Living the Google life

I was about to sit down and write an aria of praise to living the Google life, now that I have transitioned fully from my iPhone, iPad, and Mac and functioned fully for a few months with Android, Chrome, and services from Gmail to Google Calendar to Google Now to Google Reader on my Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Chromebook and now Chromebook Pixel.

But this turns into a cautionary tale as well with the news last night that Google is killing Reader. Godogle giveth, Godogle taketh away. This is the problem of handing over one’s digital life to one company, which can fail or unilaterally kill a service users depend on. Google has the right to kill a shrinking service. But it also has a responsibility to those who depended on it and in this case to the principle of RSS and how it has opened up the web and media. I agree with Tim O’Reilly that at the minimum, Google should open-source Reader.

The killing of Reader sends an unfortunate signal about whether we can count on Google to continue other services we come to need. Note well that what drove me to Google hardware was Google’s services — and now I depend on them even more. I have relied on Gmail and especially its Priority Inbox for ages. Once I finally shifted to Google Calendar et al, I found them awkward on the iPhone and so I moved to Android to try it out; there, I stayed. When the $249 Samsung Chromebook came out, I realized that I was doing most of my work only on the web, and so I decided to try to move entirely to Google Drive and Chrome. I found both transitions surprisingly easy, including working in Drive and Gmail offline. With one small and one large exception, I haven’t touched a Microsoft application for months.

The large exception is Skype, which Microsoft happens to own now. There is no Chrome app for it. I still need Skype to be on This Week in Google. So when I last went to Europe, I had to lug both my Chromebook and my Macbook with me.

But that problem was solved last night. Thanks to a helpful Google+ user, Michael Westbay, and through Kevin Tofel and Liliputing I managed to install Ubuntu Linux on the Google Chromebook so with one button I can switch from one to the other. Insert Tarzan yell here. Skype never looked better on TWiG. See for yourself:

Now to the details. Let’s start with the Chromebook Pixel. I have a review unit from Google. I so fell in love with it that after 24 hours I ordered my own — the high-end with LTE built in, for there’s nothing better than being away from wifi and suddenly finding oneself connected to the world. The screen is magnificent, which is soothing wonder to my old and hobbled eyes. The keyboard is pure butter; I only wish I could write as smoothly as I can type now. It’s fast. The machine is solid — physically and in its operation. The battery life could be better but I’m finding it does last the full five hours.

I had been managing fine on the Samsung Chromebook. But it was tinny. The screen wasn’t gorgeous. There was too little memory, which caused web pages to refresh too often. Still, for $249, I had little basis for complaint. This is a wonderful machine for students and travelers; I’d recommend it. I took it on trips as my only machine and did fine. As long as I remembered to open and refresh Drive and offline Gmail app while I was still connected, before getting on the plane, I could work when offline. The experience certainly showed me how I could live in the browser. But I wanted a slightly better machine. Then came the Pixel; it is a vastly better machine. For me, the Samsung was the gateway drug to the Pixel.

Both machines give me more Drive storage than I could possibly use. Except for one hiccup this week, Drive works well. The only other time I’ve had to use a Microsoft product was when I had to format a work document in Word. I am not sure about writing something book-length in Drive; it’s not easy to move around a large manuscript. But those things aside, it works for most anything I need to do, even presentations.

The Pixel also runs Netflix beautifully. I need to play with more Chrome apps to edit photos and video. But I tell you truthfully that I’m now not even taking my office Mac out of the drawer. I’m living in Chrome.

I’m similarly satisfied with Android, though I wish the two would integrate more and now that both are under the same leader, I hope that will happen. That Google Now will reportedly be available in both Android and Chrome is the first substantial bridge between the two. Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Voice, Google+, and Currents all operate wonderfully on my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.

I kept playing with the idea of trying a Note II to replace both Nexus devices. I bought an unlocked AT&T model on eBay but still haven’t actually used it, as I will probably resell it. I like the size of the Nexus 4 for everyday use. I also like reading the paper and watching Breaking Bad on the Nexus 7 when I’m riding trains and airplanes.

Getting a new machine is pretty wonderful. When I turn on a new Chromebook and sign in, all my apps, bookmarks, and preferences are loaded in a minute or two. When I switch phones, I can transfer any app (though I wish I could just replicate my last phone). I am living in an ecosystem that makes sense.

So with the not inconsiderable caveat above, I’m living in Googland and happy there. Yes, at $1,500 the Pixel is expensive, but keep in mind — justification coming — that I don’t need to buy software for it. My Nexus 7 is cheaper than an iPad. My Nexus is only $300 and it’s unlocked. So I figure I also save money. I have fewer computer hassles. I can get to my data from anywhere. Come on in. The water’s fine.

Meanwhile, I bid a fond farewell to my iLife. Like an ex-girlfriend, I loved these machines in their time. I still admire them. But I don’t miss them.

  • Jonathon Sciola

    Brilliant article. Great TWiG placement too.

  • Ingrid Sturgis

    I’m so there. I was considering a Chromebook, But I’m considering the 550.

  • James Healy

    All those services are free. I thought with Chrome OS Google might be moving towards a situation where you can pay for access to a website in the same way you pay to use an Android App. Using Google as an authenticator and payment processor makes charging for an online game/feed reader/blog convenient for users and producers alike.

    With the killing of Reader it looks like they’re committed to the web being free at the point of delivery. But this will have to change one day and I’d be happy to start paying for Reader. Seeing Reader go makes me worry for News, Finance, Tasks and Sites, and changes the way I feel about Google. I still mourn the loss of Notepad!

  • David Furphy

    Jeff I would really like to hear more on how the Reader slaying makes you feel about relying so completely on Google’s services. Personally I have found it very unsettling.

    I love how Google’s services make it easy for me to move around from one device to another. Last week my iphone died and standing in the store I had to make a decision about erasing my old phone before swapping over to a new one. My displeasure at handing over a couple of hundred dollars due to a stupid mistake was far outweighed by the comfort I had knowing all my important data was safe out there in the cloud. I felt secure because my most important data (email, contacts, newsfeeds, docs) was in Google’s cloud. The exception being my passwords which I am really pleased to pay Lastpass to look after.

    I have been surprised at my reaction to this latest round of cuts by Google. Reader has sneaked into my digital life over the last couple of years and it has its effect in lots of small ways. I can well understand how important it is to hard core users. Similarly I’ve been comforted and just a little smug that the Cloud Connect service means that despite the schools refusal to embrace the cloud, my kids school work is safely backed up on Drive without them having to do anything.

    Killing Reader and Cloud Connect has shaken my trust in Google, like when a good friend lets you down the first time. You realise they’re just like all the others and, while you’ll still be friends, you’ll be just that little bit cautious from now on.

    So Jeff are you still feeling the love, or is there a little hole in your heart where Reader used to be.

    • Jake S.

      At least he’s not 100 % reliant since he’s also got Ubuntu running there. If all of the goog shuts down overnight, he’ll still have a computer with a net connection and an enormous repo of software. And the nexus being unlocked, he get updates to it through Cyanogenmod (which typically runs better anyway), and install some alternative app store. And unlike with Apple, none of this breaks any EULA’s, Google even helps you along the way. If you’re afraid of your gmail being lost forever, gmail even makes it easy to back it all up (or download it all or sync it with offlineimap or whatever). The fact that it’s easy to leave Google makes it easy for me to recommend Google. Even Reader lets you export your feed list. As for myself, I left Gmail and Reader about a year ago, so I know that it’s possible to take all your data with you and install it into e.g. Fastmail and tt-rss. Can you say the same about Apple and Microsoft’s offerings?

      • Jeff Jarvis

        Well said, Jake.

  • I don’t trust google at all anymore.

  • stephen baker

    Jeff, I wrote my two last books on Going docs, aka drive. The software was a little clunky, but the convenience made up for it.

    • Jeff Jarvis

      The big problem I’m having is getting back and forth (to where I left off) in a long doc.

      • jaduncan

        Tip: write QZ where you want to get back to. Nothing in English has that string, so it works excellently as a bookmark.

  • davemacdo

    Hi Jeff, I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about this stuff on TWiG this week. Thanks for the write-up as well. I wonder if you’ve tried either of these solutions to avoiding switching computers to use MS Word:

    1) Google Docs can export a document as a Word file. Go to File > Download As > Microsoft Word. Your mileage may vary on the formatting, but I haven’t had any problems with it in my limited use.

    2) Microsoft offers a cloud version of Office that should work on your Chromebook called Office 365. Since MS is already switching to subscriptions for Office licenses, this may be just as easy for you to use as Word on OSX or Windows.

    • Jeff Jarvis

      I simply don’t think I need Microsoft.

      • Joe_HTH

        Real compelling argument there Jeff. Just tell the truth and admit to being a shill for Google.

        • Chuck

          Please Jeff can you just admit for Joe_MS_HTH that the check you get from Google to hype their products wouldn’t pay for a burrito at Chipotle. Give it a rest already Joe, we get it, you don’t like Google and are all in with Microsoft.

  • I just sold my Samsung Chromebook on ebay. I bought the expensive one when it was first announced in 2011 for 399 pounds in the Uk and sold it for 130 pounds. My problem with the product was that the always connected + Google services option didn’t work for me.
    My nephews use Skype and Chromebooks don’t support Skype. I discovered that I found the Google service model unsettling. For example until relatively recently Google Music and Video was a US only service. Even before the recent death of reader I became disturbed at Google’s ‘housecleaning’ of services.
    My next issue was working from home. I get the fact that journalists ‘live on the web’ but vpn connections are not supported properly by the Chromebook, Citrix didn’t work properly. If you connect to workplaces that use other types of servers like Microsoft or Linux the Chromebook wouldn’t install extensions.
    The Google vision had some superficial appeal to me. Working in the cloud. However you actually have multiple clouds in the Internet. A Google cloud, a Microsoft cloud, an Apple cloud, maybe even a Dropbox cloud, Amazon cloud etc etc. A Google chrome device, while apparently promising openness and freedom, is part of driving ecosystems. The Google service ecosystem is primarily driven by advertising and like all ‘free’ services the provider sees it’s customers as the advertisers rather than the users of services.
    Google isn’t a commitment I can make. Some services are fine. However it doesn’t satisfy me as a technology proposition. It doesn’t satisfy giving control of my data and services to them and committing to their ecosystem of services fulltime. Primarily I suppose it’s the emotional question of trust and the question do you trust Google completely enough so as to buy a device that you can only use as long as they permit you.

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  • Roger Davies

    I’m really happy to hear that your experiment has gone well. I kept hearing you ‘threaten’ to do this experiment on TWIG, and I’d wondered. I’d like to get chromebooks for the kids as always backed up, semi-disposable machines. Their school is trying valiantly to get all the kids setup and using a G-Apps for education account, so this would dovetail nicely. I do enough work in Windows through Terminal Services, and I use Eclipse, so I’d need something that supported those options . The Ubuntu side-boot option is intriguing.

    Did you every try using Hangout with TWIG? I know that Leo has tricks for changing the display he uses in Skype, so maybe that’s the limitation. I’m a full-time telecommuter, and I’ve been trying to get my colleagues more comfortable with that tech.

    And lest we forget, Chromebooks aren’t tied irrevocably to Google products. Feedly is a web service with a simple transition from Reader. Already there, and it’s fine, and there’s no reason it wouldn’t work with a Chromebook.

    • Nick

      Chromebooks support chromoting, and you can try it from your desktop browser, too. its like vnc to your windows, linux or mac machine. you can open eclipse and write code, too. works like a charm.

  • Spencer Hill

    Made the partial conversion last July. Still need Word for my CRM app, Redtail. I still haven’t found a simple way to cut and paste with Android. I still don’t have the ease of knowledge that I have with Windows, but I enjoy the luxury of the cloud with books, music, & work.

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  • elbert chu

    Thanks, great write up. I’m attracted more and more to the Google cloud-side apps, and using cloud software in general. Except for some occasional disasters with Evernote, where a note mysteriously disappears, it’s been a good trade off.

    Still, the last barrier to entry for me as a journalist who also edits video, is that as far as I know, there’s no answer to FCP or any of the Adobe powerhouse creative suite. If ever there was a reason to venture into this territory, it would be through the YouTube platform. I recently saw some rough editing tools appear in YouTube.

    I wonder if you think we’ll ever see the day when Google upends Adobe’s business in the way it has undercut Microsoft? IMHO, it’s just a matter of time.

    • Joe_HTH

      How has Google undercut Microsoft, except for maybe mobile. Microsoft’s own missteps caused them to be behind in mobile, not Google. Microsoft should be dominating mobile considering they were first to market. Lack of vision and apathy caused them to sit on their backside and let competitors take the market away from them.

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  • Steve Sears

    Jeff, I’m curious. I know you don’t need it, but sometimes I need excel or word at work. As good as Libreoffice is, it sometimes has problems with workbooks. If your able to run Ubuntu could you not run windows in a VM? (using virtual box or similar) With Xp running the Virtual drive would not need to be too large.

    Just wondering if its something you (or anyone) has tried yet

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  • Interesting video (shared on G+) Jeff.

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  • Joe_HTH

    Jeff, nobody gives a damn that you’re a Microsoft hating Google shill, who likes using crap products made by Google. Google Drive is crap and pales in comparison to the competition. Same can be said for Google+. Same can be said for Google Music. Same can be said for Google Apps.

    You’re just a shill without an ounce of credibility or objectivity. You’re the epitome of what’s wrong about tech journalism.

    The fact that you think a $1400 Chromebook is great, speaks volumes about you. Chrome OS is not even an OS. It’s a gimped piece of crap that has less market share than the Surface RT.