Category Archives: google chrome

Cross Platform User Experience Inconsistencies: Apple’s Safari

For the past several years, working intimately with multi-platform content providers, like TMZ1 and The Daily2—and as a self-admitted gadget-holic owning a multitude of different devices—I’ve been extremely conscious of inconsistencies between all the cross-platform variants of the content and applications that I interface with daily.

As someone who is product-minded, several of these inconsistencies drive me absolutely mad. In the hopes of someone from one of these companies fixing these inconsistencies, I decided I should start writing these down as blog posts. I’ll be writing a series of these discussing Apple, Google, Twitter, and FlipBoard to name a few. To be clear: I’m a big fan and heavy user of all the products I plan on highlighting in these posts.

Apple’s Safari

I have an iPad and I use Safari on my MacBook Air. Apple very smartly stole took a cue from Google Chrome and made the address bar also be the search field for Safari on OS X; they call it the Unified Smart Search Field:

Safari’s Unified Smart Search Field: Search Google or enter an address

It’s great. I love it and use it daily.

Unfortunately, I also use Safari on my iPad daily. And on iOS, for some reason (even though iOS has been updated more recently than OS X), there is no Unified Smart Search Field:

On iOS, Address Bar & Search are two different and separate things.

Due to the conditioning that I have received from Safari Desktop, I inevitably end up clicking in the Address Bar when on my iPad and trying to type in a search query there. This, of course, doesn’t work and I find myself triply frustrated: frustrated by this inconsistency between these two different versions of Safari, frustrated by having to re-enter whatever I was attempting to type in the Address Bar (I normally don’t catch the mistake until I try to add a space in my search and find no space bar on the ever-changing, depending upon the task iOS keyboard), and frustrated by the fact that no matter how savvy a end user I may be, I still make this mistake. Frustrated. Every. Single. Day.

Fortunately, there’s a Google Chrome Browser app for iOS that I can use now to avoid this. But I don’t. Using Safari on my Desktop and Chrome on my iOS would mean that I’m not using either iCloud or Google Sync effectively. Does Apple want me to dump Safari completely and go all Google Chrome? This inconsistency sure makes it feel that way.

If I did that, I would have better Google Sync across all my iOS devices and my Android phone. Although if I really wanted seamless Google Sync, maybe I should consider ditching all my Apple devices and going Google Android…

Mistake: Features ahead of Frustration

This should be obvious: Frustration isn’t a good thing for end users. It makes them think about ways to leave you and your products behind so that they simply no longer feel frustration. Continued frustration will often eat away at and outweigh any sort of brand loyalty or affinity they have for your product(s).

Sadly, a consistent, non-frustrating but more limited user experience is better than a really nice and highly functional product with amazing new features that has frustrations that the user encounters every single day. While you’re ignoring the parts of your product that frustrate users, your competition, if they’re smart, will be adding features and polish to their less frustrating experience.

Apple shouldn’t have introduced the Unified Smart Search Field until they had it ready for all their platforms. Or they should have quickly added it to iOS. As it stands, they’re letting their size—the fact that they have multiple different teams working on different versions of their product—create inconsistencies between a product that based on engineering teams is most likely seen as very different, but which in our cross-platform multiple-device world is seen by the end user as something that should be as functionally identical as possible.


1website, mobile web, iOS apps, & Television (everyone always seems to forget that TV is a digital platform)

2iPad, iPhone, Android tablet, Android phone, Kindle Fire, Facebook app, and individual web-pages for iPad content that had been flagged as shareable.

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Dear Apple: iCloud starts to cut the cord, but you’re still not Post-PC

Back on March 4, 2011, I posted Dear Apple: You’re not Post-PC until you cut the cord in response to Steve Jobs taking the stage and claiming that their iDevices were Post-PC while ignoring that those devices all need a computer to sync with to be used.

This past week, Steve Jobs took the stage again and announced iCloud, which many people are taking as the bold cord-cutting move that I called for. However, it’s not quite there yet for a variety of reasons (including that it hasn’t even launched yet and we have no idea how well it will function). The main problem with the entire iCloud proposal though is that, currently, Google and Android’s model is better positioned and will continue to grow and eventually dominate the market, simply because of the cost and the convenience over iCloud.

There is no streaming with iCloud

One of the biggest problems with the announcement of iCloud and Steve Jobs saying “It just works” is that he kept touting that you didn’t have to waste all that time uploading all your music files like with other services like Google Music and Amazon MP3. However, what he left out was that you do have to download all your music files to each new device you want that music on and while it may “just work” it will still take time. This is twice as annoying as having to upload the music in the first place. Sure, uploading my entire music library to Google Music took close to two days of constant connectivity and computer uptime, but once the files were uploaded I knew all the files were available from all my devices and that I could select any one of them and could hit play and instantly hear the music.

With both Google Music and Amazon’s Cloud Player, I simply click play and start listening to the music immediately. I don’t even have to download the actual files which would take up precious space on my MacBook Air’s internal hard drive, not to mention my phone’s 16GB of space. Even better, if I bought the music from Amazon MP3, I don’t even have to ever upload it. It’s just there on my Cloud Drive waiting to be played.

iCloud relies on downloading files and storing them locally on multiple devices, taking up more hard drive space, and not leveraging the true power of connectivity and the cloud. It’s a PC-centric mindset of storing files on local harddrives. It’s not a Post-PC model.

With the new iCloud-ish capabilities present in the current iteration of iOS 4 since last week’s announcement, there’s a new Purchased section in iTunes where you can select tracks / albums / artists to download. There is also a new Purchased section in the App Store. The problem is that there is no “Download all” or “Sync all” option. The workflow to pull down your data is a cumbersome process at this point.

This may very well change when iCloud launches fully (or even after launch), but in the current Developer version of iOS 5, this workflow is the same.

This is glaringly different than the experience on my Android phone, where if I reset the device, I can simply log in with my Google account, launch the Android Market and all the apps that I’ve previously purchased are there ready for me to click “Download all.” While those apps are downloading, I can launch Google Music and start streaming my entire music collection immediately from the cloud. As soon as Amazon MP3 downloads, I can go over to it and stream music directly from it. I can also download the Amazon Appstore and again have all my apps there available for download and installation. It’s fast. It’s more or less seamless. And it’s not taking up extra space on my harddrive.

5GBs of free backup storage on iCloud is a joke

Apple tries to mitigate how small 5GBs is by noting (emphasis mine):

And that’s plenty of room, because of the way iCloud stores your content. Your purchased music, apps, and books, as well as your Photo Stream, don’t count against your free storage. That leaves your mail, documents, Camera Roll, account information, settings, and other app data. And since those things don’t use as much space, you’ll find that 5GB goes a long way.

This may work nicely for very casual users, but simply one of my 2 Gmail accounts is well over 5GBs of data at this point. Moreover, Google stores up to 7GBs of my email on my Gmail account with no cost except the ads they flash before my eyes. Google stores 1GB of my documents for free.

Apple says they handle music files for free with iCloud, but they really only handle iTunes-purchased music files for free. Google Music will store up to 20,000 songs for free regardless of where I purchased them (as long as they are DRM free).

With the iPad and iPhone both starting at 16GBs of storage, backing either device up to the cloud and truly cutting the cord is not an entirely free option. It’s an option that will cost you extra storage with Apple. That’s not the same model as can be found on every Android device where all your data is backed up to Google’s cloud for free. If Google didn’t exist, 5GB free iCloud storage would be a great model. As it stands in the current marketplace, it’s somewhat of a joke.

Ten years of fail: No one has forgotten iTools become .Mac become MobileMe

Some people will still spend money for the storage that Apple is offering for iCloud, but less than would potentially, simply because we’ve been burned by 10 years of incompetent web services from Apple.

10 years ago, I eagerly jumped on Apple’s free iTools offering thinking it was great. After a year of using an @mac.com email address, iTools became .Mac and I suddenly found myself locked into paying Apple a yearly fee to keep that email address. .Mac was so horrible I quit it finally, cutting my losses with the email address (and yet all my purchases are still tied to my @mac.com email address which no longer functions, because Apple won’t allow me to change it). MobileMe rose to replace .Mac and it still sucked.

Steve Jobs and Apple have never delivered any reliable, viable, and useful web product at a competitive price. iCloud may have a silver-lining, but based on the iTools, .Mac, MobileMe history combined with a look at the rising Android market, it looks to me like storms are on the horizon for Apple unless they rethink their approach to the cloud.

Samsung Series 5 Google Chromebook Review (with a look at the state of computing preface)


Official Sample The Web Review Rating: Neat.

On Wednesday morning of this week, I got my hands on the Samsung Series 5 Google Chromebook pictured above. For all of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, I used the Chromebook exclusively for everything that I do day to day at work. This review will go thoroughly through all of my impressions in that time, but first a bit of history…

The cloud computing revolution that is making things like the Chromebook possible

I’ve been interested in something like the Chromebook since 2008, when I wrote a post over on O’Reilly, called Mac vs PC: Does it matter anymore? The post was largely in reaction to using a first generation Asus Eee PC notebook alongside my other computer for well over a year. It was also written just before I received an HP Tablet computer, which I purchased myself, which I still have to this day, but which was disappointingly heavy, both physically and in terms of software overhead (as it ran my least favorite operating system, Windows Vista). The point of that post and the move to a tablet HP device after so many years of being nearly exclusively a Mac guy was a simple one: 99% of my work is online related and can be done from any machine and the cost to entry for the device was much lower than a brand new Mac.

A year later, I followed that post with another post on this blog, called Cloud computing in the clouds, where I discussed using my Eee PC again on a flight with WiFi, running Jolicloud OS (this was when Chrome as an OS was in it’s pre-embryonic stage of Alpha Beta-ness), and how I was able to get the vast majority of my work done on that device. It also ended up being a great test of the portability of all my data, as Craig Wood, Crowd Fusion’s COO had his MacBook Pro die on him on the trip, and I was able to reset my MacBook, hand it over to him so he could work on it, and continue working more or less normally on the very small screen of my Asus Eee PC. Although I wasn’t running Chrome as an OS at the time, I was using it as my primary browser and the cloud syncing of all my bookmarks and data really paid off on that trip in a tangible way.

Several years later now, the combination of the emergence of the iPad and other tablets and mobile devices, honestly, have all but destroyed the need for any type of netbook device that does 99% of the things you need to do online. On my iPad, I can probably manage 95% of the things I need to do when I’m not at my desk with my fully functional computer. And if I left my desk computer on, I can actually do 100% (albeit in a non-ideal, and somewhat slowed down way) by using a VNC app to access my computer from wherever I have my iPad (like LogMeIn Ignition which is one of my top 10 recommended iPad apps). And oddly enough, using my Samsung Infuse 4G Android-powered phone, I can do even more than I can with my iPad, because it actually can run Flash and it actually supports multitasking (I ditched my iPhone for it after using a Motorola Xoom and a Samsung Galaxy Tab for a while and realizing that there is something really cool about Android). As someone who lives in Google Apps for a good percentage of my work, Android does email, calendars, and documents right. The alternatives on iOS come close, but they’re not quite there.

Also, Apple started offering the MacBook Air. My main computer these days is an 11-inch MacBook Air. It’s hands down my favorite laptop of all time. It can handle literally everything that I need to do on a computer, and it’s usually much faster than other more powerful computers just because of the SSD drive inside it. Also it’s light as can be and fits in my extremely small commuter bag. It doesn’t make any of the compromises that a true netbook seems to make. The MacBook Air + the iPad + Android Phones have definitively killed the netbook, as far as I’m concerned.

But what about the Chromebook?

After 3 days of using the Chromebook exclusively as my only computer, I can say without a doubt that the Chromebook is not a netbook (if you are defining a netbook as a laptop machine that is smaller than a normal laptop and is primarily used for browsing the web). Also, I’ve never used a netbook that handled running the web as nicely as the Chromebook does. Just like I love the Kindle as a single-use reading machine, I found that I loved the Chromebook as a focused, single-use web machine.

I don’t want to go overboard with this next statement, but I do want to make it: I believe, the Chromebook is a new category of computing technology that, much like the iPad, is going to end up filling a need that no one thought they had.

To be clear, here: the strength of this device is not it’s laptop-ness, it’s not the hardware, it’s not even the software. It’s the idea. The focus on just the web (at a time when the web is really coming into itself). The transience of the device. The low cost to entry disposability and replaceability of it. The share-ability of it.

After using the Chromebook for 3 days, I flipped the developer switch on then off, and reset the device to wipe all my data from it and left it in a box at the offices where I work most days in the city. On Monday, Sam Braff who works for Crowd Fusion out in LA is going to be in town, and I’m going to hand him the Chromebook and he’ll login with his Google account, suddenly have everything synced and it will be his machine. He can take it back to LA with him and the next time I visit him, I can login to my account on the machine and everything will be synced again with the notable exception of any local files I’d downloaded to the local file store.

Working solely in a device that is a browser and where you know you and others can log in, log out, throw out the window and still have all your data in the cloud, is something that takes some adjusting to your normal computer-using mindset. There’s something liberating about it. Something neat.

The Samsung Series 5

All the other reviews are calling the Samsung Series 5 a nicely polished version of the CR-48 that everyone has been playing with for a while. I never used one of those so I cannot speak to that. This 12.1″ screened laptop feels a bit heavier than my 11-inch MacBook Air, but it’s still small enough to fit in my extremely small messenger bag.

Some notes:

  • The screen is matte rather than the annoying glossy that all the screens are these days and has a nice variety of viewing angles with no real bad spots that I could tell.
  • The keyboard feels like a not-quite-as-nice version of the standard MacBook keyboards except with some very odd key placement choices that I will go into in depth in a bit.
  • The trackpad doesn’t suck, but it definitely took some getting used to and tweaking of the settings before I got it to a place where I like it. I am annoyed that some of the gesture settings of the trackpad are not adjustable in the settings (like triple-fingered click closes a tab and I found myself accidentally doing this quite a bit).
  • The speakers suck and are extremely tinny, but if you have a nice set of headphones the audio sounds excellent so that’s not a deal breaker. I carry a Jawbone Jambox around in my bag, so I just plugged that in (no bluetooth on the Chromebook), and was streaming some good beats from Google Music in no time.
  • There is one USB port on the right side that is open at all times and available for use. There is another on the left side that is hidden under a little rubbery thing you have to flip out. Odd.
  • SD Card slot.
  • The power cord and supply is really cheap and the brick that comes with it gets extremely hot.
  • Battery life is good. I managed close to 5 hours unplugged while I was actively checking email, browsing webpages, writing and editing documents, chatting in Campfire and AIM (via IM+), viewing an occasional video, and while streaming music for a large part of the time from Google Music Beta.

The Keyboard


There are several very odd choices (called out above) with the keyboard). For example:

  • WTF with the huge and wide CTRL and ALT keys?! I know there is no Apple / Windows keys needed on this device, but the position of these two wide keys is entirely unnatural and ungainly for anyone who has ever typed on a QWERTY before (ie everyone).
  • Each Window in Chrome is the equivalent of another desktop space on other computers. The button in the middle top is used to toggle between windows / spaces. The problem with it is that there is no way to directionally go to the next or previous window or space you were on. You have to actually go through the full list before it resets and begins again from the beginning. The back and next keys are for actually navigating back and next as you would in any browser (and the refresh / reload key functions as you would expect it as well). However, in usage, I really would rather these keys be usable for going to the previous or next space. Alternately, some combination of CTRL and the arrow keys would suffice.
  • ALT + TAB = Go to the next space.
  • ALT + CTRL = Go to the next tab.
  • The fullscreen control is cool, except if you have multiple windows open, once you leave a fullscreen experience for another window where there are multiple tabs not in fullscreen, all windows then toggle out of fullscreen, so it’s impossible to keep any window set as fullscreen. Even if you have all your tabs open in one window and make that window fullscreen and use ALT + CTRL for navigation, inevitably a notification will pop up eventually that will knock you out of fullscreen.
  • Holding down the Power key doesn’t actually power off the device. It just locks the screen. It also doesn’t by default lock the laptop when you close the lid unless you set that up in the settings, which seems to be a bit of a security snafu for a device that is supposed to be disposable. You have to hold down the power button for longer when you are on the lock screen view to actually shut down the machine. This non-instant off seems odd when compared to the instant on of the device.

Odd bits that make the Chromebook not quite ready for prime time


I really think that eventually the Chromebook model is going to be one that we all go “Yeah that makes sense.” One computer / device in every home that is just the local terminal that any member of the family or visitor can log into and have his/her normal computing experience (as far as all things web related go) is a powerful model that I think will eventually catch on. That being said, I do think that the current Chromebook lacks the polish of the iPad to really click with people right now. It’s much more like the original iPhone pre the addition of Apps.

There were multiple odd things that occurred during my usage that highlighted this for me:

  • The 100MB free wireless from Verizon per month is a complete joke. I went through half of it in one two hour session on the first day.
  • When you eventually blow through your 100MBs of free monthly wireless (I did on the second day), you are prompted to purchase a plan. When I clicked on that link, it effectively froze my entire Chromebook experience. It was trying to load the plans from Verizon, but in the meantime, I was not allowed to switch over to WiFi while that was happening and was forced rudely offline. I had to cancel the process after several minutes of nothing happening before I could even select a WiFi network. I’m not sure how to get back to that process either.
  • I tried to hook up my Samsung Infuse 4G to the Chromebook to grab some pictures off of it. You would think this would work seamlessly, since both the Chromebook and my phone are manufactured by Samsung, and both Android and Chrome are coded by Google. Unfortunately, that was not the case. A brief pop-up appeared on the screen when I first connected the USB cable that was connected to the phone, but when I had to select USB storage on the phone itself before it would really be available to the Chromebook, and by the time I had done that, the notification had disappeared and there appeared to be no functional way to actually mount the phone.
  • There’s a GSM slot on the Chromebook, but it doesn’t appear to work at all without going into developer mode and doing some hacking.
  • The developer mode switch and functionality isn’t documented at all in any of the documentation that comes with the Chromebook. On the first day, I managed to accidentally wipe all the settings I’d been tweaking all day by fidgeting with it. Fortunately, I was back up and running within 5 minutes thanks to the way the Chromebook syncs everything to the cloud, but…
  • The Chromebook doesn’t actually sync everything to the cloud. All the locally stored files that I’d downloaded locally before a reset disappeared completely after flipping that developer switch fiasco.
  • Google Music Beta kept crashing in Chrome.
  • Gmail kept crashing in Chrome.
  • Google Docs kept crashing in Chrome.
  • There was lots of crashing due to memory errors, but with an operating system that reboots in 5 seconds, no big deal.
  • It never feels slow. It just starts crashing windows when it runs out of memory due to too many things running at once.

Should you get a Chromebook?

If you’re an early adopter and the idea of a backup machine that you can share amongst your friends / coworkers / family members appeals to you, then yes.

If you’re a business owner who runs any sort of team where all they do is online stuff and where you’re already using Google Apps for all your email etc, then definitely save yourself some money and go Chromebook now.

If you’re just a regular user, then I’d wait a bit and see if the Chromebooks obtain some chrome-like polish over time or if some competitor in the same space arises to destroy them and dominate. Although I’m not bullish on Apple’s ability to deliver anything web-based that is successful, (iTools become .Mac become MobileMe was a 10 year failure and I won’t believe iCloud will really be a change in a positive direction until it actually is) they are the most likely company to currently compete with Google in this space. If Facebook were to get into hardware they might give Google a run for their money too.

Cloud computing in the clouds

chromeheader
I flew out to LA this week with the Crowd Fusion team, and besides having a head-cold the entire time, it was a very productive and fun trip. Both my flights going to LA and leaving LA were more productive than normal for two reasons:

  1. I paid about $13 per flight for GoGo Inflight WiFi access.
  2. Instead of using my rather large MacBook on the flight, I used my Asus Eee PC 701, which fit nicely on the tray table in front of me and made for comfortable typing in the cramped confines of an airplane. The Eee was running Jolicloud, a flavor of Ubuntu that relies heavily on a dashboard connected to a cloud of data (it’s like Google Chromium OS*, except you get to use a hybrid of local and cloud storage, more applications than just those in the cloud, AND it doesn’t suck). I also traveled with a brand new extended life battery that gave my Eee about 6 and a half hours of juice.

I was cloud-computing in the clouds and it was totally doable, useful, fun, and I got a lot done.

Also, it ended up being a great thing that I brought my Eee along on the trip: Craig Wood, Crowd Fusion’s CTO, had his old beat-up last generation MacBook Pro give up the ghost on the trip. It was still functional, actually, but the screen’s backlight would no longer turn on, making it more or less useless.

Since I had the Eee on me and all my data was either backed up at the iMac on my home desk and/or in the cloud (via my various Google-affiliated accounts and my Amazon S3 storage), I was able to copy a few newer files over to a USB flash drive I had on me, wipe my company-purchased MacBook clean of my account, and set up Craig with a fresh new account on the MacBook and hand it over to him.

This was a totally usable solution that wouldn’t have been possible even a year or so ago. Jolicloud has made my first generation Eee PC a functional laptop substitute rather than just a slowish device to tinker with and to only use for web-browsing. And the insanely small size of the device, the longer life battery that my wife bought me, and the availability of WiFi in flight made it perfect for computing while flying in cramped quarters.

That being said, I can still see the need for a fully powerful laptop, so since I’ve been home I’ve been setting up my HP tx2500z tablet computer running Windows Vista that is about a year and a half old as my primary laptop. I’m typing this post on it now in Google Chromium with a set of really useful extensions installed and my bookmarks all synced with my desktop iMac running Snow Leopard and Chromium for Mac and my Eee PC running Jolicloud and Chrome for Linux. All three computers have the same set of extensions installed, the same bookmarks that remain synced to one another, and I find myself, thanks to the power of the cloud, happily balanced between three different operating systems with very little difference between them in terms of my workflow. Back in 2008, I wrote an article on my O’Reilly blog asking Mac vs. PC: Does it matter anymore?. The answer remains “it depends upon what you’re doing,” but for those of us who work with words, code, web pages, spreadsheets, documents, and little else, the answer is really and truly becoming “No. It’s just a matter of preference.”

This is all very cool as far as I’m concerned and I’m glad it’s happening. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

*A note on Google Chrome: After having installed and run Google Chromium OS on my Eee for several days before replacing it with Jolicloud, I think it’s a novel idea that will prove powerful should Google actually give away free or extremely cheap ad-supported devices that are custom built to run the OS, but which ultimately will pale in comparison to any other, more powerful device running an actual operating system and Google Chrome browser. The best cloud approach, I think, is a hybrid approach that will work when there is no internet connection available (which is less and less frequent an occurrence these days, but for that very reason is much more heavily felt when it does occur).

How to install Google Chrome OS on an Asus Eee PC 701

Installation

Step 1: Get this build of Chromium OS and follow the instructions to get it on a USB flash drive that is at least 4GBs big. Also, if you’re on Twitter make sure you follow @Hexxeh who made this helpful build for us all.

Step 2: Plug the USB flash drive into your Asus Eee PC and make sure that if you had an SD card in the SD card slot that it is removed. Boot up your Eee PC while holding down the Esc key. Choose your flash drive as the boot drive.

Step 3: You should get a Chrome OS login screen. Login with username and password “facepunch.”

Step 4: Make sure everything works and that you can connect to WiFi or via Ethernet.

Step 5: Hit Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard to open a terminal window.

Step 6: Run the following command: /usr/sbin/chromeos-install You will be prompted for your password twice. Each time it is facepunch. Once the install completes (takes about 20 minutes) a message will show up in the terminal saying:

Installation to ‘/dev/sda’ complete.
Please shutdown, remove the USB device, cross your fingers, and reboot.

Step 7: Shutdown (hit the power button), remove the USB device, cross your fingers, and reboot.

Step 8: With any luck it will boot up and you’ll be prompted for your login and password. Both are still ‘facepunch’.

This just worked for me. Now to figure out how to change the default password and get it to recognize my Google Apps account rather than a regular Google account…

UPDATE:

Post-installation security

After you’ve successfully installed Chrome OS to your Asus Eee PC (or any other flash-drive powered computer for that matter using the above steps), you’ll probably want to change the default local password from the shared-by-everyone who used Hexxeh’s image default of facepunch.

To do so, hit Ctrl + Alt + T to open up a terminal, then execute the following commands:
sudo mount -o remount /
You will be prompted for a password; enter facepunch.

Then enter the following:
sudo passwd root
You will be prompted Enter new UNIX password: followed by Retype new UNIX password: and assuming that the two passwords matched correctly, you’ll receive a success message of passwd: password updated successfully.

At this point your installation should be quite a bit more secure so that if you lose your Asus Eee PC, no one will be able to easily crack the install to get at your other passwords.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Only a few issues so far that I’ve noted in the Google Chromium OS Google Group.