Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550

CNet takes a good look at Samsung’s new Chromebook 5 550. It appears that the launch of Google Drive has done wonders for Chrome OS.

Some thoughts on Google Chrome removing support for H.264 video playback

I have to say, this makes very little sense. It is the Chrome team’s prerogative to add or remove any feature from their browser that they’d like to but the reasons they’ve given simply do not make much sense. At least not from my desk or the desk’s of others.

John Gruber, as he typically does, does a good job asking the same questions as I would. So I recommend giving his questions to Google a perusal.

However, I’d like to comment his 3rd question to Google. When WebM was announced in May of last year it was said that YouTube would immediately begin to encode their videos in WebM. And, according to YouTube’s HTML5 page, they did exactly that. So part of John’s question is answered. But the other parts – whether or not YouTube will drop support for H.264 or not, and why – remind unanswered so far.

My biggest “huh?” to all of this is Google’s “to foster competition” and “web innovation” statements as to why they are doing this. Gruber is asking why the Flash Player plugin isn’t being removed from being bundled with Google Chrome. I’m wondering how removing support for H.264 video playback is “fostering competition” at all. Isn’t it squashing it?

Think about where the competition really happens for video codecs. Users of the Internet will never decide on a codec. They don’t care. Developers and engineers do. Apple will decide what they will support with their devices, Google with theirs, RIM with theirs, HP, Dell, Toshiba with theirs. My mother could care less if a video is in Flash, H.264, WebM, Theora or any other video codec – she would simply want to view the video and would probably download any software it would take for her to be able to watch it. Do you think she really knows that when she goes to the YouTube application on her iPod Touch that the video that is being delivered is in H.264?

So really, the “competition” doesn’t happen at the user level. It happens at the engineering level. Engineers will pit two codecs against each other and see how they stack up. They’ll decide which to use based on the quality of the codec and then they’ll measure that against the install base for that codec. Right now H.264 is comparable on nearly every level to WebM while the install base for H.264 is enormous in comparison to WebM. So the decision is still pretty clear which codec most engineers would choose for video playback. Unless they are open source zealots that think Apple’s approach to things like H.264, iOS and the App Stores is “closed”.

Now, if Adobe removed H.264 playback from the Flash Player – that’d make some waves. That’d change the game a bit.

All of this being said I really don’t care. Even as a team member for Viddler, a company that has millions of videos thatwe take care of, I don’t mind allowing the industry to figure some of these things out. I side with the end users and so does Viddler. Viddler will always strive to deliver high-quality video to users the way that the majority of them want it regardless of their device. As of today an overwhelming number of the Internet-connected computers in the world support H.264 playback via Flash Player. So we deliver that. The next step down is H.264 playback via the

Switching to Google Chrome Developer channel

For months I’ve been using Chromium the open source browser that powers Google Chrome. Using Chromium had its advantages and disadvantages. I had the bleeding edge of what was offered by the Chromium team – whether it was stable or not. But, I also had to manually update my personal copy of Chromium on a nearly daily basis.

Not anymore. I’ve been wanting to switch to the Google Chrome Developer channel (or, the still pretty darned bleed edge releases) for a few weeks but hadn’t had the time to figure out how. After I saw my friend in bleeding edge Chromium releases Justin Blanton take the plunge I began hunting. Turns out, it is pretty easy once you found the right link.

I found this link via the Chromium Blog – but there is an Early Access Release Channels page that explains what each release channel is, its purpose, and how you can get involved. The nice thing about these channels is that these are releases of Google Chrome, not just Chromium, and as such are slightly more stable and refined then the Chromium nightlies I’ve been using. Updating to the next release is also easier in that it happens within the application itself and it continues on the same channel you choose be it beta or developer.

Left: Chromium Right: Google Chrome Dev channel

For example, remember how I complained about Chromium’s Bookmark Manager? Remember those hideous buttons? Well, they are much nicer in Google Chrome then they are in Chromium. Take a look at the graphic that shows the difference between the two. Though the action button doesn’t do much (yet) it does fit much nicer into the Mac ecosystem. Obviously the source list on the left is much nicer as well.

Switching from Chromium to Google Chrome was made all the more easy due to Google’s free Bookmark Syncing service. If you’d like to help test the very latest build of Chrome follow the links on that Early Access Release Channels to download your flavor of Chrome based on which channel you’d like.

RSS Subscription extension for Google Chrome

Here is a great example of a good extension written for Google Chrome. The RSS Subscription extension is built by someone on the Chromium team and it brings in the unified feed icon button into the location bar to subscribe to any feeds found on a site. Works perfectly, fits naturally, has a fair amount of options.

The Chromium Bookmark Manager

[ad#Adsense: Horiz 468]

A few days ago I updated to the latest nightly build of Chromium, something I do every few days using TechCrunch’s Chrome-Up application, and was elated to discover that Chromium finally has a Bookmark Manager. Up until this release I was unable to edit any of the bookmarks that I had imported from Safari into Chromium. It was frustrating.

I’ve now finally been able to update, sort and delete my bookmarks (which are automatically synced with my Google Account). Something I wasn’t able to do for months and has taken my already fairly bubbly adoration of Chromium and taken it to the next level. A clean browser is a happy browser.

I was surprised, though, at the overall design and implementation of the Bookmark Manager in Chromium. It feels very rushed. Even though I use a nightly build, which is as cutting-edge as you can possibly get, I expected to see a very different approach than what is pictured above.

Chromium’s New Tab, History, Downloads and Extensions pages are very different from what we see in most other browsers. The New Tab page, as an example, is much more like Safari’s Top Sites page (although not nearly as cool). The Downloads page I find particularly useful. It shows up like a Web page and shows you everything that you downloaded recently, by day, with a link back to the page it originated from, a link to the file itself on your own system, etc. Functionally it is very much the same as Safari and Firefox’s Downloads pop-up window but Chrome’s is altogether nicer, in my opinion, because it shows up in a tab.

I expected Chromium to have the same sort of “Web page” feeling to its Bookmark Manager. Maybe this is a case of ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broken’ but I think there is huge potential for browsers to reinvent the way bookmarks are managed. Why not plug into some social bookmarking sites? (I know there are Firefox plugins that do stuff like this) Why not give us an unlimited amount of metadata to attribute to a bookmark? I remember when Firefox implemented shortcodes for bookmarks, like ‘gr’ for Google Reader as an example, and you could just type ‘gr’ Enter and off you went to that bookmark. I would love to see that in Chromium (and Safari).

And what about the plus, minus, and eye buttons on the toolbar? I have never, ever, ever seen anything like those on any operating system. Perhaps I’m looking too far into what are basically alpha level builds. Maybe what will end up being released with Chrome for Mac will be vastly different than what is appearing currently in Chromium (I hope so).

And don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy to finally be able to edit my bookmarks in Chromium and I always look forward to the next nightly update.

All Chrome all the time

I’ve been using Chrome as my default browser for nearly six months. It won Best Browser in my Best of 2009 list. I didn’t even realize it had been that long until I went back through some of the things I wrote about Chrome here in First initial, last name. To be more specific, actually, I’ve been using a Chromium nightly build – which is the open source project behind the official Google Chrome releases.

To keep my build of Chromium up-to-date I use Techcrunch’s Chrome-Up application built by MG Siegler and Greg Rosen.

Now that an official release of Chrome for Mac is out there it is being evaluated by some of the Macintosh community. John Gruber recently linked to someone who had tried Chrome for a week before it actually stuck. I can see why – switching browsers from Safari to Chrome won’t win you any new features. In fact, it may even force you to give up a few. But what makes Chrome better than any other browser on the Macintosh, at least for me, is pure foot-to-the-floor speed.

There are a few neat features, for sure. The “New Tab” page, arguably not as nice as Safari’s Top Sites feature, makes it pretty simple to set up a good way to get to what you want. Bookmark sync is nice. Extensions, I think, will play a huge roll in the success of Chrome – especially when it is pitted against Safari. Google has taken the right path with Extensions and how you build them, too.

But that’s about it. Here’s the one-liner for Chrome; it is really fast. Everything else is gravy.

Chrome for Mac developer preview and extensions

Ever since Google release Chrome, their browser, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for Chrome for Mac. Thanks to my friend Jake Dahn I got a copy of the developer preview. Its really fast. Faster than Safari on the Mac. I’m excited for a more stable and complete beta at which point I plan to do a more in-depth analysis. That being said, I’m also very, very excited about the Chrome Extensions that are built using HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript.

Dipped in Chrome

Google’s Chrome, the new Web browser by Google, has been getting a lot of attention because of its simple approach to browsing the Web.  But there is more here than meets the eye. It is all about the approach.

The new application has its flaws, for sure, but what it gets wrong it makes up for in what it gets right.  Google has long been an advocate of speed.  “Speed is a feature.”  Many other browser manufacturers, namely Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla, have continuously strived to push the needle on speed, faster page loading time, and overall memory usage of their software products. They’ve done this while also trying to jam more features into the browser.  What they’ve ultimately failed to do though, is what Google succeeded at; removing the application from the application.

Google’s approach here is interesting.  This is the first real step towards making the Web the application, and the browser just the “thing” that loads it into view.  Over on Daring Fireball John Gruber quoted this bit, which I find really interesting:

“In the long term, we think of Chromium as a tabbed window manager or shell for the web rather than a browser application. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the standard window frames of applications on their operating systems.”

You know how the iPhone or iPod touch loads web applications with nearly no UI unless you scroll up?  That is sort of the approach that Google Chrome is taking.  Just render the page in an insanely fast and stable way – that is the goal.

Is Google Chrome a “Single Site Browser” the way the next version of Safari is going to be or the way that Fluid already is?  Sort of.  In the “Page control” menu (not sure I like that name either) there is an option to “Create application short cuts”.  You can install these shortcuts on your Desktop, Start Menu, and Quick Launch bar.  Personally I think it would have been neat if they automatically asked to setup Gmail, Google Reader, Calendar, etc. when I installed – but everyone knows that they would have caught some serious heat for that if they did.  For those of us liking the SSB experience, Google Chrome works.

It is tough to say what Google Chrome “gets wrong”.  I’ve seen reports of various rendering problems, but I don’t think that is something Chrome got wrong.  That is fairly easily fixed in the next version so long as they iron out their use of Webkit.

To sum up; the approach Google is taking here is refreshing.  Clean, simple, and fast. A feature for feature comparison of Google Chrome against any browser would not be a fair way to gauge its affect on the marketplace.  Time will tell.

Now, when they release a Macintosh version, then I’ll really kick the tires.

I say, it’s OK to use HTML

Jonas Downey, of Basecamp, on Signal vs. Noise:

It would surely be easier to do that with 8 simple, straightforward HTML files than with some custom WordPress installation that’s several versions out of date. So what if I have to repeat the navigation markup 8 separate times? It’s not that hard. We used to do it for much larger sites!

Please realize that I’m taking Jonas’ quote out of context for this purpose of making my own point. You should go read the entire post.

But his post reminded me of something about Barley CMS. HTML is, in and of itself, a highly extensible markup language. It is pretty powerful all on its own. So why add to it? So many tools add a bit of complexity around HTML that, some of the time, are simply not needed. For our CMS we started using PHP files for templates but kept backing up until we figured out a way to alleviate any need for any language other than HTML. You can build a fully functional web site with just HTML. This is this site’s HTML. Also, here is The Watercolor Gallery’s HTML. You can see this from our incomplete showcase of sites.

One more side point; Jonas mentions having “to repeat the navigation markup 8 times”. While I agree with him that this is no big deal — and that we used to simply have to live with it — we don’t need to live with it anymore. We use Hammer For Mac. Here’s a little thing we wrote up about that. However, even the latest Chrome beta (the most popular browser by an ever-growing margin) has made some progress on allowing HTML includes. So, who knows, maybe even HTML will be able to handle this problem and we can ditch Hammer.

The point of Jonas’ post was that sometimes tools can get in the way when the problem can be solved in a much easier way. He’s right, of course. And that’s what we‘ve tried to avoid with Barley CMS. We have tried to make it disappear.

The best of 2009 as told by me

In November 2008 I put forth a list of things I thought were the best Web sites, applications, and various other things that I came across in 2008. I said “They are simply works that I feel should be awarded with the recognition of being the best that I’ve personally found this year.” I’m doing the same this year, and including things not-so-technical also, so lets get started.

In no particular order:

The best blog: A VC by Fred Wilson

Randy Stewart

Credit: Randy Stewart,

This year’s pick for best blog did not come easy. I’ve chosen Fred Wilson’s blog, A VC, for a number of reasons. First, he writes very often. In a post about his own tips for bloggers he says to write every single day and I believe he comes fairly close. But that isn’t what makes his blog great. Somehow, even though he manages to write nearly every single day, he consistently writes extremely open and revealing posts about the world of venture capital and business in general (with music and other personal interests thrown in for good measure). It isn’t the quality of the writing, per se, it is the quality of the insight. As someone who has been involved in a few strong startups I can say that somehow Fred manages to hit the nail on the head more often than not. Even when he misses (in my opinion) and hits his thumb – he somehow brings the post that he’s writing back into a realm where you can see his point and believe that he’s probably right and you’re probably wrong. It is an art that I have never mastered.

If you are building your own company it is a must-subscribe. No question.

The best podcast: Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

I’ve gushed about Terry Gross so much this past year I’m sure you all think I’m hitting on her at this point. Maybe I am. But she deserves it. But the show isn’t just her. She must have a fairly good team behind-the-scenes that puts together her show each day and, ultimately, packages it for the podcast.

I don’t listen to many audio or video podcasts on a regular basis but I have been subscribed to Fresh Air for a few years now and I don’t see myself unsubscribing any time soon.

The best new blog: Letters of Note

Letters of Note is pretty much the perfect blog. Blogs, unless they are personal journals, should focus on a very specific topic. You’ve probably noticed that the most popular blogs are focused on technology, gadgets, startup companies, knitting, cooking, design, etc. There are very few popular blogs that focus on many things while there are a ton that focus on one thing. Letters of Notes knows where it fits and focuses on a really fascinating topic; letters, notes, memos, and even telegrams that are in some way notable.

I have yet to come across an uninteresting post at Letters of Note.

Honorable mention in this category includes Liz Danzico’s Bobulate (which is a personal blog but one that could have easily won this award this year). I’m hopeful that the Panic blog makes this list next year.

The best blog redesign: Pat Dryburgh.

Pat Dryburgh's logo

Online friend and fellow aspiring thin man Pat Dryburgh recently redesigned his Tumblr-powered Weblog and I think he did a fantastic job. Pat’s simple logo, as an example, is inspiring. The work section on his site is very well done (I like the bit where you can get to any work from any work). I’m not too keen on his heading weights but besides that I really, really appreciate a well designed personal Web site that feels, personal.

More people (myself included) should have a Web site that oozes their personal brand. I believe last year’s winner, Jason Santa Maria, would agree with this year’s pick as well.

The best blogging platform: Tumblr

Although my personal blog is still running well on WordPress I’ve been thoroughly impressed by what the Tumblr team has done this past year. They are continuously rolling out excellent features that help them both catch up to and surpass the competition.

Where does Tumblr fit? I believe that Tumblr is the best choice for new bloggers while WordPress is still the better choice for those of us that like to get our hands dirty. If the Tumblr team keeps up their current pace, I could see that changing in 2010.

The best service: Instapaper.

On today’s Web new reading material comes from every direction like a barrage of arrows from an invading army. Accept that these arrows are tipped awesome words rather than steel dipped in poison. Twitter, Facebook, your favorite feed reader, your best friend via instant message, and even your mom via email. These are all new sources of great things to read. But this poses a problem. You didn’t have time to read before and you certainly don’t have time to read now. But, maybe, just maybe, you’ll find some time to read later.

And that is where Instapaper comes in. Instapaper is comprised of a simple bookmarklet, a Web site, an iPhone application, and many other small pieces that are loosely joined together to give you a place to keep a stream of things you’d like to read later. Then, when you’ve found the time, you can read them. Wherever you’d like to. When you want to. On your iPhone, Kindle, computer… anywhere. Awesome.

In November I described it as drugs without the side effects. Use it. Abuse it. Become an addict.

The best mobile Twitter client: Tweetie 2.

My pick for best mobile Twitter client is consciously nearsighted, being that I’m an iPhone user and haven’t played much with other mobile platforms, but I’m fairly certain that my pick is still the best. You probably thought that I was going to say Hahlo. Last year I did. And this year Hahlo has seen some incredible updates, with 4.1 being released just this week, and I still think it is absolutely fantastic. But, Tweetie 2 steals the crown for a few simple reasons. On my original iPhone (yes, I still have an original day one iPhone) Hahlo can not perform nearly as well as Tweetie. To no fault of its own. As John Gruber recently covered, in his usual thorough manner, iPhone web applications simply can not perform as well as native applications due to drawbacks within Webkit.

Tweetie 2 for iPhone is brilliant.

The best book: Cesar’s Way by Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer.

If you follow me on Twitter than you probably know that I’m a very big fan of Cesar Milan who is probably better known as The Dog Whisperer. One of the books I read this year was Cesar’s Way. The book chronicles Cesar’s rise to the point he is now; author, TV host, Dog Whisperer. I’m not choosing this book because of Ces
ar’s literary prowess, I’m choosing it because I believe that Cesar Milan understands dog psychology better than anyone and that he does a great job relaying that information through his books and TV show.

Although I do not have any dogs at the moment we had a few dogs growing up. I come across dogs quite a bit in my life now so having the basic knowledge of how to deal with dogs, read their body language, and be calm and assertive has served me well since reading the book.

The best browser: Chrome for Mac.

I’ve been using a nightly build of Chromium for about 2 months now and I’m addicted. Even though the browser is severely crippled feature-wise due to its “beta” status (it is missing a bookmark manager, proper import/export, and has a few UI niggles on the Mac) I’m addicted to the speed. I haven’t seen any benchmarks to support my claim but on my Macbook Pro Chromium seems much faster than Safari.

It shares some drawbacks with Firefox but so far speed is the winning feature of browsers.

All that being said about Chrome on the Mac I could easily see one update from the Safari team getting me to switch back to Safari. No new features needed, just make it faster. Ok, the tabs on top is a nice touch too.

The best Twitter account: @Jon_Favreau

I know, a celebrity Twitter account being the best? Keep in mind, this is my list, not yours. The main reason that I enjoy Jon Favreau’s Twitter stream is because it is really him. There are a number of celebrities that have people “managing” their Twitter accounts or they only use their Twitter accounts strictly for promotion of their projects. Favreau strikes a good mix of personal, business, and communication tweets. We should all aspire to do the same.

The best email client: Mobile Gmail.

Mobile on the iPhone is an adequate and capable mail client. However, if you have a Webkit powered browser on your mobile device I suggest giving mobile Gmail a spin. In a pinch, it works remarkably well and is arguably the best email client on any mobile device.

So, this is the best of 2009 as told by me. I’m sure I’ve left a few things out. But subscribe to my site or follow me on Twitter because I’m sure that I’ll be mentioning some great things throughout 2010 too.

Thanks for reading, see you next year.