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Q&A: Google's Sengupta On The Chrome OS Cr-48 Laptop

Yesterday, after writing my review of the Google Chrome OS Cr-48 notebook, I had a chance to catch up with Google product management director Caesar Sengupta about the machine. Below, answers to question like dealing with external monitors to whether Google really believes this can replace current computers. Yes, it does.

If you use the VGA output, that seems to turn off the internal display correct?


Will things change in the future, where you can have a virtual or extended desktop that stretches to an external monitor?

I don’t know about virtual desktops, but definitely the screen resolution is stuff we have to fix and make better. One thing we really don’t want people to have to worry about are what the resolutions are of their screens and stuff. We want to find the best things that can be supported and default to those. That stuff will come. One thing to point out, think of Chrome OS as a web app. It will only get better with every release. Any new functionality you ask for will automatically appear one day.

I completely missed that holding Ctrl+Alt+? brings up an on-screen map to alternative functions for the keyboard, such as the ability to do screenshots. Did I miss this in the virtual tour?

We do have alternative keyboard commands. A lot of this has not been made obvious as we are still working on the user experience. For example, some Googlers have been using the external display feature, but most don’t. We want to improve that. [There’s no label on the keyboard to enable the external display. You have to know Ctrl-Full Screen will make it happen.]

I also missed that the computer does have a native screenshot tool [Ctrl-Next Window]. But when I’ve tried it, nothing seemed to happen.

What happens is a screenshot is made and goes into the screenshot area [it doesn’t load for you to review; it’s written straight to disk]. That’s another experience we’re still working on.

Finding these screenshots or other files on the computer seems difficult. There’s no File Explorer or Finder equivalent, it seems.

If you push Ctrl-O, you’ll get a little window that allows you navigate through some files. You can also get to files any time you use a web app that opens up a dialog box.

That seems pretty rudimentary. There’s no way from it to navigate through the full file structure of the computer.

We really don’t want users to ever think about the file structure of the machine. Think of this as a download shelf where you put things temporarily until sending up to the cloud.

I get that the cloud is supposed to be the future, but there are still things it seems like I’m going to want locally, especially if I’m offline for some reason, such as music.

We will allow you to browse stuff on external hard drives and upload those, but the way we’re approaching files on your local machine is really through web apps, encouraging them to do HTML 5 and cache files locally.

The New York Times app, it automatically caches a bunch of articles offline, so when you’re not connected, you have access to all the articles. Scratchpad, it stores and caches all the files locally, then will sync with Google.

OK, but I’m still in cases where I might want a local music file on my computer, so I can store it as a local file on my phone.

I have 80GB of music and went through this myself. But sometime back, I discovered Rhapsody and MOG. MOG is a $5 subscription per month, and it’s so convenient. I have it on my phone, on my computer. There’s a nice version of the app in the Chrome Web Store. If you try out Rhapsody, it lets you cache music offline or on an iPhone.

Speaking of apps, I had an issue where LastPass didn’t install when I went to that site, but when I got the app from the Chrome Web Store, it worked. What happened?

That’s a difference between Chrome and Chrome OS. LastPass and some other extensions use binary pieces of code that use the NP-API. On Chrome OS, because we’re trying to give better security, you have to use the more secure Pepper API.

Does this mean it’s best to get things just from the store? That anything in the store will work with Chrome OS?

In theory, yes. We’re encouraging our store partners to use HTML 5, so that apps will work on Chrome, Chrome OS or any modern browser.

How have the reviews been going from your perspective?

It’s been very interesting. I was quite pleasantly surprised by a lot of the reviews. Our engineers were all geared up to push out an update and haven’t needed to. We’ve been pretty happy with the response so far.

People have approached it from two main perspectives. There’s the point of view that most have, “I love Chrome. I love the web. This works perfectly for me.” Others have approached it like, “On Windows, I have a desktop background — why doesn’t this have it?”

In the pilot program, we’re trying to find users who live on the web and are huge fans of Chrome. Over time, we’ll have enough user experience to improve more.

Do you really see these types of machines taking over from the Windows computers and Macs that many people use now?

I think it depends on the user and the user’s behavior. In the long term and the fullness of time, absolutely. I think we will have failed if this doesn’t become your default way of computing. But right now, we see hundreds of millions of users who live on the web. For many of these users, this will replace their machines immediately, especially as web apps get better.

But I can do the web now on a Mac or PC — plus I can run applications on them, too. What’s this offering me that those don’t?

This trend of people moving to the cloud is very strong. There are only a few major applications that hold people off from moving, such as Outlook or Photoshop or iTunes. The cloud versions are becoming better very quickly.

As that trend proceeds, Chrome OS will be a fantastic experience for them, giving them all they want from the cloud but without the legacy issues of a traditional operating system. Backups, what happens if your computer dies? Viruses or malware. Those are the parts we’re tryingto solve, a machine they can use and don’t have to worry about.

–> For more about the Chrome notebook that went out this week to the press and people accepted into the pilot program, see my previous post, First Day Review: The Google Chrome OS Cr-48 Notebook.

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