In praise of Chrome OS

Generally I like Rui Carmo‘s take on things (at least what concerns computers, that’s all I know about him), but I couldn’t disagree more with this recent comment of his:

And it wouldn’t be a great loss if Chrome OS faded away, really.

I don’t know what he has got against Chrome OS, but for me personally it has been one of the most enjoyable discoveries of recent years. I have been using an HP Chromebook 14 (1st gen.) for the past two years, and I have only just acquired an Asus Chromebook Flip to be my dedicated reading and note-taking device. If anything, I wish that other OS’s would start up and operate as fast as Chrome OS does, and every time I’m in a Windows environment these days, I’m wishing I could be using my Chromebook instead. And I say that as a massive fan of lots of Windows apps (just check out my Favourite Tools list), and someone who has just bought a Windows mobile workstation, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

I also own an Android tablet (a Hudl 2), but if I had to choose between the two platforms, I’d rather have Chrome OS survive as a tablet OS than Android, for the simple reason that you get a full desktop browser with all the extensions that you want. In fact, the Asus Flip is a step in that direction. If Chrome OS and Android ever merge (I hope they don’t), I hope it will be Chrome OS running some Android apps, rather than the other way round.

But putting aside the fact that Chrome OS is an absolute pleasure to use (and since I bought my first Chrome OS device two years ago I have been slowly converting members of my family, young and old, to use Chromebooks, and without exception they love them), why would you wish that in the rarified olygopolistic market of operating systems we would lose one of the players, especially the one that is challenging the established order? I remember the days when Microsoft had 90+% market share. What was so great about that? I don’t see who could benefit from the reduction of diversity in the operating system market other than the duo of Microsoft and Apple–certainly not the consumer. In fact Chrome OS being a Linux-based system, it even works as a ‘gateway-drug’ for curious people to dip their toes into Chrouton and then Linux, thus increasing diversity in the market further.

By the way, the notion that Chromebooks are only for children and grandparents is also completely misplaced. As you can see at the Chrome OS Reddit,there are some very sophisticated users of Chrome OS out there who know far more about computing than I do, such as computer programmers.

So what is so great about a Chromebook? Besides the fact that it boots in a few seconds, it is instantly on when you wake it from sleep, ready for note-taking or blazingly-fast web surfing and work in the cloud. Add to that the minimal maintenance (you don’t even need to know or notice when you are updating the OS), and the lack of viruses, what is there not to love? And if you are worried about your computer spying on you, just log on as an anonymous user. Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget about the 6-12 hours of battery life, depending on the model you own, so you can say good-bye to lugging your charger around. And if we are talking about lugging things around, Chromebooks also tend to be thinner and lighter, thanks to the lightness of the OS. Some of them don’t even have fans, so they are perfectly silent.

But I can understand the initial skepticism of people who have never tried a Chromebook. A computer whose operating system and main interface is effectively a browser indeed does not sound like a terribly exciting proposition. I was one of those doubters myself: here is the evidence. In the case of Chromebooks you really need to try one for a while to fully experience the benefits which otherwise are not that easy to convey, such as how it affects your computing, note-taking and browsing habits when your computer is instantly on, is highly portable (just check the size of the Asus Flip), and when web pages load in an instant. It is a new way of experiencing the web.

OK, Google, you should really send me a complimentary Pixel 2 LS for standing up for you like this! :)

Using ConnectedText for project and task management

Here is a copy of a post I just made on the OutlinerSoftware forum, in response to a forum member’s problem about how to deal with a large volume of tasks prompted by emails with attachments:

… since I’m a CT enthusiast, let me describe how CT could be used to deal with the above type of problem (partly also for my own amusement at the end of a long week, but also if anyone else might be interested in this).

This might not satisfy your “quick entry” requirement, as there is a bit of setting up involved, but after a while a lot of it can be automated by using keyboard shortcuts and templates (and even more so with AutoHotkey scripts).

There would be many different ways to do it, but here is the simplest scenario (using either the desktop or USB portable version), and the benefits:

1. create a new CT database (“project”) for managing your work projects.

2. when you get an email with attachments that you need to do something about,

2a) create a new “date and time topic” (a new document with temporal features) in CT and give it a descriptive title (can have up to 256 characters),

2b) select all relevant text in the email,

2c) drag and drop it into the CT topic,

2d) if the attachments are important, save them on the hard drive in a folder, and then drag and drop the files into CT from your file explorer, which would create links to the files (clicking on which would launch them in their respective applications, such as Word, PDF reader etc.).

Benefits so far:

Moving the email and the attachments over into CT will identify them as important (a todo), and they won’t disappear as more emails arrive in the Outlook inbox.

Keeping such tasks in “time and date topics” will automatically order them chronologically, and can be also sorted in reverse chronological order, and viewed as a list in the Topic List pane. They can also be navigated through a Calendar interface.

Links to topics created on the same day will be displayed at the bottom of each “date topic”, as “tasks”.

Having the contents of the email and the links to attachments in the same topic will serve as a mini dashboard for that task. More content and files can be added to it, and it can be linked (using wiki links) to other tasks in the CT database.

It can also be split into smaller, linked topics, as a task grows (which can be visualised as a mind map or outline in the graphical Navigator pane).

It is also possible to open and view multiple topics as floating (repositionable) windows, which helps when you need to refer to other tasks in other topics.

3) In order to identify this task as part of one of your larger projects, add a “Category” label to the topic, denoting the project. This will help filter tasks belonging to the same project, e.g. by ticking that category in the Category pane. Alternatively, a separate CT “project” (database) could be created for each real world project, if we are talking about huge projects. But normally it’s better to work from one database initially.

4) Add a red warning type icon to the topic in the Topic List pane to signify it requires attention. Topics can be filtered according to their icons in the Topic List.

Now, let’s say that you’d want to reorder these tasks according to their priority/urgency, which currently are listed in chronological (or reverse) order. For this, you can create an “outline” file in the Outline Pane (or multiple outline files, one per each project, i.e. category). Then,

5) Drag and drop selected tasks (i.e. “time and date topics”) from the Topic List pane into the Outline pane. This will create new outline items with links to the topics.

The benefits are that you can now quickly reorder the various tasks in a hierarchical tree, and it only takes a click to launch any of the linked topics. The Outline Pane has other useful features such as checkboxes (that cross out the done tasks), icons, hoisting etc.

When a task is done, then you can also change the topic icon from a red warning sign to a green tick. The benefit of using CT and date and time topics is that a permanent record of the task and all its contents and linked files will remain in the database and will be easy to find in the future (through search, or the dates, or other parameters).

This would already work as a basic task management system. The above assumes that you have the Topic List, Category, and Outline panes docked in the CT desktop, so it’s easy to see everything and drag and drop stuff from one to the other.

But CT also has a host of other features that make it possible to make the task management system more sophisticated.

This is a long enough post, so I don’t want to go into the details, but there are commands that one can add to templates that can be automatically inserted when a new topic is being created, and they enable you to add “attributes” or “properties” to each topic easily, e.g. to display a pulldown list to choose whether the task’s importance is “very important, important, medium, low, or none,” or a checkbox that, when ticked, adds the “Done” property.

Other options could include adding start and due dates to a topic (task).

The key benefit of using such attributes/properties is that now you can create a summary page (e.g. the Home page of the wiki database or “project”, that is easy to click on or call up with a hotkey), which will automatically populate and update a table of todos with the dates ordered according to a selected parameter (such as start or due dates or importance), another table for actions that are done but you’re waiting for others (this requires adding a “waiting” property, and the name of the person responsible), and another table with the Completed tasks, just for the record.

Here is a link to a CT forum discussion with some templates and more details on this approach:,3139.msg15299.html#msg15299

A comprehensive guide to Chromebooks

I mentioned the other day that since January 2014 I’ve been using a Chromebook as my iPad replacement. Originally I was just looking for a low-cost note-taking solution, but it turned out to be a lot more. Not only is my HP Chromebook 14 my go-to machine for note-taking, emailing and web browsing, but it is also my mobile office, thanks to the ability to access my home PC via Chrome Remote Desktop.

Considering that Chromebooks have only been around since mid-2011, it’s not all that easy to come across comprehensive and unbiased comparisons of the various models on the market. One exception is Zipso’s Chromebook specs & performance comparison chart, which also serves as an excellent introduction to the world of Chromebooks and Chrome OS. It is well worth a look, if you are Chrome-curious :)

ConnectedText as replacement for Blackwell Idealist

Lawrence Osborne’s thoughts on why he replaced Blackwell Idealist with ConnectedText:

For me, the main advantages of CT are its support for Unicode, its ability to display rich text formatting (via Markdown), its support for LaTeX commands (which makes it possible to include equations in notes), and the fact that it is supported by a very active developer and an enthusiastic community of users. Most importantly, with a bit of tweaking, it is possible to make CT import Idealist records from one of Idealist’s export formats and treat them as CT topics with the same name.

I should add that CT does not currently support Markdown (although it’s a feature that has been requested), so Lawrence probably meant CT’s own wiki markup (which nonetheless is not that terribly different from Markdown).

Notable PDF is getting there

I’m not sure if I mentioned it here before, but last year I got myself a Chromebook (a 1st gen. HP Chromebook 14), to replace my aging and increasingly decrepit (or should I say decrapit) iPad 1 as my main portable note-taking and web-surfing machine. I quickly became a Chromebook convert, especially after I discovered how easy and convenient it is to use Chrome Remote Desktop to access my Windows 7 PC, thus always having my office with me.

The only area where my Chromebook and Chrome OS were lacking and where my iPad 1 (with the GoodReader app, for instance) was still superior was PDF annotation. It was certainly possible to read a PDF on a Chromebook but there was no satisfactory solution to annotate a book-sized PDF, both online and offline, and then be able to export the annotated PDF file or the annotations themselves. Not until Notable PDF appeared on the scene that is. I have been using Notable since its beta days on and off, but until recently I kept running into problems that made me return to annotating on the PC or on my old iPad.

However, in recent weeks I checked back again and I was very pleasantly surprised that Notable have ironed out some of the obstacles that kept me from adopting it permanently. Finally I was able to download my annotated PDF file and open it in PDF XChange Editor on the PC, and I saw all my highlights and annotations in place. It is still not perfect, as the highlights in XChange Editor show up as some kind of colour overlay rather than XChange’s own native highlights, but hey, I can live with that. What is more important is that I am now able to read and manipulate my Notable annotations in XChange Editor.

Moreover, Notable has some tricks up its sleave that give it a distinct advantage over some other PDF annotating options. Notable PDF is a Chrome browser extension, which makes it cross-platform on desktops, as long as you have Chrome installed on your other machines.* It appears to save the annotations in the cloud, which means that it doesn’t matter where you keep your file, and how many copies of your file you have, it will sync the annotations to that file (and its copies) across all the browsers. You can even have two different copies of the same PDF file open in different machines in Chrome, and the annotations will sync live and automatically, in front of your eyes. This feature of course would be very useful for collaborations, as you can see instantly what others are commenting on that file.

To me, this feature means more flexibility. For example, the copy of  the PDF file I’m reading is saved on the hard drive of the Chromebook. When I’m offline, the annotations are saved offline, and then synced when I’m back online. However, I also have a copy of the same file on my Google Drive account in the cloud, and if I’m on another machine, let’s say a PC at work and I do not have my Chromebook with me with the original file, I can just open the copy from Google Drive, and Notable recognises it as a copy of the annotated file and it populates it with the annotations saved on their server. I find this rather clever and very useful.

In any case, I just wanted to say that I’m happy now to include Notable PDF among my favourite apps and recommend it to others, especially Chromebook users. While it’s not entirely perfect for my needs (I wish the yellow highlights could be converted to native highlights in PDF XChange Editor, so they can be extracted from there), it is probably the best option for PDF reading and annotating on Chromebook today. Also, I have been following them for the past year, and development has been on-going, so I am hopeful that Notable will continue to be improving.


* Having just looked at their website more closely, it turns out now they also have a web app, so in fact you can use their service on any browser, not just Chrome.

ConnectedText .CSS files

Dr Andus:

And here is the link where some of Paul’s CSS files can be downloaded from. Thanks, Paul!,3169.msg15041.html#msg15041

Originally posted on I used to be undecided, but now I'm not so sure.:

When I first used ConnectedText (CT) I was a little put off by the aesthetics of the program.  I am a visual person and how a program looks is almost as important to me as how it functions.  In particular the rendition of tables was not good, I use tables a lot and the default rendering of tables in CT was such that the text was crammed together and the borders of the cells were too close to the text.  The whole thing looked very claustrophobicand to me this is very oppressive.

I have been using the program now for several years without realising that how much those aesthetics could be changed.  I have known for some time that the page rendering was controlled by a CSS file but all the CSS files which are included in the installation package had the same shortcomings to a greater or lesser degree.

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