same username (and password if you liked) as your Google Apps domain and although the two did not communicate, you could have effectively "one login" for all services.

    This limitation became more apparent with the increased usage of Android phones (where you need to have a Google Account on your phone) as well as Google Voice. Users have been asking about the "merge" and Google responded with significant infrastructure changes to cater for the transition. In my blog post Google Apps and Google Accounts Merge I present additional information about this, inclusive of a How-To on the transition for administrators of Google Apps. Unfortunately the process is not perfect and there are still some services that are not fully integrated with the new infrastructure (but will be in the future). For instance in my domain, since I use Google Voice with my domain email account, I am still on the "old" system because the account could not be transitioned. It will happen in the end, it just takes time.

    Storage Needs

    The biggest issue for me that was related to these two separated accounts (Google Apps Account vs. Google Account) was Picasa and Google Docs.

    I have been very methodical in my filing, utilizing electronic storage as much as possible. For that reason I have been scanning documents and uploading them to Google Docs (or if they were available in PDF format I would just upload them). The documents would range from personal, utility bills, bank statements, anything that I want to store. Soon I realized that the 1GB that Google Apps offers for documents will not cut it. I therefore created a new account which I named DocsMule1 (clearly to signify its purpose). I created one folder in that account, uploaded as many documents as I could there and shared that document with my own account as well as my wife's. Soon I found more limitations since I ended up with 3 mule accounts. Since there was no option for me to upgrade the storage (even if I paid for it), I had to change my strategy. Managing documents from 3 or more different accounts is not an easy and convenient task.

    I downloaded all my documents back to my computer (gotta love Google's Data Liberation) and deleted them from the Google Apps mule accounts and then deleted those accounts - just to keep everything tidy. I then launched my Gmail account and signed into Google Docs. I created one folder which I shared with my Google Apps accounts (my wife's and mine) and then paid $50.00 for a whole year - which provided me with 200GB of space. You can always check how much space you are using by visiting the Manage Storage page of your Google Account.

    Once that was done, I started creating my folders (collections now) and uploaded all my documents up there. In addition to that, since my parents live in Greece, they rely on VoIP chat as well as my Picasa to stay in touch with their grandchildren. My wife and I, through the use of our mini camera as well as our Android phones, take a lot of pictures of the kids, documenting the little things that they do on a regular basis. This serves as a good archive for them when they grow up but also as a good way to stay in touch with my parents. Google's additional storage was the solution.

    Problem solved. With minimal money I had everything sorted out. It did however inconvenience me quite a bit in the end, since a lot of my data was scattered now. The GMail account would keep Picasa and Docs, the Google Apps account my email, my Google account my Reader, Web history etc. Not very convenient but it works.

    Storage for Google Apps

    Around February, Google announced that they will be offering the option to Google Apps users to purchase additional storage. I was really happy about that since I could therefore ditch the GMail account for handling my docs and keep everything under the domain account. However something was wrong. When Google revealed their pricing (the announcement is not there any more but the prices I am quoting are real), I quickly found out that for the storage I currently have, I would need to spend $700.00 a year instead of $50.00. That did not make sense at all. Needless to say, I stayed with my existing plan.

    Initial Pricing Plan
     Storage     Price (per year)
       5 GB         17.50 USD
      20 GB         70.00 USD
      80 GB        280.00 USD
     200 GB        700.00 USD  <==
     400 GB      1,400.00 USD
       1 TB      3,500.00 USD
       2 TB      7,000.00 USD
       4 TB     14,000.00 USD
       8 TB     28,000.00 USD
      16 TB     56,000.00 USD
    
    New Pricing Plan

    A few days ago, Google announced changes in the pricing of additional storage for Google Apps users as well as changes to the free storage that Google offers for Picasa. Picasa Web Albums does offer 1GB of free storage but now photos of 800x800 pixels or less as well as videos of 15 minutes or less do not count against the 1GB of storage. You can read more about the Picasa Web Albums storage in the relevant help page.

     Storage     Price (per year)
      20 GB         5.00 USD
      80 GB        20.00 USD
     200 GB        50.00 USD
     400 GB       100.00 USD
       1 TB       256.00 USD
       2 TB       512.00 USD
       4 TB     1,024.00 USD
       8 TB     2,048.00 USD
      16 TB     4,096.00 USD
    

    As far as the new pricing is concerned, Google brought everything in line with Google Accounts pricing (effectively scrapping the initial - expensive - pricing plan for extra storage). The help page Google Storage - How it Works offers additional information for those that want to use/upgrade their storage while using a Google Apps account. Effectively it now costs exactly the same to purchase additional space for your Google Apps account (to store documents) as it would if you were using a different Google Account. That probably means that I have to download everything to my computer and re-upload it to my Google Apps account....

    To take advantage of this feature, you will have to go to the Purchase additional storage page while logged in with the Google Apps account that you wish to purchase storage for. Note that there is a warning that appears in red (see image) that warns you that you are using a Google Apps account. Google provides this information since your Google Apps account relies on the Google Apps administrator. If you have an account on Google Apps and you purchase storage, that storage will be gone if the administrator deletes or restricts access to your account.

    Conclusion

    In my view, Google has done it again. They now offer an extremely affordable and secure way of storing your data. There are loads of people that have concerns about where their data is stored, who has ownership of the data stored, what does Google do with the data etc. A lot of these questions can easily be answered if you google (duh) the relevant terms or search in Google's Help Center. Data Liberation allows you to retrieve your data whenever you want to. If on the other hand you are skeptical and do not wish to store your data there, don't. It is your choice.

    References

  • 2010-08-18 13:17:00

    Google Apps and google Accounts merge

    Anyone that has a Google Apps account and wants to access other services like Google Reader, Google Voice etc. knows that the username and password of the Google Apps account does not work for these services, since those are not available for Google Apps accounts. To get around this limitation, what you could do (and what I have done in the past) is to sign up for a new Google Account with the same email address as your Google Apps account. This of course creates confusion at times, duplication of data and disassociation of services. The most obvious example of this is on an Android device. To use my phone, I need to sign in with my Google Apps account. However, to use my Google Voice number, I have to use sign in again for that service but now using my Google Account (which uses the same email address). This works but I still have to keep two sets of contacts - one for the Google Apps and one in Google Voice.

    According to Google, 9 of the top 20 requests> from Google Apps customers are for their accounts to work with more services from Google. To facilitate this, the Google Apps account had to be merged with the Google Account. This page in Google Apps Help describes the transition.

    Unfortunately this was not a simple flip of a switch for Google. Significant infrastructure changes had to be in place prior to the merging of the accounts. We were promised that this change would be in place by fall and we have not been disappointed. Google is rolling out the update slowly but if you want to 'speed up' the process, you can sign up for an early round of testing of the new infrastructure. I have signed up for several of my Google Apps domains a couple of weeks ago.

    I am happy to announce that one of my domains has already gone through the merge process. The domain is BeautyAndTheGeek.IT which is a Google Apps Premier edition. My other domains that are hosted in Google Apps have not transitioned yet and I suspect that Google is first merging Premium accounts, then Educational, Government and it will finish up with the Standard edition of Google Apps, which kind of makes sense (paid customers first!).

    Email Invitation

    The merge process works as follows:

    • If your Google Apps account email address has never been used to access Google products such as Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Code etc. then your Google Apps account will be converted to a Google Account.

    • If your Google Apps account email address has been used to access Google products such as Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Code etc. then your Google Apps account is conflicting with your Google Account. This page in Google Apps Administrator Help provides an overview of conflicting accounts. In short both of your accounts will merge and the data will be associated with your Google Apps account, which will now be the same as your Google Account.

    There are certain limitations to this merge (as one would expect :)). These are as follows:

    • If the offline feature is enabled in GMail, the user has to synchronize before the transition. If they don't, they will lose their offline messages.
    • Offline Google Calendar doesn't work for Google Apps accounts that have transitioned.
    • The following Google products don't work with Google Apps accounts that have transitioned:
      • Android Market for Developers
      • Google Extra Storage (bummer)
      • Health (bummer again)
      • PowerMeter
      • Profiles
      • Web History
      • YouTube
    • The purchase of additional Google Storage is currently unavailable for Google Apps accounts. No storage can be purchased for a Google Apps account, although it will be available later this year. If a user account has already purchased extra storage (like I have) in an existing Google Account, the storage will remain in that account and will not transfer to the respective Google Apps account after the transition.
    • Delegating email only works with the same account type (i.e. Google Apps)
    • Any Picasa Web Album, Profile, or Wave usernames cannot be moved from an existing account to your Google Apps account.

    Resources: Transition readiness checklist, Conflicting accounts, Early adopters, Additional storage for Google Apps, Google Apps Administrator Help Center

    The process

    Google Apps - Dashboard Warning

    Once I logged in my Google Apps Administration area, the Dashboard presented a new notice at the top. In short the notice states that new services will be available to the Google Apps accounts. This will be achieved with the transition of the Google Apps Account to a Google Account. The update is free and Google will automatically roll it out on September 30, 2010.

    Resource: Google Apps core suite

    Google Apps - Understand the Transition

    Clicking the "Get Started" button at the bottom of the notice will start a wizard that helps with the transition of the domain's accounts to Google accounts of your users (some or all). The first screen contains information that aids in understanding the transition and what is involved. Moving to the new infrastructure will update your control panel and give you control over which Google services your users can access with their accounts.

    Resource: Transition readiness checklist, Google Apps Administrator Help Center

    Google Apps - New Services

    Based on the services that are available for your domain user accounts, the screen above might be slightly different. It does however give you (the administrator) the ability to enable or disable services for your users. Note that turning off a service will disallow your users to sign up for that service using their Google Apps account for your domain. It will however not stop them from using a totally different Google Account (personal for instance) to access that service.

    Google Apps - Notify Conflicting Accounts

    Confirming the new services, the wizard will display a new screen, that will allow you to notify those users that have conflicting accounts. This screen provides information on how many users have conflicting accounts (in my case only 1), what happens to those accounts (the merge process) and what should you do as the administrator. Google will not provide information on which of your users have conflicting accounts. What they will however do, is offer you a temporary email address and an email template, that you can use to email your users. The email template is shown in the "Google Apps - Email to User" section below.

    Google Apps - Select Users

    Clicking Continue, brings up the User Selection screen. Here the administrator can select whose account will be transitioned for now. You can choose to pilot test this transition with a small set of users or everyone. The difference is that if you choose a small set of users to pilot test this transition, you can revert their accounts back to what they were prior to this step. If you choose "Everyone" from this screen, the change will be across the organization and cannot be undone. Reminder here that the transition will happen either way by the end of September, 2010. Finally you have the option to inform the users when their account transition is complete. This generates an email (in English) to the user with relevant information. You can see the email in section "Google Apps - Email to User" below.

    Resource: Early adopters

    Google Apps - Confirmation

    Clicking Continue again will bring up the final screen which is the confirmation page. Google is very thorough and I like the confirmation screen. The information in this screen is a summary of what the wizard collected in previous steps. You (the administrator) will have to confirm in several places that you have understood the process, read the agreement and then accept the whole process. Clicking I accept. Start the transition. will make things happen :)

    Resources: Transition readiness checklist

    Google Apps - Transition in progress

    Navigating back to the dashboard, you will see a message notifying you that there is a transition in place for the accounts of your domain and can take up to 24 hours to be completed. This serves as a reminder on what has just happened. The notice will disappear once the transition is completed.

    Google Apps - Email to User

    If you (the administrator) chose to notify your users of this transition (see step Select Users above), they will receive an email like the one shown above. If you chose to notify your users with a different message then that message should have been sent to the temporary email address that Google has provided (see step Notifying Conflicting Accounts above)

    Resources: Data ownership, Transition readiness checklist, Google Apps Administrator Help Center

    Google Apps - Email to User after Transition

    Finally another email will be sent to the user summarizing what has happened with their account. This email contains links to additional resources.

    Resources: List of products, New sign in option, Data ownership, What is a browser?, Using multiple accounts, Help Center for Admins, Google Apps Administrator Help Center

    Google Apps - User Login message for Account Merge

    Once the transition operation is completed, the next time the user logs in their account, they will see the screen above. In short this screen informs the user of what has happened and provides links to online resources for help. The user must click I accept. Continue to my account for them to have access to their account. This is a one off process.

    Resources: Google Apps Administrator Help Center, Google Security and Privacy, Using multiple accounts, Terms of Service

    Conclusion

    Without a doubt this is a huge step forward for Google and for us as admins or users. The ability to have a single sign on to use their products not only helps them but us by simplifying everything. That also means that if a hacker guesses that my password is password1 they have access to all my Google related services... but oh well :)

    Joking apart though, I am really excited that this change has finally occurred. I am guessing that the next steps would be to give users or admins the ability to purchase additional storage for a single account is something that in my view will make quite a lot of money for Google. A lot of people will want to keep all their emails and are nearing or have reached their email quota. Administrators would be happy to pay for certain users that have depleted their email storage allocation without converting their whole Google Apps edition to the Premier one. After all, if your organization has 100 users and 5 of them are near capacity, even if you pay $20 per user it will cost $100 per year. If however the whole account is changed to a Premier account (with 25Gb per mailbox) the cost will go up to $5,000.

    Some questions come to mind:

    • Will the user be able to purchase storage for all services or just for email?
    • Will the 1Gb limit from Docs be lifted and will it be combined with storage for mail?
    • $20 a year gives you 80Gb in Picasa. Will Google follow that model or change it? According to the Additional storage for Google Apps page it appears that it will be more expensive now to have more space.
    • If storage is so cheap (Picasa) will it be extended to Google Documents? It appears that 7.5Gb is enough for the vast majority of users as far as email is concerned, but 1Gb for Docs is not enough. For a society moving towards a full electronic document storage this could help a lot.

    Still a long way to go until everything clears up. I am not sure that Google has all the answers yet but they are moving forward and this is the most encouraging news of all!

  • 2010-06-21 12:31:00

    Android 2.2 (Froyo) Review

    Android 2.2 (Froyo)

    The newest version of the Android Operating System has been codenamed Froyo (as in Frozen Yogurt).

    Although I have heard of the name, I was not following very closely the development of the said OS, so I did not know what to expect. The presentation on Day 2 at Google I/O was more than impressive so I had to get my hands on it :)

    After the GoogleIO presentation, I was regularly checking (Settings – About Phone – System Updates) my phone to see what kind of version I am running and whether the update was waiting for me. Unfortunately I was disappointed every time, therefore I resigned to the idea that it will update when it is pushed to my phone.

    A few days later though, reports on the blogosphere started appearing of users now running on Froyo. The update started rolling out so it was a matter of time for me. Most of the reports were coming from California, so if I were to look at the geography, it would take the update quite a bit of time to reach West Virginia :)

    Through my regular research on the Internet, I found a few interesting blog posts that claimed that one can update the Nexus One without waiting for the update to be rolled out. Having nothing to lose, I decided to try it on my phone and see what happens.

    Upgrade to Froyo

    Below is how I upgraded my Nexus One to Froyo. I had a couple of failed attempts, loads of Googling but I finally managed to get it to work. Luckily a couple of days later an article appeared on Lifehacker which confirmed that the steps I took were the correct ones!

    I connected my Nexus One to my computer using the USB cable.

    The phone was detected and I mounted the SD card from the phone (bring down the notification area and select the USB connection – select mount to mount the SD card)

    When I performed these steps I had to navigate to a URL on the Android website (see article on Lifehacker).

    I copied the file and pasted it on my newly mounted drive which was the SD card of my Nexus One

    The file is 45Mb and when the copy was completed, I unmounted the SD card from the computer initially (click the status area and select Safely remove drive) and then from the phone (from the notification area select USB connection and select Unmount)

    The update instructions below are the original work of SimonNWalker and can be referenced here.

    With the update file uploaded on the Nexus One, all I had to do is shut down the device so that I can reboot it in recovery mode. The steps I took are as follows:


    I clicked and held the power button until the menu appeared. I selected Power Off, confirming that I wish the phone to power off.

    Once the phone powered off completely, I pressed and held the trackball button down and then pressed the power button. A new screen appeared (which, like myself, you probably have never seen before) with three androids on skateboards at the bottom and several options at the top.

    I navigated using the power and the volume buttons. I selected the first option (Bootloader) using the volume buttons and pressed the power button to activate it.

    A new menu appeared with the following options:

    FASTBOOT

    RECOVERY

    CLEAR STORAGE

    SIMLOCK

    I navigated to RECOVERY and selected it

    The familiar Nexus One X appeared on the screen. A few seconds later, a little android with a big exclamation mark in a triangle replaced the X.

    The next step I took was to press simultaneously the power button and the volume up button.

    This brought a new menu at the top.

    The options available were:

    • reboot system now
    • apply sdcard:update.zip
    • wipe data/factory reset
    • wipe cache partition

    Using the trackball, I navigated to the second option and pressed the trackball button down.

    At this point the update started and some information was flashing on the screen for a while, where some files were patched, some deleted, new ones copied and others replaced accordingly. The whole process took roughly 5 minutes from start to finish.

    Features that I found

    Please note that these are my own observations. Some of the features here might have been present in the previous version of Android (Eclair) and I simply did not notice them. If that is the case please let me know and I will correct the post accordingly.

    Phone search (Search throughout the phone itself)

    This is one of the updates that I just love. Froyo allows you to search a lot of content that is stored on your phone. The content includes your contacts, sms messages, applications, twitter feeds and many more. With all this power it is very easy to find the information you are looking for with the press of a few keys on the virtual keyboard (Figure 4).

    Since with great power comes great responsibility, Froyo allows you to select what can be searched. Go to Settings - Search - Searchable Items and you will find the following options:

    • Web (web search, bookmarks and browser history)
    • Aldiko (only if you have it installed)
    • Apps (names of installed applications)
    • Contacts (names of your contacts)
    • Finance (stock tickers, company names) (only if you have it installed)
    • Google Sky Map (only if you have it installed)
    • Messaging (text in your messages)
    • Music (artists, albums and tracks)
    • Twitter (searchable tweets) (only if you have it installed)

    I am sure that the search extends to other applications. Your results might vary based on the apps you have installed.

    Tethering - Wi-Fi Hotspot

    When I first heard about this feature during the presentation of Froyo at Google I/O>, I was really excited.

    I spend every day 3 hours on the train, where I mostly work on my notebook. Having the ability to tether my phone and work online is essential. A couple of years back when I bought my first iPhone, I managed to jailbreak it and installed iPhoneModem on it to achieve the functionality that I wanted (tethering). It wasn't fancy (after all don't expect miracles with AT&T's EDGE network) but it worked. I could get my emails reply quickly and disconnect.

    When I got my Nexus One, I bought PDA Net to achieve the same result. It worked too but again in a very basic mode but it was draining the battery very fast and was running the phone very hot.

    After I upgraded to Froyo, I uninstalled PDA Net and have been working with the built in functionality ever since.

    To access the Tethering options, you will need to go to Settings - Wireless & Networks - Tethering & portable hotspot. The options shown on Figure 6 appear, which allow you to switch the Wi-Fi hotspot on or off. A USB tethering option also exists for those that want to keep their phone charged with the power that comes from their notebook or attached device. Once the hotspot is enabled, a blue icon appears at the top notification bar. The configuration of the hotspot is really easy and can be seen in figures 7 and 8. For those wondering why I chose the SSID of my hotspot to be one of the most infectious (Windows) viruses ever, it is exactly for that reason. Apart from the WPA2 encryption, the name itself is a deterrent for anyone that might get ideas in stealing bandwidth.

    Everything works perfectly apart from AT&T's EDGE network, which is really slow. The Nexus One I have can support T-Mobile's 3G network. I haven't switched to T-Mobile yet since there was no need. I fear though that I will not be able to escape the inevitable.

    On June 2nd AT&T issued press release where they showed us once again that they don't give a damn about their customers since they lie, deceive and overcharge for a mediocre (at best) service. You can read the press release and draw your own conclusions but to me it seemed once again a slap in the face.

    No more unlimited data plans for new customers, yet it is not clear what will happen to existing customers such as myself. I read somewhere in the blogosphere that those plans will remain as is, but this is AT&T that we are talking about - the same company that claims that calls to 1-800 numbers are free yet they charge you minutes for it.

    I have signed for the unlimited data plan, yet AT&T does not allow me to tether. Why? What difference does it make? They still offer the same crappy EDGE network whether I watch a YouTube video on my phone or on my computer. The answer is in the press release. They want more money. As phones get 'smarter' they phone companies get greedier. John Gruber offers a good analysis of the new AT&T data plans.

    I do not know how this will evolve but I will definitely continue using the Wi-Fi hotspot on my train ride, whether this will be with AT&T or T-Mobile. Perhaps if I change to T-Mobile I will be able to have better coverage. AT&T in West Virginia is not the greatest carrier. Notable is a recent phone conversation that I had with my wife while I was driving (I am wearing the headsets btw) where the line dropped 9 times :(

    Phone/Web buttons at the bottom of every screen and desktop

    This was something that was needed in my opinion (Figure 9). I was pressing way too many buttons to get to the phone, especially if I was not on the main screen. This little shortcut is very well received and thought of. I do not think that there is enough space for an additional 2 buttons (for the future release of Android) but you never know.

    Perhaps a future version will allow you to customize those buttons.

    Android development though has to be very cautious when releasing functionality. I am sure that Apple is checking everything that Android does with a microscope. With their enormous patent book near by, they will not hesitate to sue Android (or Google for that matter) for patent infringement (see Apple sues HTC).

    More accounts to sync with

    This area can be accessed via Settings - Accounts & sync settings<.

    I noticed that not only my regular GMail and Google Apps accounts appear but also YouTube as well as Twitter. I have installed the official Twitter application so I am pretty sure that this synchronization appears because of that application.

    I have not tried it with Seesmic or any other twitter application, so if you have any additional information please let me know and I will modify this post accordingly.

    I would also be very interested to know which other applications offer synchronization capabilities or take advantage of Android's synchronization API. If you have any other applications that synchronize on your phone, please let me know and I will include it in this post too.

    Easy account switch (Email)

    When I switched from an iPhone to an Android based phone, certain things were just "not right", not because there was something wrong with them - it was how I was used to things being done. One of those areas was the email. With the iPhone I was used to a traditional listing of accounts and then once something was selected I would go into the folders and then emails. If I wanted to change accounts I would have to go back two steps and then enter the account that I wanted.

    This seems a very logical approach and it is easy to get used to. Although the Android has a better email management interface, it lacked the ability to quickly switch accounts and thus not spend time tapping away going back or forth. In that area the iPhone was better. Note the was. It was not because the user will tap less times, but because you would tap the back button twice which was located in the same area of the screen at all times. For the Android you had to press the menu button and then select Accounts. This was again the same amount of steps but the iPhone approach felt more natural.

    With Froyo a new button appears at the top right of your email screen which will allow you to quickly go to the account selection screen. This effectively reduces the steps by one.

    Analyzing briefly my emails, I can say that on average I receive 25 emails on my personal account and 35 on my business (I chose the two accounts that I get the most traffic). So if in theory I get two emails every time I check my email, that would mean that I am checking my phone 12 - 17 times a day (assuming again that I get the batches of emails on both accounts at the same time). It would therefore be safe to assume that I check my emails 15 times a day where I need to switch from one account to another.

    So the math gives us:

    Taps Average Email Checks per Day Week Month Year
    iPhone 2 15 210 900 10,950
    Android 1 15 105 450 5,475

    Clearly with the above I am using now half of the screen taps than I used to with Android Eclair or with the iPhone. However the this rough calculation shows how much I was tapping in the past prior to Froyo. Goodbye RSI. :)

    Colored labels in your email (like GMail)

    If you are like me and use Google Apps or GMail, you are by now accustomed to the colored labels on your emails, that you don't know what you have been doing without them all this time.

    With Froyo, this functionality is now available in my mobile device allowing me to visually identify emails of high interest.

    For instance, Figure 12 shows my setup. As you can see I mark clients with a green label color and financial institutions (bills mainly) with a red color. When an email reaches my mailbox and is automatically labeled due to a relevant filter, I can easily identify its importance using this color coding.

    Having this functionality on my mobile device is invaluable!

    Easier navigation between emails - New < > buttons appear on the phone to get you from email to email

    Another huge improvement in the navigation part as far as emails are concerned came in the screen where I read a specific email.

    There are two extra buttons at the bottom of that screen which allow navigation to the previous or next message.

    Another great tap saving feature!

    Better voice recognition

    I had some problems with this feature from time to time primarily due to my accent – a blend of Greek – English British – German and English American. After a few tries on the new system, I can say that there is improvement since it recognized now queries that it had failed in the past.

    The voice search will probably never be able to detect everything that everyone is saying due to the different accents and voices of people but it is getting pretty close to perfect in my case.

    One thing that I love about voice search is the voice navigation. I have purchased the car dock for my Nexus One and I use the voice navigation almost everywhere I go. Understanding that I want to go to Rockville, MD instead of Rock Creek is awesome!

    Marketplace – Update all, autoupdate for each application

    This feature was missing and was probably one of the ones that were mostly requested by the users. The Update All to the installed applications.

    Luckily the Android developers have heard our pleas and Froyo now features an Update All button at the bottom of the Downloads section in the Marketplace application.

    Adding to this functionality, the user now has the ability to automatically update selected (or all) applications. When clicking on one of the applications to update, a checkbox appears which allows for automatic updates. If the checkbox is checked, the next time the selected application has an update, the phone will download it and install it.

    There will always be a notification regarding the action in the notification area, but unless you know where the application is coming from (and you trust the source) you should keep this checked off. I know I might be getting a bit paranoid here but that is what I did.

    Different notification for Text Messages (trackball)

    I am not sure if this existed in Eclair but I just noticed it. When an email arrives, the trackball will start glowing briefly in regular intervals with a white color to visually notify me about the email(s) waiting for me.

    If I receive a Google Voice message though, the trackball will still start glowing but this time it will be with a green color. This way I know that a text message is waiting for me.

    I have sent a text message to my AT&T number and did see the trackball glowing but this time it was only white. It appears that the green trackball notification is a feature of Google Voice on Froyo or again it was always a Google Voice feature and I hadn't noticed, at which point I am getting excited for nothing :)

    New icons for USB Connect/Disconnect and USB debugging

    These ones I loved them the first time I saw them. If USB debugging is enabled (Settings - Applications - Development - USB Debugging), the minute the phone is connected to the computer using the USB cable, a new icon will appear in the notification area (Figure 15). It appears that it is an android bug of sorts :)

    When the phone is connected to the computer via the USB cable, the user has the ability to use the SD card as a storage device. Once the relevant entry in the notification bar is tapped, the screen with the "Turn on USB storage" will appear. If I switch the USB storage on, the screen changes slightly.

    These were two really cool (in my view) new screens that engage the user even more in exploring their device!

    Camera control

    A new enhancement appeared in the Camera application (Figure 18).

    The new menu that changes position based on the orientation of your phone (horizontal or vertical) allow for zooming, flash control, white balance control, geolocation and exposure.

    The options available are:

    • Zoom: 1x, 1.2x, 1.4x, 1.7x, 2x
    • Flash mode: Auto, On, Off
    • White balance: Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent, Cloudy
    • Store location: Off, On
    • Focus mode: Auto, Infinity
    • Exposure: -2, -1, 0, +1, +2

    Unfortunately these controls only appear when taking photos and not when shooting video. I am sure however that this functionality (and more) will be extended to the video capturing aspect of the camera application.

    Select text

    This is an area where the iPhone was far better than the Eclair and unfortunately still is with Froyo. The gap though has decreased significantly.

    With Froyo I can now select text from say an email and paste it somewhere else - even a different application. The Select Text option is hidden under the More menu button and once selected, it creates a small mouse pointer. That is the start of where it will start selecting (Figure 20).

    I simply point to the top left area I want to copy from and drag my finger diagonally to end up at the bottom right of the area I want to select. This will select the text in a very appealing pink color and as soon as I lift my finger from the screen it will copy the text on the keyboard (Figure 21).

    The technique on the iPhone is better but not by much - as I wrote the gap has decreased significantly. On the iPhone you have a magnifying glass where you can pinpoint exactly where you want to start copying (or inserting text - same functionality).

    Again unfortunately this functionality (the one with the magnifying glass for selecting text) is patented by Apple Inc. and will not be seen on an Android based phone but I am sure that the Android developers will come up with something that will give us the same if not better user experience.

    FLASH Support

    Steve Jobs never kept secret his thoughts about Flash support on an iPhone. Although many people were hopeful that something will be worked out with Adobe in the end, Mr. Jobs shut the door on Adobe. Adobe then invested time and resources to work something out and right before they were able to release their solution Apple changed the iPhone Developer License Agreement to allow only applications written in Objective-C, C, C++ or Javascript and executed by the OS Webkit engine. Adobe had enough and issued a 'screw you apple' (not officially of course).

    The presentation on Day 2 at Google I/O included the news that Flash will be allowed and supported on Android based phones that run Froyo (or newer versions).

    I have to admit, the first version of Flash that I installed (it is still in BETA) was really slow. However three versions later, I am happy to announce that it works as well as a desktop machine. I have not tried to load a heavy flash based website but my brother in law's website (www.dnm.gr) loads just fine and you can see all the information that you need to see :)

    I am sure that in the coming months we will see a lot more progress in that area.

    Conclusion

    The Android 2.2 (Froyo) is a huge step forward. It provides users with a lot of functionality that transforms a phone to a multifunction communication device. The only thing that we are missing now is proper coverage from the national carriers (AT&T this one is for you) and without having to sell our first born children to pay for the monthly bills (AT&T this one is for you too).

    Update

    There has been another blog post on AndroidAndMe explaining how to update Froyo to the latest build (this one is a patch not the real thing).

    Update 2010-07-04

    Happy 4th of July! It came with the update for Froyo (officially now) on my cellphone. I am now running the FFR91 build (and so does my wife).

  • 2010-03-31 09:19:00

    Online Privacy, Spam, Buzz, Banks and Mail

    Electronic Presence

    Everyone more or less has some sort of electronic presence. That presence can easily be seen on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, personal blog etc.

    What most people neglect to realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg. How about the information your bank stores about you? Isn't that an electronic/online presence? Some server contains vital information about you and your bank uses that information to identify you against someone else. If your bank provides online banking, then the Internet becomes the interface that you use to access your own personal information (mainly funds) which again is stored somewhere else.

    The same happens when you purchase something online. Say you want to purchase flowers for your loved one. You will be probably asked to create an account with the florists's website and you will need to provide payment for the flowers. The authenticator, in this case, is some company that will check your credit card against an online record (again stored somewhere) in order to authorize the payment.

    Google Buzz

    With this in mind, I have been wondering lately why all of a sudden everyone seems to be trying to stab Google, due to some mishaps with Buzz? Were the controls that Buzz had initially set correctly? You might say no here and I would have to respectfully disagree. The point is that there was the option for people to opt out, the terms of service were there for everyone to read (I am wondering who did if any) so why was something set incorrectly? Why complain if the information was available for everyone to make an intelligent and educated choice as to use the new tool or not? If you did not investigate and read all there is to it regarding Buzz then you are responsible for anything that comes with it.

    I hear already people screaming at me that this was supposed to be an opt-in not an opt-out service. I agree and disagree there. Allow me to elaborate.

    For starters Google offers Buzz (and GMail) for free. How come all of a sudden this free product (which mind you is of extremely high quality) became everyone's right and stopped being a privilege? Yeah sure, Google runs ads and displays them on the right side of your GMail. That is how they offset their costs. Is anything wrong with that? I don't think so. Yet you have people that try to download special extensions to block ads, they change their signature to contain certain keywords that Google has deemed inappropriate - in short endangering everyone's use of GMail because if it turns out to be totally not profitable for Google they will simply close down the service or start charging for it. If that happens the first people that will complain are going to be the ones that caused this i.e. the ones that were blocking ads.

    Everyone complained about Buzz. It was not secure enough, it exposed personal information etc. If you looked closely, the choice to opt out was available. People will argue that it was not the default value but that is not the point. The option was available (and still is) and people should start reading what they sign up to. Terms and conditions exist for a reason and people should start reading that stuff and exploring the options/settings prior to signing up to something!

    My Financial Institution

    A few days ago I got a letter from Flagstar Bank, which is (was) my mortgage bank. It appears that they sold my mortgage to EverHome (just another mortgage company). This is a really common practice over the course of a mortgage. Thus far (6 months into my mortgage), I have changed 3 companies. I would be interested to see what will happen in the course of 30 years :).

    After receiving this notice from Flagstar Bank, I got a new letter from EverHome with some interesting information. The most interesting part of this documentation was the Privacy policy of EverHome. Here is what is in store for me (emphasis mine):

    Do we disclose your information to non-affiliated third parties?

    We may disclose all of the information about you, as described above, to certain people, subject to legal restrictions, and subject to your right to ask us not to share your information. Your right to ask us not to disclose your information is referred to as your "Opt-Out Rights" and is more fully described below.

    To what non-affiliated parties do we disclose your information?

    Subject to your Opt-Out Rights described below, we may disclose your nonpublic personal information to the following types of third parties:

    • Financial service providers, such as banks, mortgage companies, mortgage brokers, consumer credit companies, investment advisors and similar companies;
    • Insurance providers, such as life insurance companies, credit insurance companies, hazard insurance companies, automobile insurance companies; and<
    • Other optional service providers and organizations.

    Even if you opt-out of information sharing, we will still share information about you with certain third parties as permitted by law or regulation. This may include but not limited to, disclosing information:

    • To parties assisting in servicing or processing of your loan;
    • To our lawyers, accountants, auditors, regulators and advisors;
    • To protect our rights relating to, and the security of, your loan, our website, or our telephone customer service center;
    • To verify the existence or status of your loan for a third party;
    • To companies that perform marketing services on our behalf, or jointly with us;
    • To other financial institutions with whom we have joint marketing agreements; and
    • When you ask or give us permission to do so.

    Do we share your information with our affiliates?

    We are affiliated with several types of companies including but not limited to other financial service , such as banks, mortgage companies, and title insurance agents. Even if you exercise your Opt-Out Rights, we may share with our affiliates information about our direct transactions and experiences with you.

    Subject to your Opt-Out Rights, we may share information about you obtained from third parties with our affiliates, including:

    • Information from your application, such as your age, gender, marital status, number of dependents, assets, debts, income, employment information, address and the address of the property securing your loan;
    • Information from a consumer report, including information about your credit worthiness, financial circumstances, and credit history, including any bankruptcies or foreclosures;
    • Information to verify representations made by you, such as verification of your income, employment, and open lines of credit with others; and
    • Information from a person about his or her employment, credit, or other relationship with you, such as your employment history with your employer, or credit history with another financial institution.

    How can you Opt-Out?

    If you do not want us to disclose nonpublic personal information about you to non affiliated third parties, or if you want to limit the nonpublic personal information we may disclose to our affiliates, you may Opt-Out Please remember that even if you choose to opt-out, we will still disclose information about you as permitted by law or regulation.

    From what I have heard from friends, this is pretty much standard text for almost every mortgage company. Let's have a look a bit on a couple of interesting points and how that relates to Google and Buzz.

    • This is not the initial mortgage company. I did not allow them to do anything with my personal information. My initial mortgage company had a clause that basically said "we are allowed to sell your mortgage and with it your information". So I am stuck. This new company has my personal information (vital information such as my SSN, information about my previous employment, account balances and possibly account numbers, name, credit cards, in short everything). Did my old mortgage company delete my records from their systems? Most probably no. So here I am having 2 records out there without having to lift a finger. Did the introduction of Buzz create a brand new record of all of your personal information and disclosed it/forwarded it to a brand new company?
    • This is an Opt-Out policy. Wait a minute!!! Why don't I see a revolution, people running on the streets of major cities with signs, crying and condemning EverHome for such sacrilege, sending thousands of tweets, blogging about it... condemning the company and associating them with the devil? EverHome has hundreds of thousands of customers. I never heard any complain about this! How many of those customers have GMail accounts? Chances are quite a few. How many complained about Buzz? Probably a significant number. Did they also complain to EverHome? Did they blog about it or tweet about it?
    • If you carefully read the above, you will see that my whole life, all the vital information about me, can be transmitted to various other companies so long as they are affiliated to EverHome. Do I have a saying in this? Not really. The last paragraph clearly states that even if I Opt-Out, they will release my information under certain circumstances "Please remember that even if you choose to opt-out, we will still disclose information about you as permiited by law or regulation."

    Who else does Opt-Out?

    This post is not to bad mouth or disgrace EverHome. Far from it. This post is to condemn hypocrisy. I have read many blogs from people condemning Google for their Opt-Out policy in Buzz - whereas it should have been Opt-In. Yeah fine, I agree to that. But then again, less than a month later Google changed their policy to an Opt-In, introduced more alerts, controls and visual effects to ensure that the user wants to Opt-In. That is Google.

    Where are the blog posts complaining about the Opt-Out policies that other companies that we use their services on a daily basis? Did anyone bother to read the terms and conditions of say Verizon, AT&T for your cellphone, Satellite service (Dish/DirecTV) etc.? I dare you to check your paperwork; you will be shocked to find that almost everyone uses the Opt-Out approach and not the Opt-In.

    Regular Mail

    Consider also your regular mail. Whatever the postman brings. How much junk do you really get in your mailbox, just because you got a store card, ordered once from a website and now you cannot get them to stop? My wife got a gift certificate once for a motorbike accessory store for our cousin and since then we receive this really nice magazine concerning motorbikes. We returned it rejected more than 5 times but they do not get the hint. Did we ask for it? No. Do they have the right to do that? No, but they do not care. Did anyone complain about all this? Not as much as they complained about Buzz....

    Conclusion

    Google is not the devil. I do believe that they adhere by the "Don't be evil" motto. I use their products and I am happy that I do because the quality of products offered help me do my job better. Do I read all the disclaimers and terms and conditions? Yes I do and if there is something I do not like I do not use it. If I click 'I accept the Terms' then I have no right to complain for something that was there and I did not read it or pay attention to it. If you don't like them, don't like their policies, do not use their products. Export your data from GMail (since Google adheres to the Data Liberation principles) to your computer or a different provider, delete your Google Account and stop complaining. There is a difference between making suggestions towards making a product better and bitching about something that is mostly your fault (i.e. reading Terms and Conditions and checking settings).

    I always remind myself that the free Google services are a privilege to me and not my right. Shouldn't you do the same if using those same free products?

    Rant on!

  • 2010-02-28 12:00:00

    From iPhone to Nexus One

    References: Leaving the iPhone by Matt Cutts, Android Equivalency Table and Good Things: Ubuntu and Android by Alex Payne. I am pretty sure that there are other reviews and how-to's on the Internet, outlining that one of the above (or none) is the killer of the other. I am just posting what I did to switch effortlessly.

    Homework

    Of the applications currently installed on my iPhone, some are really very essential (i.e. email, web, podcast manager etc.) and some I can easily live without (Sportacular). Below is a list of the applications that I have listed in importance order and their counterparts in Android.

    Severity iPhone App Nexus One App
    H Calendar Calendar (built in - syncs automatically with the account you log in)
    H Google Voice Google Voice (integrates with the Nexus One so you call using your Voice number)
    H GV Mobile Google Voice
    H iPhoneModem PDANet ($30) or if you root your Nexus One other applications. PDANet requires Bluetooth or the USB cable, the others can hook up a WiFi connection
    H iPod Listen (by Google)
    H Mail Mail (built in - allows for IMAP, Exchange, POP - it also syncs easily Google based email)
    H Maps Web based
    H Phone Phone (built in - can be replaced by Google Voice)
    H pTerm Connectbot
    H Browser Browser
    H Solebon Solitaire (not as advanced as the paid Solebon but it will do)
    H Stanza Apparently Panda Reader is out but I could not find it. I gave up on this since I mostly work on the notebook and not longer read books on my mobile device
    H WunderRadio Streamfurious - not as good as WunderRadio but it has the stations I listen to
    H YouTube YouTube
    M Buzz Web based
    M Calculator Calculator
    M Camera Camera
    M CardStar Key Ring Reward Cards
    M Clock Clock - does not have countdown or stopwatch
    M Cycorder Camera (built in)
    M FuelGauge aCar
    M Google Earth Google Earth
    M iTunes Android Marketplace
    M Lattitude Lattitude (a lot of privacy warnings - even an email - to ensure that you want to switch it on)
    M LinkedIn Droidln
    M Photos Photos
    M QuickMark Barcode Scanner
    M RedLaser Goggles, Barcode Scanner
    M Shazam Shazam
    M TweetDeck Seesmic
    M TWiT TWiT
    M VNC Remote VNC Lite
    L Dictionary Dictionary
    L Facebook Facebook
    L Flixster Flixter
    L Messages Messages (built in - integrates with Google Voice)
    L Notes Evernote, like a billion other note apps some of which sync to Google Docs or other similar services, Tomdroid
    L Pregnancy A lot of applications, Pregnancy Assistant one that comes close to Pregnancy for the iPhone - either way I won't need this after May (I think :))
    L Sears2Go Sears2Go
    L Skype Fring, I also use Skype Go so no problem for me there
    L SnapTell Goggles
    L Sportacular Scoreboard
    L Stocks Finance
    L TrafficInfo INRIX Traffic
    L USAA USAA Mobile
    L Voice Memos Google Voice
    L Weather Weather on the top bar of one of the screens, News and Weather application
    L Wordpress Wordpress

    The Purchase

    I knew I wanted to buy the Nexus One the minute it was presented to the world :) There were however a lot of factors to take into account, the applications that I had and what their replacements will be (see table above), whether it would work reliably with AT&T's network or whether I would have to switch to T-Mobile etc.

    I have been following closely web posts regarding experiences with the Nexus One and I must admit, it was one of the main factors that helped me make the decision to switch. The icing on the cake was Matt Cutts's post regarding the same issue: Leaving the iPhone. I decided that I would get the phone and if it works satisfactory on AT& T I will stay with them, otherwise I will switch to T-Mobile.

    I discussed the issue with the boss (my wife who else :)) and the purchase was approved. As a matter of fact she was disappointed when I told her that I am going to order it because she had plans to buy it for me for my birthday in April. My eagerness to get the new phone spoiled the surprise but we both agreed that I got my birthday present two months in advance :)

    The purchase was really trouble free. I also purchased the dock and the really nice surprise is that Google offers free overnight FedEx to your location. It came in handy since I really wanted the phone there and then!

    First experience

    The phone arrived while I was at work. When I came back home, two really nice boxes were waiting for me. As you can see the packaging is really nice and the Google colors appear subtly on it.

    The packaging is simply awesome. Great ergonomics which easily match the ones of the iPhone. The Nexus One was wrapped in a plastic protective wrap, while in the package there was a protective sleeve, the USB cable, the headset and the charger. The packaging for the Nexus One Dock was equally good and it contained the dock and its charger.

    Abiding to the instructions, I opened the phone, inserted the battery  and plugged it in so that I will get a full charge prior to doing anything else.

    As soon as I put the battery in, the phone booted up. Really slick graphics!

    While the Nexus One was charging, I inspected my iPhone once more and synced it to my computer so that I do not lose any data. Once the phone was fully charged, I removed the battery and inserted the AT& T card in it. The network was identified immediately and I was able to log in using my Google Apps account! :) After a few steps of setting up the phone was ready for use.

    I plugged in the dock and set the phone up on it so that it charges prior to turning in. A nice surprise was the again subtle green digital clock that appeared on the phone while it is docked. I always wanted to have a nice clock on my bed stand - now I got it :)

    The day after

    I started the day with the attitude of Forget the iPhone and start anew. It was difficult, I must admit, but I think I managed quite well. The more I was using the Nexus One the more I liked it. I installed all the applications that I wanted (see table above) and set up the screens with the relevant application icons, trying to resemble what I had on the iPhone so that I won't spend much time looking for application icons.

    I set up Google Voice and that was one thing that really impressed me. The task was completed in a matter of minutes and now everyone will receive calls from my Google Voice number and not from my AT& T number. I no longer have to go to GV Mobile or the web based application to search for a contact and then call using Google Voice. Big plus here for Nexus One over the iPhone.

    Another pleasant surprise came a bit later when my wife and I had to go to a car dealer to view some cars (minivan here we come). I had the instructions and I had added the address of the car dealer in the event in Google Calendar. Usually I would use Google Maps and calculate the mileage that I travel with what Google Maps says and before I reach the next milestone I look at the map again. This time I saw a 'Navigate' link in the menu that appeared and for the fun of it I chose it. I was in turn greeted with a female voice telling me exactly where to go. As I am really notorious for getting lost, the female voice proceeded to tell me to make a U-turn to get back on track :) Really slick and accurate! Big plus again for the Nexus One over the iPhone.

    The notifications for the emails (I set up all my email accounts) are equally good for both phones. The Nexus One has a very slight advantage here in my opinion, since the notification area pulls up all the notifications that you have - from installed applications, text messages, missed phone calls, new emails etc. On the iPhone you get notifications on a per application basis so you need to be on the screen that lists the application that you received a notification for. Plus again for the Nexus One over the iPhone.

    Website rendering is where the Nexus One gets another plus. I think it is hardware since I am using the same AT&T network but the sites load noticeably faster on the Nexus One over the iPhone. This is normal browsing in the house so the location is pretty much the same. Big plus again for the Nexus One over the iPhone.

    Email management is where the iPhone is better. If I have say 4 emails to read and I click on one of them, I have to click the menu and then the 'Newer' button to get to the next email that I have not read. On the iPhone you have an up and a down arrow that allows you to navigate a lot easier. Also on the iPhone there is a logical hierarchy of accounts and folders, so you go back to change to a different account. Although this is a lot more work than it should, it seems a lot more logical than the approach the Nexus One has. With the Nexus One all you have to do is click the menu button and click Accounts to quickly access another account. It is a lot less clicks and I guess it would have made perfect sense should I had just come from a flip phone and never knew the iPhone. Still personal preference goes with the iPhone implementation, despite the fact that I am getting used to the new way of doing things :) Big plus for the iPhone over the Nexus One.

    Multitasking - multiple application notifications. This one has been the most discussed thing on the Internet regarding the iPhone (and now the iPad). You cannot run multiple applications at the same time. I just received a notification that I have a new email and someone replied to one of my tweets. The Nexus One notification bar showed both notifications and I read both messages in no time. On the iPhone though I had to keep the TweetDeck application on so that I can get the notification OR the Mail application on so that I can get the email. Huge plus for the Nexus One over the iPhone.

    There are other areas that I could discuss here but they are mostly focused on personal preferences on how things are done or should be done.

    Conclusion

    Overall I am really glad that I made the switch. The screen and camera are amazing, the phone is really responsive and apart from a couple of times that I didn't know how to do something and I had to Google it, I am using it as if I had it for a long time. I have no restrictions, I don't have to jailbreak the device so that I can get some applications that Apple deemed that they ruin the user experience (according to their reply to the FCC regarding Google Voice), my data is synchronized with the cloud and I can get it out of there at will. I can even develop my own application and install it if I wish to. This is something that the iPhone does not provide and notable is the fact that I had to retype all my store cards that I used Cardscan for in the Key Card scanner and there is no way for me to get the data that FuelGauge has stored in it and potentially transfer it to aCar.

    I would say that the iPhone would suit someone that is not that tech savvy and is not impressed by the technical abilities of the phone, rather is focused on the amount of applications that exist for that phone (iPhone is superior there). The Nexus One though raised the bar way high and it will take a long time for the iPhone to even come close to it. Once the Apple introduces the ability to allow multiple applications to run at the same time, provide the liberty to get your data out of it if you wish to, stop trying to police people by restricting applications, then the gap would have been bridged but until then... in my humble opinion the Nexus One is king!

  • 2009-11-24 14:00:00

    Chromium OS - Part III

    Continued from Part II

    I had to shut the computer down because I had a train to catch. However booting up again the computer on the train and trying to enter the chroot environment produced some errors. It might very well be the fact that I do not have an Internet connection (at least a reliable one).

    So this post will have to wait until I get back home so that I can continue the installation. The key point here will be how to add the Chromium OS image over the second partition of my hard drive so that I can keep my dual boot system. I will run Image for DOS and clone my hard drive, in an effort to keep a mirror backup of my notebook at this particular point in time - you never know when you will use it.

    So I booted again into Ubuntu and started the process. I run

    ./create_chroot.sh
    

    but it complained that a chroot already exists. I then run

    ./create_chroot.sh --delete
    

    which effectively removed the existing chroot and replaced it with a new one. Little did I know that I only had to run

    ./enter_chroot.sh
    

    to re-enter my previous chroot and continue where I left off. Oh well, you live and learn :)

    Just to be on the safe side I rerun the ./build_platform_packages.sh, ./build_kernel.sh and ./build_image.sh scripts. I am now exactly where I was prior to shutting the computer off. I have built the platform packages, the kernel and the image.

    Using the image

    Check the contents of the image

    I will mount the image locally to ensure that everything is OK. Please note that the folder below is the one created on my machine and might very well be different than yours. At the end of the build_image.sh script you will see a message that will reveal where your image folder is.

    cd ~/trunk/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1/
    sudo mount -o loop rootfs.image rootfs
    sudo chroot rootfs
    

    Inside the image basic commands will reveal success or failure:

    df
    dpkg -l
    

    Once everything is OK (or at least seems OK) I exit and unmount the image.

    exit
    sudo umount rootfs
    

    Although I got a cannot read table of mounted file systems: No such file or directory when I run df, dpkg had a long list of packages installed. I will for the moment ignore the df output and proceed to the next steps.

    Copy the image to a USB key

    Somehow I have misplaced my 16GB USB drive so I had to borrow a 4GB one from a friend of mine. This step copies the actual image from the hard drive to the USB drive. The drive itself is wiped clean so make sure that you have backed up the data that you have on it prior to running this step.

    You need to find out the device that your USB drive corresponds to. Running:

    sudo fdisk -l
    

    will reveal which device is the USB drive. For my system it is /dev/sdc1. Outside the chroot you run the script image_to_usb.sh. The command is:

    ./image_to_usb.sh --from=~/chromiumos/src/build/images/SUBDIR --to=/dev/USBKEYDEV
    

    and for my system the command was:

    ./image_to_usb.sh --from=~/chromiumos/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1/ --to=/dev/sdc1
    

    The output on the screen running the above command is:

    [email protected]:~/chromiumos/src/scripts$ ./image_to_usb.sh --from=~/chromiumos/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1/ --to=/dev/sdc1
    Copying USB image /usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1 to device /dev/sdc1...
    This will erase all data on this device:
    Disk /dev/sdc1: 4013 MB, 4013917184 bytes
    Are you sure (y/N)? y
    attempting to unmount any mounts on the USB device
    Copying root fs...
    opening for read /usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1/rootfs.image
    opening for write /dev/sdc1
    seeking to 1992294912 bytes in output file
    copy 996147200 bytes took 102.384 s
    speed: 9.7 MB/s
    Creating stateful partition...
    mke2fs 1.41.9 (22-Aug-2009)
    Filesystem label=C-STATE
    OS type: Linux
    Block size=4096 (log=2)
    Fragment size=4096 (log=2)
    60800 inodes, 243200 blocks
    12160 blocks (5.00%) reserved for the super user
    First data block=0
    Maximum filesystem blocks=251658240
    8 block groups
    32768 blocks per group, 32768 fragments per group
    7600 inodes per group
    Superblock backups stored on blocks:
     32768, 98304, 163840, 229376
    
    Writing inode tables: done
    Creating journal (4096 blocks): done
    Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done
    
    This filesystem will be automatically checked every 30 mounts or
    180 days, whichever comes first.  Use tune2fs -c or -i to override.
    Copying MBR...
    opening for read /usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git/src/build/images/999.999.32909.021312-a1/mbr.image
    opening for write /dev/sdc1
    copy 512 bytes took 0.001 s
    speed: 0.0 MB/s
    Done.
    

    I have booted the system using the USB drive and I logged in the system using my google account. Using Ctrl+Alt+T I open a terminal and enter:

    /usr/sbin/chromeos-install
    

    This asks now for the password that I have set up earlier (the one stored in the text file) and then it nukes the hard drive replacing everything (make sure you backup your hard drive).

    A bit later I unpluged the USB drive and rebooted. Unfortunately things did not work very well but that is probably due to my particular hardware. I will retry this on my other notebook and update this blog post.

  • 2009-11-24 13:00:00

    Chromium OS - Part II

    Continued from Part I

    The download took quite a while, so I thought it might be a good idea to split this post in parts, so as to ensure good readability.

    I need to create some symlinks. Also a good place to add my repository is /usr/local hence the commands for Chromium OS and Chromium respectively.

    sudo mv chromiumos/ /usr/local/
    sudo mv chromium/ /usr/local/
    

    and now adding the symbolic links

    ln -s /usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git ~/chromiumos
    ln -s /usr/local/chromium ~/chromium
    

    Creating the local repository

    All the scripts are in the src/script folder. So let's go to that folder (the symbolic link set earlier helps :))

    cd ~/chromiumos/src/scripts
    

    and running the command to create the local repository:

    ./make_local_repo.sh
    

    This command will ask you for your password - and bare in mind you must run all this as a normal user with sudo access - and then it will create a debootstrap. It will fetch the necessary packages from the Chromium OS Package Management.

    NOTE

    If something fails you will need to do

    rm -rf ~/chromiumos/repo
    

    and then rerun the ./make_local_repo.sh script again.

    Creating the build environment

    All we need to do is run the following command:

    ./make_chroot.sh
    

    The script will check if all the dependencies are satisfied, and if something is missing it will pull the necessary files and compile them as necessary. Although I did not encounter any problems, the documentation states that the /etc/apt/sources.list is used for retrieving the packages. If your setup is pulling packages from somewhere else then you may need to get the most recent packages from the repository. You can do that by running:

    ./make_chroot.sh --mirror=http://build.chromium.org/buildbot/packages --suite=chromeos_dev
    

    Building Chromium OS

    I need to build Chromium first (since I chose to download it too). This is necessary since your build will fail if you try it the other way around :)

    ./build_chrome.sh --chrome_dir ~/chromium
    
    Enter the chroot build environment

    Run the following command gets us back in the chroot environment (you will be asked for your password)

    ./enter_chroot.sh
    
    Set the shared user password

    This is a one-off step for those of us that want to be able to sudo from a terminal. I am setting the shared user password running the following script:

    ./set_shared_user_password.sh
    

    This will prompt for the password and the output will be stored in the ./shared_user_password.txt file. Don't worry the password is encrypted so if you do not have anyone watching over your shoulder while typing your password you are OK. Just to be on the safe side, clear the screen.

    clear
    
    Build the platform packages

    In the chroot environment run

    ./build_platform_packages.sh
    

    Unfortunately I hit a snag :( The build_platform_packages script produced an error:

    Checking for latest build of Chrome
    Downloading http://chrome-web/buildbot/snapshots/chromium-rel-linux-chromiumos/LATEST
    --2009-11-24 19:44:49--  http://chrome-web/buildbot/snapshots/chromium-rel-linux-chromiumos/LATEST
    Resolving chrome-web... failed: Name or service not known.
    wget: unable to resolve host address `chrome-web'
    make: *** [build-stamp] Error 1
    

    I quickly found what I need to do (Google is your friend :)). It appears that this is known bug and it is easily fixable. All I had to do is edit the copy_chrome_zip.sh file. I tried using nano in the chroot environment but it was not there. For that I exited the chroot and edited the file.

    exit
    nano -w ~/chromiumos/src/platform/chrome/copy_chrome_zip.sh
    

    Locate the line with the BASE_URL variable and change chrome-web to build.chromium.org and save the file. After that enter again the chroot and rerun the build_platform_packages.sh script.

    ./enter_chroot.sh
    ./build_platform_packages.sh</pre>
    

    Quite a bit later the script execution ended with All packages built :)

    Build the kernel

    In the chroot environment run

    ./build_kernel.sh
    

    A bit later I am looking at this message and grinning :)

    Kernel build successful, check /home/ndimopoulos/trunk/src/build/x86/local_packages/linux-image-2.6.30-chromeos-intel-menlow_002_i386.deb
    
    Build the image

    In the chroot environment run

    ./build_image.sh
    

    The script starts with validations, configurations, unpacking and compilations - all too fast for my eye to capture.

    The script finished compiling and there are warnings and errors :(. They all have to do with the disk geometry and partition 1 extends past the end of the disk /shrug again....

    In the end I get this on the screen which hopefully is OK...

    Re-reading the partition table ...
    BLKRRPART: Inappropriate ioctl for device
    
    If you created or changed a DOS partition, /dev/foo7, say, then use dd(1)
    to zero the first 512 bytes:  dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/foo7 bs=512 count=1
    (See fdisk(8).)
    Done.  Image created in /home/ndimopoulos/trunk/src/build/images/999.999.32809.203441-a1
    To copy to USB keyfob, outside the chroot, do something like:
      ./image_to_usb.sh --from=/usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git/src/build/images/999.999.32809.203441-a1 --to=/dev/sdb
    To convert to VMWare image, outside the chroot, do something like:
      ./image_to_vmware.sh --from=/usr/local/chromiumos/chromiumos.git/src/build/images/999.999.32809.203441-a1
    

    Continued in Part III

  • 2009-11-24 12:00:00

    Chromium OS Part I

    A lot of hype has been generated on the Internet a few months back regarding Google's announcement that they are building a new operating system. The announcement was met with skepticism but also enthusiasm/anticipation by a lot of people who are puzzled as to what direction Google is taking and where are they looking themselves positioned in the computer industry.

    Google has already established themselves in the mobile operating system with Android which for many is better than Apple's iPhone. What managed to get Google very high up in user satisfaction with Android was the fact that it is open source. It is backed by Google and they are putting a lot of effort into this but the fact that anyone can download the source code and build the operating system themselves is amazing. Giving people the freedom to choose should be something that every company should do (personal opinion).

    On Friday I watched the Chromium OS Webcast. A lot of people have been waiting for a presentation from Google of the new operating system. Google provided just that but with a small twist. The presenters outlined the features of the new operating system: Fast, Fast, Fast.

    Although the presenters clearly stated that they will not provide any links to hardware, what is supported, where Chromium OS runs etc. they made sure to address one of the core features of Chromium OS. It is Open Sourced! That alone gives people again freedom. Freedom to choose what they want to have as their operating system in their computer.

    The website for the new operating system is located here and there are instructions on how you can build this new OS even in its current state - which is not production ready.

    Curious (as usual) I tried installing the Chromium OS on a virtual machine. My experience installing the new OS and other comments is outlined below:

    Prerequisites

    My DELL Studio 17 has two hard drives and because I really really do not like Windows Vista, I have installed Ubuntu 9.10 32bit on the second partition. The notebook enjoys a 2.4GHz Intel processor and 6GB RAM.

    I applied all the relevant updates (just to be on the safe side) and a couple of reboots later I am ready to venture in the unknown. The documentation outlines the minimum required packages: 

    Building on Linux requires the following software.

    • Python >= 2.4
    • Perl >= 5.x
    • gcc/g++ >= 4.2
    • g++-multilib >=4.2
    • bison >= 2.3
    • flex >= 2.5.34
    • gperf >= 3.0.4
    • pkg-config >= 0.20
    • libnss3-dev >= 3.12
    • libasound2-dev
    • libgconf2-dev
    • libglib2.0-dev
    • libgtk2.0-dev
    • libnspr4-0d >= 4.7.1+1.9-0ubuntu0.8.04.5 (ubuntu0.8.04.1 causes duplicate dtoa references)
    • libnspr4-dev >= 4.7.1+1.9-0ubuntu0.8.04.5
    • msttcorefonts (Microsoft fonts)
    • freetype-dev
    • libcairo2-dev
    • libdbus-1-dev

    Optional (currently, all of these are only used by layout tests):

    • wdiff
    • lighttpd
    • php5-cgi
    • sun-java6-fonts (needed for Lucida)

    Because I didn't want to go and check the version of every package mentioned above I run the following command (mentioned also in the documentation)

    sudo apt-get install subversion pkg-config python perl g++ g++-multilib bison flex gperf libnss3-dev libgtk2.0-dev libnspr4-0d libasound2-dev libnspr4-dev msttcorefonts libgconf2-dev libcairo2-dev libdbus-1-dev
    

    And then the optional extras:

    sudo apt-get install wdiff lighttpd php5-cgi sun-java6-fonts
    

    A few minutes later the necessary packages had been downloaded and installed. One step closer to my goal :)

    Getting the code

    Now that all the prerequisites have been satisfied. I need to get the code!

    Navigating to this link in the chromium.org wiki, I get all the instructions on how to get the code. There are some prerequisites there (i.e. your system needs to be able to uncompress tar files) but nothing out of the ordinary.

    I installed the depot_tools which was really a two step process - svn checkout the tools and add the tools path in the current path. After that I installed the git-core:

    sudo apt-get install git-core
    

    I will pull the source code from the SVN repository. I can just as easy download the tarball and unzip it. The instructions in the chromium.org wiki explain both options.

    I am ready to get the source code for the Chromium OS package. You can get the code with the Chromium browser or without it. I am opting to get it with the Chromium browser. The following commands retrieve the necessary files for the OS as well as dependencies for the browser:

    mkdir ~/chroomiumos
    cd ~/chromiumos
    gclient config http://src.chromium.org/git/chromiumos.git
    gclient sync --deps="unix,chromeos" --force
    

    The download takes a bit of time since there are a lot of files that we need to retrieve. In situations like these, browsing, reading a book, going to get something to eat or working on the other computer are some of the activities you can engage yourself in so as to kill time. That is of course if you do not have a T1 or FIOS at which point this step will be finished by the time you read this sentence :) (/sigh I miss FIOS).

    I open another terminal window in order to retrieve the Chromium source code (the browser now).

    mkdir ~/chromium
    cd ~/chromium
    gclient config http://src.chromium.org/svn/trunk/src
    gclient sync
    

    and the wait continues....

    Continued in Part II

  • 2009-11-18 12:00:00

    Google Paid Storage

    A week or so ago I read a blog post in my Google Reader about Google providing now more storage for less money.

    To be quite frank I did not read the whole post but I did get the message. Google was offering 10GB for $20.00 and now they are offering 20GB for $5.00. This extra storage is mostly for Picasa and web albums but it can be used for other products like GMail (if you ever get above the 7.5GB that you already have there).

    Although I was really happy to see such a move, I was kinda saddened since not more than a month ago I decided to purchase the 10GB for $20.00 and I didn't take advantage of the new rate. The reason for the extra storage is that I can store pictures and videos for my family to see. Since most of my part of the family is located in Greece and my family and I are in the US, it only makes sense to take advantage of the Internet to keep in touch. Photographs of different events that we attend are available now to them too, while we keep a good journal of events through the years.

    Logging into my web album in Picasa I was pleasantly surprised to see that my storage is not 10GB but 81GB! I could not believe my eyes and frankly I thought that Google made a mistake. I dug up the blog post and found out what had happened. It appears that by not reading the whole article, I missed the

    and people who have extra storage will be automatically upgraded.

    The funny thing is that they even counted the 1GB that Picasa comes with (for free) once you sign up for their web albums.

    All I can say is that now I will probably store more and more media online, not only for my family abroad to watch but for backup reasons too.

    All we need now is a GDrive - a drive extension to connect to our online storage so that we can store everything online and never worry about anything - computer crashes and all....

  • 2009-11-16 11:10:00

    Google Apps

    I was one of the first people to beta test GMail when the only way you could get an account was by an invitation. I did manage to get one and created an email account which I still use until now.

    Since then Google Mail has grown and has been enhanced so much that in my view made it the best webmail software there is.

    The ability to group emails in discussions, add multiple labels to an email conversation and the powerful search make GMail my only webmail application.

    With the introduction of Google Documents and Dpreadsheets and the fact that most of my documents are either OpenOffice Writer or OpenOffice Calc (MS Word or MS Excel for Microsoft users), I started considering the totally mobile office. After all, most of the documents that I have are sitting there in a corner of my hard drive collecting electronic dust. I do however need to access them whenever I need to and sometimes I might not have my notebook with me. Google Documents and Spreadsheets gave me the solution that I was looking for.

    I always had problems with SPAM. Buy this, enhance that, you all know what I am talking about. The last year though the situation became unbearable. The spammers would find ways to bypass the spam filter of my domain and eventually get through. I would even have 50 spam emails per day at times, increasing the chance of me deleting a valid email from a customer or a friend.

    A couple of months back I saw that Google offers services for domain holders. Effectively you can migrate your whole domain to Google and your email most importantly. In an interface familiar to me (like GMail) I now have all my domain's emails handled by Google and to my pleasant surprise I have no spam at all. The filters set by Google are very good since I only saw one message come through in the past two months. There is ample space (2Gb) and of course the option to upgrade if one needs more at a small fee.

    Most of this domain is handled by Google Apps :)

    Not everything is perfect though. There is still work to be done, like integrating more Google Apps to the hosted solution but I am sure those will come in due course. Thus far though, I am impressed and satisfied by the technology offered.

    I know that some might turn and say that I am biased and I only see the good things about Google Apps and that there are other products out there, potentially better. I agree to that. However in my view, Google has set the benchmark on what people should do to catch them and surpass them. I am glad that technology progresses the way it is, since the end users benefit from enhanced tools to make our lives better and more efficient :)