Saturday, July 16, 2011

ChromeOS and Photography

So far I've been pretty disappointed with the Samsung Chromebook that Google gave me for attending I/O this year. That sounds pretty ungrateful for a free computer, but I am intrigued by the idea of ChromeOS. I'd like to see it work, just as a technical achievement. I think that perhaps the Chromebook that I have falls short because of its lack of hardware, but perhaps its shortcomings are inherent with the OS.
Anyways, obviously the main idea with ChromeOS is that people spend all of their time on the web. However, one of the other common tasks that people do is use their computers to share digital photographs that they took with the camera. This might seem like a hard thing for ChromeOS to handle, but Google claimed that they had this figured out. So I decided to give it a spin.Here are the tools that I used.
Chromebook and Camera
I had taken a few dozen pictures at a Giants baseball game I went to last weekend with family. I took the SD card from my camera (a modest Nikon D3000) and plopped it into the SD card slot on the Chromebook. ChromeOS immediately opened a new tab with a file browser that allowed me to navigate and view my pictures on the SD card. Very nice!
Viewing SD card contents
You could preview and even delete photos. The preview was a little slow to load. You could select photos and start an upload to ... Picasa Google Photos of course. The upload takes place in the background with a little notification window letting you know about the progress. Again, very nice. Once the pics are uploaded, browsing/previewing is much smoother. I assume this is because you are browsing downsized versions of the pics, whereas the file manager on ChromeOS has you browsing through the full versions.
Pictures uploaded to Picasa
One of the things that I often do with my photos is edit them. One my MacBook Air, I use Adobe Lightroom. I didn't expect to have something as sophisticated as Lightroom, but I did expect to be able to do simple things like rotate and crop. I would also expect red-eye removal to be available, since this is a pretty common need. Anyways, the editing tool on the Picasa website is Picnik. I've used it before, and it is great. However, it had significant problems loading on ChromeOS:
Loading Picnik
Still loading...
Restart your browser? Umm...
I thought that maybe this memory error was because of the size of the photo (2.5 MB). That would imply that Picnik is purely client-side? I don't think so. I would assume that the full size photo was on the server, and in which case the memory problem is purely from the Picnik tools loading and has nothing to do with the size of the picture. Either way, I don't think this photo is too much above average. Megapixels are cheap these days.

So I couldn't edit the pics once uploaded to Picasa. I actually tried just using Picnik directly, not through Picasa, but it had the same problem. The nice thing is that any web app that allows you to upload pictures from your computer works great with ChromeOS. Here's Facebook for example:
Upload to Facebook
You could essentially upload from your SD card to Facebook this way. I would think that if a tool like Picnik worked, you could edit and then upload. You could probably sell a Chrome app that did that (it should allowing tagging of your Facebook friends too) and make a few bucks, assuming Chromebooks started selling.
I suppose a pretty common use case will be to simply upload all of the pics off of your SD card to Facebook. It seems like ChromeOS handles that pretty good. Put in you SD card, open up Facebook, and start uploading. If you use Picasa and Google+, it is even a little simpler. Editing seems to be a problem right now. Much like the general power performance of the Chromebook, it might be purely a function of subpar hardware. Maybe if Samsung put more memory in it, then Picnik wouldn't have choked? Hopefully the shortcomings can be addressed through software, since I don't think Google can update the RAM on my Chromebook.

Note: The "screenshots" were taken with my Nexus S. Why? Because the screenshot tool for ChromeOS didn't work for me. It works great on Chrome browser, but it would only capture part of the screen on ChromeOS and then freeze up. Sigh.

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