How to run Linux in a window inside Chrome OS

Thanks to a handy set of scripts, you’ve long been able to install an instance of Linux on a Chromebook and switch between the two platforms with a simple keypress. What if you could run Linux inside the Chrome OS environment in its own window, though? That’s even better.

On this week’s Chrome Show podcast, we highlighted the Crouton Integration extension that lets you do just that. We also discussed why the new Acer Chromebook 15 isn’t likely on store shelves before April and why if you are still using [company]Google[/company] Android 4.0 on a mobile device you might want to consider a replacement for the Chrome browser. Tune in below or download the podcast here.

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Acer’s newest Chromebox packs more power, 4k video support

When you think of using a computer with a 4k video monitor, a Chromebox probably doesn’t come to mind. After all, those little boxes are just wimpy little browsers, right? Acer is out to prove that thought wrong by adding an Intel Core i3 option to its Chromebox CXI series.

Acer Chromebox CXI Top Angle View

The company announced the new chip choice on Thursday, with a starting suggested price of $349.99. That gets you a box capable of running [company]Google[/company] Chrome OS with support for up to 3840 x 2160 resolution. Along with the 1.9GHz Core i3 4030U dual-core processor, you’ll get 16GB of on-board flash storage and your choice of either 4 or 8GB of memory; the latter choice raises the cost to $399.99.

Given the recent Superfish scandal, I’m not surprised Acer made note of the security features built into its new Chromebox:

Multiple layers of security encompass data encryption and verified boot to safeguard the CXI against online threats, malware and viruses. User and system files are stored on separate partitions that secure data and simplify restoration from a backup. The Chromebox’s TPM 1.2 chip encrypts and protects individual user’s data by generating and storing secure cryptographic keys. In addition, individual accounts keep data safe when the device is used by multiple users.

Previously, Acer offered much lower-costing Chromeboxes: You could pick one up for as little as $179.99.

But at that price, you’re getting an older 1.4GHz Intel Celeron chip inside. Granted, Chrome OS runs pretty well on limited hardware — there are some models that use chips typically reserved for smartphones and tablets — however, the extra horsepower and memory in the new Acer Chromebox CXI models would be welcome for video playback having more open tabs or apps, particularly if you have a 4k resolution monitor for your Chromebox.

 

 

Chrome Show: Remote Chromebook access arrives for all

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The latest Chrome OS Stable channel update is here and with it comes remote access to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. Until now you could only remote out of such devices; now you can remote in to them; handy for tech support and other use cases. We also discuss why Acer’s new Chromebook 15 isn’t yet available and share a useful Chrome extension that lets you run Linux inside of a Chrome OS window.

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This week’s episode of the Chrome Show is brought to you by Sanebox.

SHOW NOTES:

Hosts: Janko Roettgers and Kevin C. Tofel

You probably can’t get that new Acer Chromebook 15 until April

Yay, a new Stable Channel update!

Chrome for Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) is melting away

There’s a 50,000 song upload limit for Google Play Music now

Here’s another Google Cast device: the Nvidia Shield TV

Google’s MVNO plans could be an interesting tie-in to Chromebooks with LTE

Want to make ChromeOS better? Check out this community

App / extension of the week: Crouton integration

Got an Android 4.0 device? You might want an alternative browser

Google won’t be updating its Chrome browser past version 42 for older Android devices, so it can better focus on its mobile browser for more current phones and tablets. The company announced that it would freeze Chrome 42 for its Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) software, which debuted in December, 2011.

In the last year, we’ve seen the number of Chrome users running ICS drop by thirty percent. Developing new features on older phones has become increasingly challenging, and supporting ICS takes time away from building new experiences on the devices owned by the vast majority of our users. So, with Chrome’s 42nd release, we’ll stop updating Chrome on ICS devices. After Chrome 42, users on ICS devices can continue to use Chrome but won’t get further updates.

The latest stats from Google’s dashboard show that out of all of the Google Android phones and tablets that visited the [company]Google[/company] Play Store in the last week of February, only 5.9 percent of those ran ICS. That number has been greatly diminished as users replace old devices or get Android software upgrades installed.

As Google notes on the Chromium blog, you can still use Chrome for Android on your ICS-powered phone or tablet. The browser will still work, but it won’t get any updates, meaning no new features and — more importantly — no security updates as new exploits are found.

My recommendation: If you can’t get your ICS device upgrade to Android 4.1 or better, consider installing a third-party browser such as Firefox, Opera, or one of my faves, Dolphin Browser for Android.

Chromebook sales still on the rise

The latest figures from NPD, by way of BetaNews, show that Google Chromebooks are continuing to sell well in the U.S. The research firm estimates that in 2014 Chromebooks accounted for 14 percent of all laptop sales for both the commercial and retail channels; up 85 percent from 2013. The former market accounted for the bulk of those sales as Chrome OS is finding a home in the classroom.

On this week’s Chrome Show, we discussed the numbers and pointed out details of Dell’s latest Chromebook which is specifically aimed at education with a few unique features that students and teachers should like. We also recap everything we know — and don’t yet know —  about the upcoming [company]Google[/company] Chromebook Pixel refresh. Tune in below or download this week’s podcast here.

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The time is right for a Chromebook Pixel 2

Although my original Chromebook Pixel still works well, the device is a few generations behind when it comes to the chips inside. Laptops using newer chips get noticeably more battery life on a single charge thanks to reduced power requirements and optimizations. The original Pixel, for example, topped out around 5 hours of run-time, while similar laptops today can get double that.

It’s difficult to use the Pixel as a mobile laptop, as a result, even though I bought the LTE model that provides connectivity nearly anywhere. On this week’s Chrome Show podcast, we discuss the possibility of a Pixel refresh, given some strong evidence indicating [company]Google[/company] may be working on one. Tune in below or download the show here.

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Google ditches its own protocol for HTTP/2 and a faster web

After using its own protocol for several years to speed up the web, Google is dropping support for it and adopting a standard approach. Next year, Google will abandon SPDY in early 2016 in favor of HTTP/2 according to a blog post published Monday on the company’s Chromium blog.

[company]Google[/company] originally created SPDY — pronounced “speedy” — in 2009, but it’s really no longer needed. That’s because the newer HTTP/2 protocol offers similar speed optimization and will be widely adopted by browsers:

“HTTP/2’s primary changes from HTTP/1.1 focus on improved performance. Some key features such as multiplexing, header compression, prioritization and protocol negotiation evolved from work done in an earlier open, but non-standard protocol named SPDY. Chrome has supported SPDY since Chrome 6, but since most of the benefits are present in HTTP/2, it’s time to say goodbye.”

Google said it will add HTTP/2 support in Chrome 40 over the coming weeks, likely first to the desktop versions of Chrome and Chrome OS, later followed by Chrome for mobile devices. Google added experimental support for SPDY in Chrome for Android back in 2013, which required a configuration tweak for usage. Using the SPDY protocol at that time reduced page load times by 64 percent, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the HTTP/2 implementation can bring.

The goal of reducing page loads was a good one by Google, although it clearly benefits from gaining potentially more data as the population surfs more. But a non-standard approach isn’t ideal as evidenced by different browsers supporting SPDY, while others, such as IE and Safari opting not to do so. Google said it’s glad to see its early efforts — including multiplexing, header compression, prioritization and protocol negotiation — help to shape standards and I agree: With a more universal approach built into HTTP/2, everyone benefits.

This story was updated at 5:15pm PT to clarify a sentence.

Opera founder unveils feature-rich Vivaldi power browser

Almost two years ago, the Norwegian browser firm Opera ripped out the guts of its product and adopted the more standard WebKit and Chromium technologies, essentially making it more like rivals Chrome and Safari. But it wasn’t just Opera’s innards that changed; the browser also became more streamlined and perhaps less… geeky.

Many Opera fans were deeply displeased at the loss of what they saw as key differentiating functionality. So now Jon von Tetzchner, the man who founded Opera and who would probably never have allowed those drastic feature changes, is back to serve this hard core with a new browser called Vivaldi.

Old meets new

Vivaldi doesn’t mark a return to Opera’s old internals – it uses Chromium as a base and has a user interface that is itself unusually built using web technologies – but it does bring back features such as tab stacking, an advanced bookmark manager, keyboard shortcuts and the ability to start with multiple session windows.

Opera used to be “more feature-rich, for a crowd of users that want more from their browser,” von Tetzchner told me:

After I quit [as CEO in 2010, then fully in 2011], Opera changed their philosophy. They made kind of a browser that’s more in line with most of the other browsers and doesn’t have a lot of features. The focus is in a way on making the browser disappear, and I think there’s a lot of people that want something different.

While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.

Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview

Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview

Based on the quick play I’ve had with the first Vivaldi technical preview, publicly released on Tuesday, there’s more to it than just reviving the old Opera feel (though that’s a clear aim). For example, the HTML5-based UI allows the browser to rather neatly adopt the color scheme for the page being visited. The use of web technologies for the front end also makes it easier to launch cross-platform – the technical preview is available for Windows, OS X and Linux right from the start.

Future features

The “sister service” to the browser, the Vivaldi.net community suite, already launched quietly about a year back. This was in many ways a replacement for the old, ditched My Opera community, and it provides blogging and forum functionality.

“We believe it will be the natural playing ground for those that are using the browser, with a free mail service and a place you can put your photos,” von Tetzchner said, noting that the mail servers are based in Iceland. “It’s not really a commercial site; we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing it. But we will add more functionality and change it gradually.”

Von Tetzchner told me more new browser features will be revealed by the time Vivaldi reaches its first full version (WebRTC will likely be supported, for instance.) A mobile version is also in the works, though von Tetzchner wouldn’t say more on that subject than “We’re going for a browser that has more functionality than what you’re used to, but also has more different ways to do things – the principle of that will be the same on mobile as it is on desktop.”

The Vivaldi team numbers around 25, a “substantial part” of which is the technical team, and more than half of which are former Opera workers. Von Tetzchner is personally funding it all for now, but the browser’s business model will be the standard affiliate-deal affair.

Will Vivaldi be big? It’s hard to say – Opera itself hasn’t broke past a market share of a few percent for many years, apart from in the feature-phone market. But Vivaldi does seem to combine a fresh new look with an impressively old-school appeal to the power user, and it may well find its niche. Perhaps not everyone does want the browser to just disappear into the background after all.

Peerio is a chat and storage service with big security claims

A Canadian outfit called Peerio has put its eponymous secure messaging and cloud storage app into public beta, promising a much more usable alternative to PGP email and file encryption.

Peerio was released on Wednesday for Windows, Mac and Chrome (which also gives Linux users an option) – apps for Android and iOS are in the works. It’s not quite perfect just yet, but it’s an intriguingly user-friendly take on secure cloud communications and storage.

“Our goal is for Peerio to succeed PGP in the use-cases of mail and file sharing,” co-founder and lead cryptography designer Nadim Kobeissi told me via a Peerio encrypted conversation. “We’ve developed a system built on foundations that are more modern, stronger, and simpler than PGP. Anyone who uses Peerio for a few minutes will quickly see how it’s years ahead of using PGP with Thunderbird, and never go back.”

Open-source and audited

The two-decade-old PGP is certainly a pain to use — at least, if you want to get it right — largely because of the complexity of PGP key management. Rather than requiring users to have their private key file to hand, Peerio requires them to create memorable (and long) passphrases that are then used to locally generate private keys for each session. The passphrase is used to log into Peerio for the first time on each new device. After that, a shorter, easier-to-type password can be created for that device, and two-factor authentication is also available.

Peerio incorporates the encryption technology of Kobeissi’s Minilock file encryption app. Users have usernames rather than email addresses and their client-generated, abstract avatars are used to verify their cryptographic identity (the client can automatically detect changes.)

From a functionality perspective, Peerio is a cross between email (albeit without the universality) and instant messaging. Files can be attached to messages, and conversations are threaded and searchable. There’s no draft functionality at the moment, which can be a pain when jumping between conversations mid-message, but Kobeissi said this will come soon and drafts will be safely encrypted.

Kobeissi, a PhD student in applied cryptography, is best-known as the creator of the Cryptocat chat app, which had a nasty security scare in 2013 (a bug left group chats vulnerable for months). However, this time round his co-creation has been audited by “expert cryptographers and system penetration testers” (Germany’s Cure53, per Wired). What’s more, the client code is open source and available on Github for scrutiny by whoever can offer it.

Metadata issue

Kobeissi seems pretty confident about Peerio’s security. When I asked whether it was tough enough to be a secure channel for leaking information, he replied: “I think people doing something like leaking state secrets should not depend on the internet at all, personally. But I would say that Peerio can protect the content of people’s communications, even if they’re operating from a highly surveilled context.”

However, the service’s end-to-end encryption only protects the contents of communications, not the metadata about who contacted whom and when. Peerio’s Canadian servers still hold users’ contact lists, the number of files and messages sent, and message timestamps. Kobeissi told me access to this metadata is “quite minimal and well-guarded” and he and his colleagues “pledge to fight any overreaching government requests”, but still, the information is there and, unlike the contents of messages, available to Peerio itself. Will Peerio create a way to encrypt this metadata? “One thing at a time,” Kobeissi said.

Peerio’s team includes four permanent staff, but numbers 12 with hired contractors – the outfit has $250,000 in seed funding. The plan is to make money by charging for premium features such as more than a gigabyte of storage, and by targeting the business market at some point.

For a product just entering public beta, Peerio seems admirably clean, functional and user-friendly. As long as people don’t find nasty vulnerabilities – and the firm deals with its metadata-related issues — it could be a viable mass-market encrypted communications and collaboration service. (A minor warning, though: If you import a contacts list, Peerio will send out an invite to everyone on it.)

Microsoft axes its EU browser choice mechanism after five years

Five years ago, Microsoft began offering a choice of browsers to European customers who were booting up a copy of Windows for the first time. It did this in order to settle an antitrust case with the European Commission and avoid a hefty fine.

That commitment – which [company]Microsoft[/company] wasn’t entirely consistent in sticking to — ended on Wednesday. The firm has accordingly axed its browser choice mechanisms, telling users: “Microsoft encourages customers who want more information about web browsers or want to download another browser to do so by visiting the websites of web browser vendors directly.”

Windows is obviously still a big deal, but not as market-dominating as it was back in 2009. Back then, if you wanted a personal computer, you were most likely to buy a Windows PC. As of next year, according to analyst estimates, you’re as likely to buy a tablet instead – though don’t write off the PC just yet, particularly in Europe and the U.S.

The main reason that the European Commission wrung the browser choice concession out of Microsoft was that the company was trying to extend its market dominance past the operating system to the next big platform: the web. It was doing so by making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows, something that the Commission saw as an anticompetitive abuse of its dominant position.

By removing that default status, other browsers got their chance to shine – it was no longer necessary for users to already know about that other browser and consciously visit its download site on Internet Explorer, for them to be a click away from downloading it. Five years later, Chrome is now the most popular browser in the world.

Internet Explorer browser choice

And the statistics for Europe versus North America, for example, are telling. Looking at desktops specifically, in North America, Chrome has a 41.52 percent share of the browser market and Internet Explorer is in second place with 32.75 percent. In Europe, Chrome has a 47.2 percent share and IE has just 17.53 percent, putting it in third place behind Firefox (on 25.68 percent.) While regulatory intervention isn’t the only reason for this situation — Chrome still beats IE in North America, where there was no intervention — it’s likely to have been a big one. Defaults matter.

The rise of Chrome across the desktop and mobile, with [company]Google[/company] as its default search engine, has become a key factor in Google’s 90+ percent dominance in the EU search market. Now it’s that company’s turn under the Commission’s antitrust spotlight, thanks to its abuse of that position to stamp out vertical search rivals and the like. If the Commission manages to cut Google down to size with whatever the settlement of that case entails, who knows which future monopolist will get the chance it craves?

This article was updated at 9.20am PT with some statistics about browser share, and slightly rearranged around that addition.