The Chromebook ‘All In One’ project – Google interview, Donors Choose and virus protection

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If you joined me last week for my first installment of the Chromebook ‘All In One’ project, then you’ll be up to speed. If not, go back and catch up here. I will be suggesting different browser-based MMOs in my Massively.com column MMObility. I just released my second column that lists the first 10 games, all MMORTS’. Next week I will be suggesting 10 more games, and 10 more games the week after that.

On this, my personal blog, I will be listing more of the tech and other cool options that a Chromebook provides. I would combine both tech and gaming into one Massively article, but understand that Massively is a site for gaming, not tech. So for now I’ll ask you just to visit both sites. Cool? Thanks.

This week I wanted to touch up on two main things while I wait for a series of questions to come back from Google. As soon as I get my answers back I’ll post them here. Watch this space and keep an eye on my Twitter.

The first thing I would want to try and look at is how the Chromebook fights viruses. We’ve all heard about how the ‘Books need no virus protection at all… but does anyone actually believe that? I think I do, but then again I am already in the habit of keeping unique passwords for every single thing I do. Yep. Still, it feels a bit odd to not have to scan my hardware for viruses occasionally. Here’s a blurb from the official site:

“With automatic updates, Chromebooks download security and software upgrades so you don’t have to. No more hours wasted installing patches..”

There’s also a good amount of light information on the rest of the site:

“Chromebooks use the principle of defense in depth to provide multiple layers of protection. Every time you boot up, they do a self-check to make sure your system hasn’t been tampered with. Chromebooks also automatically download updates so you get the latest security fixes to keep you safe.”

…and here’s a much deeper explanation about the processes and thinking that goes into the built-in virus protection. Chrome itself uses these ideas, but the Chromebook physically lacks many of the characteristics that would normally allow a virus to grow.

So, from what I’ve gathered, although I don’t know as much as I would like (that’s where you come in with your comments!) the Chromebooks are safe for many reasons. First, they do not allow programs to be installed or downloaded to the ‘Book. With no .exes to be downloaded, that cuts out viruses. Not so fast… there are still possible issues. Google has released a software kit that potential evildoers could use to create apps that could introduce malware onto the Chromebook, but most of what I have read indicates that this is unlikely. Google also updates the ‘Books on a 6 week schedule, so changes in the OS could help further hinder viruses.

Either way, it’s refreshing to never have to worry about scanning my device, defragging it or messing with upgrades. The recent success of the Chromebook can be explained by the success of the tablet. Convenience wins the day.

I’d also like to point to a charity service that easily illustrates how I want to push technology in order to help those without it. The internet is a free library and is perfect for education. That is, of course, as long as the kids are kept safe while online. Chromebook’s built in virus protection and ease-of-use are perfect for the classroom, and Google is teaming up with Donors Choose to sell classroom ‘Books for 99 bucks. If you go to the site you can pick out a specific classroom and donate to help purchase the books for a particular teacher.

Eventually I’d like to see less expensive internet devices spread to communities across the globe. The more connected we are, the more information we can share. The more we get to connect the less likely we are to hate each other.

Or something like that. The Chromebook might not seem like a step towards world peace, but technology has saved us in a lot of ways. Donors Choose is a great charity that allows custom delivery of funds. Please donate!

Below is the interview that I did with Google. Thanks so much to them for taking the time to answer my questions!

Beau: I am pretty clear as how a Chromebook fights viruses. But, can you clarify this a bit? Is it mainly because there is no downloading going on or installation of programs? I’m sure you’ve heard of possible vulnerabilities that still exist in the browser environment… so does Google tell customers to not worry about ever scanning a Chromebook?

The Chromebook benefits from multiple layers of security, which we call “defense in depth.” This PDF describes in brief each of the security measures working for you on the Chromebook. Chrome the browser itself does a good job of warning and quarantining malware on the web, and we can also push out auto-updates very quickly, say, in the case of an exploitable vulnerability. And if your machine was infected, there is a parallel backup copy that the machine would boot to (described in Verified Boot) to get you back to the last known good state.

How long do you plan on running the educational Chromebook Donor’s Choose? I’d like to mention that in the hopes that readers can donate to it.

We would love if your readers are inclined to donate to DonorsChoose! I believe the plan is to keep the projects open until they are fully funded. There is some upper bound on time limit imposed by Donorschoose on the order of months, I believe, but we hope all projects are funded before then. Simply point them to Donorschoose.org/Chromebooks, and they can search for schools near them to whom they can donate. Thanks for offering, that’s so great.

Voice is popular on Gchat, and have been intrigued by using a Chromebook for everything that a mobile phone does, including text messages and making phone calls. So, if I had a 3 or 4G Chromebook or hotspot, I could still make those calls? Many Chromebookers have talked as though the G-chat services do not work over a 3 or 4G network. Also, there is much confusion about how the voice services works. You have Gchat extensions and Voice extensions… any plans on combining them into one plugin?

(small note, there are no 4G Chromebooks manufactured today)
I’m not sure if you can make voice calls from Gmail or Voice over 3G, I haven’t tried it. But you can use the services over wi-fi connection for certain. If you have a Google Voice number, you can also connect that to Gmail’s phone service so that you can receive calls in Gmail, etc. (see here). I’m not sure what you mean by extensions, on a Chromebook these services should just work without plugins. Let me know if you had to install something to use them.

For those like me who have poorer vision, is zoom the only option for making web pages easier to view? Is it true that zoom can effect performance on certain sites?

There are some more advanced zoom/magnify features coming in version 25, which is in the developer channel right now. If you’re not familiar, most people use Chromebooks in the “stable channel” which is the default. If you are a developer or you just like to be on the bleeding edge (and don’t mind bugs, and can file feedback) then you can switch into the Beta or Developer channels. This help center article describes the differences, and how to switch. I don’t necessarily recommend switching, but just to say there are more features related to zoom coming soon. :-)

Beau