• FIDO and Chromebook follow up

    22 June 2019
    Tags: cloud

    Original post: Fido U2F

    I ended up switching to a Yubikey after all. Feitian keys are a nice cheaper option but there were just too many important websites that wouldn’t support them. That said, there have been some interesting developments with FIDO. Android phones now have built-in security keys that serve as a nice backup key for a hardware key. It still makes sense to have a physical key because an alternate two factor method will be required to set up your account when you eventually change phones.

    The Android key also appears to have some reliability issues and depends on network connectivity. I have experienced random times where the prompt never appeared or did appear but errored out with a vague unhelpful network error.

    Android devices are also not the only devices with built in keys. I was able to use Windows Hello as a FIDO U2F second factor with DropBox. Most other services still require you to use a non-FIDO two factor method as a backup so there isn’t much sense in purchasing two FIDO keys. The progress with FIDO is a bit frustrating and slow moving but it is starting to take off.

    Original post: Chromebook

    What I like:

    • Coding in the Linux container is very nice. It will be near perfect once they enable GPUs and microphones.

    • The Linux feature is well implemented and clearly targeted toward people who want to code but still have a simple computer. I hope it stays this way and doesn’t try to be a 3rd option for non-development applications.

    • Android apps allow you to do a few things that PWAs simply can’t do or no one has bothered to make them do.

    • Progressive web apps are very fast, work better then expected offline, and feel like proper desktop applications.

    • Virtually zero maintenance.

    • All of your data is in the cloud, almost no worries about losing anything.

    • Fast, cheap and secure!

    What I do not like:

    Android apps are a bit of a mess

    • They open slightly slower after boot (maybe some lag starting up the separate system).

    • Developers don’t seem to care about larger screens and most likely never will.

    • Why are settings separate from Chrome OS settings? Just merge them please!

    • Having a separate file system makes sense for Linux but not Android. More effort needs to be put into merging user facing folders. Movies, Music and Pictures should just work the same way Downloads do. It would then be 100% OK to keep the other Android directories separate and just hide them unless someone needs to unhide them via the options menu.

    • Duplicate apps start to appear if you need something an Android application depends on. Example: Google Drive

    • PWA always just work better from my experience. They are more responsive on a touch screen too. No idea why this is but I am willing to give up some minor features for a better app.

    • Why is the back button in the upper left corner of every app? There has to be a better way to do this.

    • Why is resizing an application’s window so glitchy? Apps designed for Chrome OS seem to look quite ugly when I resize them something but not all the time, which just looks bad.

    • Why do some applications leave behind splash screen activities?

    • Separate app stores are annoying, Chrome OS would benefit from one app store for PWAs, extensions, and Android apps. The app store should also steer a user to the ideal version of the application if a PWA or Android app both exist. The average Chromebook user wants a simple no hassle computer. So why not help them make the right decision for what they are trying to? I get not restricting users, but it should be obvious if an application is not optimised for Chrome OS. This would at least set expectations correctly.

    Chrome OS is a good alternative to MacOS and Windows but there is still work to be done. Android integration needs the most work. I am glad it exists but some simple tweaks would go a long way.

  • Chromebook

    27 April 2019
    Tags: cloud

    Why switch to Chrome OS
    My main home computer for the past 10 years has been a Ubuntu Linux machine. It served me well but was always lacking good Google service integration. This led me to eventually switch back to Windows, Windows 10 Pro specifically. My main personal laptop eventually became outdated and I wanted something different. The latest line of Chromebooks looked appealing because they are secure, well integrated with Google services, and can run Linux apps. I no longer require a powerful home computer now that cloud services can do almost everything I need. Portability and convience is more important.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like Windows and Ubuntu. I use both OSs at work. But home is a different story with different requirements. I basically need a cheap and simple computer for basic tasks with some occasional software development. A simple home computer that just works is nice to have when your working life consists of fixing IT problems and coding. Chromebooks appear to just work.

    Which Chromebook
    I decided that the HP Chromebook x360 G1 was my best option.

    The Pixelbook looked great but was a bit overpriced. The ASUS Flipbook looked nice too but I couldn’t find one with the specs I desired. My biggest problem with picking a Chromebook was choosing the right specs. This isn’t the same as a Windows or Linux PC. Storage is less important but still important. I’d recommend at least 64GB if you want to run Android and Linux apps. 128GB might be nice for the long term but SD card support keeps improving, so 64 should be OK.

    A quick break down of space, after setting up a reasonable collection of apps:
    chromeos storage

    Installed: A few android apps (Spotify, Crytomator, Snapseed, Authenticator Plus, Microsoft RDP), Linux (VSCode, Python, Git, Seahorse, gedit) and some simple PWAs

    You can always add an SD if you must store lots of media / files locally for some reason, but it really isn’t an issue if you are always online. Instant tethering makes using your mobile phone for data almost too easy.

    This should give you a good idea of how far storage goes.

    CPU is important too, but less critical then I assumed it would be, an i5 should be more then enough. Memory matters too, I’d say 8 GB is desirable for Linux usage, but 4 GB should be fine for just Chrome and Android. Linux runs in a VM, and VMs need their own memory.

    PWAs, Linux and Android
    Chrome OS is nice and simple, but the addition of Android complicates things a bit. I really like that Android fills the small gap that progressive web apps cannot. I am glad that Cryptomator, Microsoft RDP, OpenVPN, Snapseed, Spotify, and Google Home are all supported. I know that Spotify can be used in the browser, but I found it wasn’t great for controlling Chromecast audio, (the Android version does this well).

    The main problem I have with Android, is that it feels very separate. Files, settings, and everything else all have their own places. It feels alot like the way Windows does, with the new and classic control panels. I know everything can't and should not be unified, but some unification would help. Unless Android is just a passing phase before PWAs can do it all, or Google cooks up something better. We will have to wait and see. Obviously it's something I'd rather have, even in this form, so I'll deal with it.

    Linux is what really drew me to ChromeOS. The feature is currently in beta, but it is good enough to build a simple development environment. Things will only get better over time, once USB and audio are supported. It is also nice that Linux apps run in a secure container, this keeps a nice separation between development work, and the rest of your computer.

    A Chromebook can be a great home computer, for someone who needs a cheap, reliable, and portable machine. You never really have to worry much about backups, updates, or security. It is very easy to set up your system and get stuff done. This might not work for everyone, but I am really enjoying it so far.

  • Quick Draw with Speech

    31 March 2019
    Tags: cloud

    My wife recently came across the Scribbing Speech experiment and wondered if we could do something similar. The experiment appears to do exactly what she wants, but I could not find a working version online; which is unfortunate, because it appears very well done. So I set out to create something similar but simplistic in design.

    Below is my first attempt to draw simple objects using the QuickDraw library, with Google natural speech for input.

    My python script is available on Github: QuickDraw with Speech.
    This was put together really quick and could be improved quite a bit. Feel free to contribute or make suggestions.

About Me

Photo of Glen Tomkowiak

Glen Tomkowiak

This is a simple site to host my project(s) and post random things that interest me. My work is focused around: cloud computing, cyber security, and mobile / web development.