What is Google Titan?

Screenshot 2019-04-02 at 12.11.40Google Titan is a set of physical security keys that can be used to keep your Google account secure.  Do you save your passwords, payment details or other personal information in your Google account?  Think about what you are keeping in Google Drive, does that make you a bit nervous?  If so, you are likely a candidate to use a lesser known type of authentication that uses physical keys in addition to your standard password.

Using Google Titan

After purchasing and registering the keys available from Yubico or Google, they can be used along with other 2-factor authentication schemes to log into your Google account.  So, like sending an SMS message with a code to your phone, or using Google Authenticator to provide a code, you can use the physical keys as a third alternative to providing access to your Google account from a new device or browser.

Using Google Titan with Advanced Protection

A more advanced and preferred way to use security keys is with a companion service Google calls Advanced Protection. Enabling Advanced Protection requires physical security keys and does two things.

  1. It logs you out of access to all devices and Chrome browsers.
  2. It revokes all other forms of 2-factor authentication. 

In other words, the physical keys are the only way to log into your Google account using a new device or Chrome browser with Advanced Protection enabled.

How does it all work

This can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated.  But to sum up, using Titan keys without Advanced Protection is not any different from other 2-factor authentication and can be enabled along with other 2-factor schemas.  The real security from Titan keys is using them with Advanced Protection.

So like me, you likely have some questions.  Let me try to answer those that I had as simply as possible.

Can I use the Titan keys with my Chromebook and Android phone?
Yes, the Titan keys, with or without Advanced Protection, will work with any Chrome OS device, the Chrome browser used with devices running other operating systems and your Android smartphone.

With Advanced Protection turned on, will I need the physical keys for every login?
No, the keys are only required for the initial login to Google on a device or browser, and in the event of a system reset, e.g. power washing your Chromebook.  When you enable Advanced Protection you will be advised that every device and browser will be automatically logged out of your Google account so each will need to be logged back in using the physical key.

Is there any charge for the Advanced Protection service?
No, you will have to purchase security keys to use the system, but there is no initial or recurring charge for AP.

Can I disable Advanced Protection and unregister the keys if I decide not to use these security mechanisms?
Yes, so long as you are still logged into a device or browser you can go to https://account.google.com and disable Advanced Protection, and you can unregister keys in Chrome settings.

Can I still access my Google account from my smart TV to access Google services like Youtube or Youtube TV?
Yes, however, you will need to log into your Google account from those devices again, using your smartphone.  You will need to login to your smartphone first using the physical key as your smartphone will be used to login to your Google account from your TV.

Will my Google assistant devices like Google Home and mini still work?
Yes, they will, however, you may need to scan for and re-enable some smart home devices from the Google Home app on your smartphone in order to get everything working again.

You can learn more and obtain Google Titan keys at Titan Security Key Bundle from the Google Store.

Please let me know if you have other questions that I might be able to answer by leaving a comment below, and thanks for reading.  J

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2 Ways to “About Chrome OS”

Just a quick post to share a quick shortcut to see the Chrome OS version you are currently using, check for updates and access some extra help when needed.

Screenshot 2019-03-19 at 21.05.00

“About Chrome OS” the long way . . .

The standard way to determine what Chrome OS version you are on, and to check for updates is to do the following.

  1. Click the System Tray, look for the clock in the lower right corner.
  2. Click the Settings button, look for the cog wheel at the top
  3. Click the Settings menu in the upper left corner of the settings window
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the menu and select “About Chrome OS”

Well, that is a lot of steps, so here is a much shorter route to the same screen.

A short cut to “About Chrome OS” . . .

  1. Click on the three dot menu button at the right side of the address bar in the Chrome browser
  2. Point to Help, then click on “About Chrome OS”

I know it looks like just a couple less clicks, but try it and I guarantee you’ll say, wow, that’s much simpler.

And while you’re at this screen, note that the entire Chrome OS Help system can be accessed from this page.  If you’re new to Chrome OS, be sure to check out this great way to come up to speed fast.

Hope this helps, and thanks for reading, J

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Gmail hits the big time with the new right-click menu

If you use Gmail as well as another email client, perhaps at work, you undoubtedly like me have long wished that a right click on a message would bring you the host of actions that are available from other email clients.

Gmail’s New Context Menu

Well, finally Gmail has hit the big time and caught up with those other clients and in some ways surpassed them.  And the star of the show is the new context menu available by right-clicking any message.

This new menu is super good news as the fourteen options available for any message are available with a single click.

Snooze Email Until You’re Ready

imageI especially like one of those actions in particular coming from Google’s Inbox experiment where it was one of my favorite features.

You can can easily delay action on an email message and get it out of your way by Snoozing it.  Just right-click the desired message, click Snooze and then select one of the preconfigured options, or pick your own date and time.

When that time comes around, your message will magically reappear in your inbox ready for your scheduled action.

Right-Click for Multiple Messages

And don’t miss this final trick.  If you want to perform an action on multiple messages all at once, use the select box to select the messages, including all of them in the current view, and then right-click any of the selected messages to display the context menu or just click the appropriate action button to the right of the select box.  Most of the options for a single message are available here.


So there you have it, more goodness from the decades old Gmail which seems to be adding new tricks everyday.

Have fun, and thanks for reading.  J

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Google Services, the 4th “S” in Chrome OS

Google Services

In a previous post, Why Google, Why Now? I wrote about my intro to the Chrome OS world and why I moved from years with Apple and Windows.

And I used the three S’s that are staples of Google’s marketing for Chrome OS, Speed, Safety and Simplicity to explain why I switched. But I ended that post positing that there was actually a fourth “S” to the equation.

The fourth “S” for me is Services, Google Services to be exact, and how they are so nicely integrated with the Chrome OS operating system, while also available across all platforms.

When I first got started with Chrome OS I was familiar with GMail and Google Search of course. But as I started to use my first Chromebook I was introduced to an incredible array of Google services. Fast forward two plus years and it would take a small book for me to discuss all of the gems I found both in Google services and hardware, but the point is, none of this became real for me until Chrome OS.

If you’re new to Chrome OS or just curious about all things Google, let me just provide a short list of my favorites and very brief mention of why each became important for me. Perhaps in future posts I can go into more detail, but here I’ll just keep it simple.

  • GMail – long time user of this email web client since 2004, and it just keeps getting better. Recent additions of extensive right-click context menu, snooze, quick action buttons in line with messages, Keep, Tasks and Calendar panes, so much goodness has been added to GMail, and I’m so glad to finally get away from all that red, new themes are a great way to spice up your email.

  • Google Search – everyone knows how to Google so I’ll only add that the new extra information pane at the right of the search results are full of great things like maps, reviews, similar searches and even local results from your other Google services like contacts and other apps.

  • Google One (Drive) – 100gb, 200gb up to 2tb to share with up to five family members, call or chat with Google support about any Google service is included. Google usually has a coupon for free 100gb drive for one year with a Chromebook purchase. Otherwise the free drive offering is 15gb. No more worrying about periodic backups of my data as it is all stored in the cloud. And sharing files with others couldn’t be easier.

  • Google Photos – this is absolutely the best cloud storage for your photos. Another decades old task gone as there is no longer any concern about backing up photos due to Google’s unlimited no cost storage for storing photos at high quality resolution. Searching for photos is magical, with lots of assistant integration for auto collages and archive suggestions. Our current photo collection in Google Photos is over 100,000 photos, and many of our friends that use Apple devices switch to Google’s offering after seeing the functionality. And finally, automatic sharing of photos with the whole family is incredible. My wife takes a picture on her phone, I get a notification and can see the photo added to our shared gallery.

  • Google Docs – most people have heard of Google’s word processing application and possibly Google Sheets for spreadsheets, but did you know there are many more applications in the Google office suite? Slides (think PowerPoint), Drawings and Forms round out this full featured free office package. And while I’ll admit that these offerings are not as full featured as Microsoft Office, it’s collaboration features are first rate. My wife and I use these Google office applications exclusively to run our non-profit and easily share files and folders over Google Drive. We can also open Microsoft documents, and even keep them in that format, though we seldom have that need. And any file can easily be saved as pdf, if a non-editable format is desired. Versioning is first rate as we can go back to any past edit and resurrect that version. And searching for a document is so much faster than doing the same task in Windows.

  • Google Play Music (soon to be replaced by Youtube Premium) – while the jury is still out on Youtube Premium, GPM is a great service with a 90-day free subscription normally provided with a Chromebook purchase. GPM also includes ad-free Youtube Red. My wife and I share playlists and I seldom run across any tune that is not available.

  • Speaking of entertainment, we’ve subscribed to Youtube TV for close to two years since it entered our market, and for $35 we get all the programming, including local news channels that we need. With the unlimited cloud DVR, we record all our favorite shows and can speed through most of them commercial free. This has saved us about $90 per month after cutting the cord to our cable provider.

  • Google Play Movies is another money saver as most movies are $1 cheaper than renting on Amazon or other streaming services.

  • Google News – I was bowled over when I saw the new Google News app. The curated “for you” section picks out the stories that really interest me and the other related stories from other sources and views really provides a reliable way to see opposing viewpoints, so important for our era of fake news. This has become my single source of news and goto for daily updates on my phone and Chromebook.

  • Google Fi – this one’s not for everybody, but oh what a difference for me. Just $20 for unlimited calls and texts and $10 per GB for data with a cap at 6gb (after that data is at no charge up to 15gb at which point data is throttled). If you have a compatible phone, Pixel and several Google supported phones with others being added frequently, you can take advantage of Google as your MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) aka cell phone provider. Fi uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular cell services along with any available WiFi access point, whichever is stronger at the moment. And unlike other providers, Google agreements with these providers provide full speed access to their towers. This has provided service everywhere I go and often better than Verizon in some areas, especially deep inside buildings. There is data in many countries around the world at the same $10 per GB charge as in the U.S. And you can enable Google’s included VPN at no charge to ensure the data your transmitting from your phone is secure. Tethering is included at no charge and extra sim cards for use in sharing your data plan with other devices is also included free of any charge.

  • Google Voice – this is a way to get free VoIP telephone service for your phone with an initial $50 purchase of an OBi200 VoIP adapter to make this work. Another $25 monthly savings over our previous landline provider. And GV sends us an email with the transcription and audio file when someone leaves a voicemail. This is something other services charge extra for, but with Google it is included with the free service. We’ve used this service for our landline for two plus years and it works fantastic.

So many will be thinking, yes John but there is a trade off for all of these great free services from Google. And of course you’re right, there is really no free lunch so to speak. Google’s currency is data collection, and the more services you use, the more Google will know about you.

So exchanging your personal data instead of cash comes down to a personal decision. In my mind, so many others were and are collecting my data, Internet and cell phone provider, cable provider, Facebook, LinkedIn and hundreds of other apps that need your location and access to different types of information to operate, that Google doesn’t worry me. I do check security settings often and have two factor authentication via a hardware key configured for access to my Google account, and I’m comfortable with that setup. The decision comes down to your comfort level after careful consideration.

Well I’ve gone on more than I intended in this post, but wanted to share all the goodness I’ve experience with the fourth “S” in Why Google, Why Now?

Thanks for reading, J

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What to do with an Aging Computer?

NeverWare CloudReady to the Rescue

Recently I was asked by my daughter what she could do to get a malware ridden iMac running again. After taking a look, the damage was extensive including browser and search hijacking, a hacker placed password on the firmware to prevent normal reinstallation of the OS and who knows what else. I used Macs for a decade before moving to Chrome OS and I’ve never seen malware like this on OS X. I used to tell people that they didn’t need any virus protection on a Mac because malware on OS X just didn’t happen. Obviously, those days are over. In reality, this looked more like something I’ve seen on a Windows machine.

Since my daughter has two, nearly teenage kids (read malware magnets), I thought I would recommend something different. After asking a few questions about the family’s use of the device, I recommended that we get rid of OS X in favor of Chromium. Her family was already using Chromebooks for most of their mobile computing needs so it was a fairly easy choice to make. I had her try out her mom’s iMac that had been repurposed to run Chromium some time ago and she thought that would work.

My wife’s 10 year old iMac, while it didn’t contain any malware that I know of, had slowed to a crawl, and was unusable until I replaced the operating system on the device with Chromium. That was 18 months ago and the device flies and has been problem free ever since. The best part is that she and I can both log in with our Google accounts and everything looks the same as on our primary Chromebook devices.

While Chromium is an open source operating system, it is nearly identical to Chrome OS. And the easiest way to get this open source OS installed is with Neverware CloudReady. Don’t let the home page scare you, for personal use on your home computer, this software is completely free.

Preparing for the OS Change

There are just a few things that must be done before a decision can be finalized, and moving on to the installation process can begin.

  • Ensure that your device, Windows, Mac or Linux is supported for use with Chromium. This is easy to do by looking for your hardware listed by manufacturer and model at https://guide.neverware.com/supported-devices/ Just like all Chrome OS devices there is also an end of life date provided for each model. This tells you how long Chromium updates will be provided for your device. Neverware says that CloudReady is certified to run on more than 200 of the most common PC and Mac models.
  • If you don’t already have one, sign up for a free Google account at https://accounts.google.com/signup
  • Purchase an 8gb or 16gb usb flash drive. While there are many comments online about SanDisk drives not working, I’ve always had good luck with the SanDisk Cruzer Glide 16gb, less than $8 at Walmart. You will always have better luck with a new drive fresh out of its packaging instead of repurposing a used drive.
  • If you are installing on a Mac desktop computer, a Windows keyboard will work much better than the Apple keyboard that came with the computer. If you don’t have a keyboard that you can repurpose, a great inexpensive keyboard and mouse combo is the Logitech Desktop MK120 wired combo, available at Amazon and Best Buy as of this writing for less than $15 bucks.
  • Final prep is to look at everything on the computer if it is functional, and back up photos, purchased music, documents, email, etc. before moving forward. It will be easier to move these files to Google Drive and Photos before you reinstall the OS, but at least ensure they are backed up to some cloud or other area that is accessible to you.

Moving on to the Installation

Rather than regurgitate the Neverware Cloud Ready intructions in this post, let me just direct you to the source at https://www.neverware.com/freedownload

These instructions will lead you through downloading and installing the CloudReady USB installer, and provide step by step instructions to complete the installation. Note, it is very important to follow each step in order to ensure a successful installation.

Some, like me, find it easier if we can watch someone else perform the installation first. Thanks to Robby and our friends over at ChromeUnboxed.com, you can do just that by reviewing the video at https://chromeunboxed.com/install-chrome-os-on-your-old-laptop-pc-or-macbook/

Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments below if you have questions. J

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ChromeOS – Google Drive vs Files, what is the difference?

I’ve had problems in the past related to not using the correct app for accessing files from my Chromebook and thought a quick post might help others to understand the difference between Google’s two file management apps on Chrome OS.

First, I will admit that this post shouldn’t be necessary. Google should really get the Files app sorted out, or simply add local file access to Google Drive.

Let’s start with the difference between the two apps as it stands today.

Picture of Files App icon

The Files app was originally intended to access local files, i.e. Downloads, and should only be used for that purpose in most cases. (keep reading for the explanation)

picture of Google Drive icon

The Drive app provides access to all files stored in the Google Drive cloud. This includes files that are automatically syncing from a computer and also cloud backups. It does not currently provide access to local files.

Recently, Google has added access to Google Drive files in the cloud from the Files app, but if you have a large number of files in Drive the app will slow to a crawl or freeze up entirely when attempting to display files from the cloud. So my advice is to restrict the use of the Files app for access to local files.

If you are successful in accessing Drive files from the Files app, another issue is that the last folder from which you accessed files will be the folder displayed when you open the Files app the next time. If this was a Drive folder, the Files app will slow to a crawl as it tries to display files from Drive.

In fact, in some cases, again depending on the size of your Google Drive, the Files App can be rendered unusable. But there is a fix if this happens, using the following two steps.

Clearing Metadata

Just enter chrome://drive-internals/ into your browser and press Enter. Then on the drive-internals page scroll down to the Local Metadata section and select clear local data. Don’t worry, this will not remove any local files, just the metadata.

Resetting the Default folder for Apps

Once complete, you have one more step.  Open Gmail (or really any app that allows browsing to a file), compose a new message and click the attachment button. This will open the Files app. Click on the downloads folder and select any file. Once back in Gmail you can discard the message.

To prevent any future problems, if you need to browse to a local file, use the Files app, but if a file in the cloud is needed, use Drive.

If an application does not provide a button for Drive access, you can always download the file from the Drive app first, and then browse to the download folder using the Files app. Some apps even allow you to drop a file instead of browsing. In that case, simply open Drive and drag and drop the file desired into the application.

Hope this helps, and thanks for reading.  J

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Another Update on Google Maps

To follow up on my last post, Google is really ramping up adding features to Maps. Just a few days ago we saw the Add a Report feature to report a crash or speed trap, and today, I clicked on a reported crash, and was greeted by the ability to confirm that the report is still accurate. This is a great addition, to an already great feature.

One thing Google does need to look at though, are the alerts for those reports. Unless you have full sound enabled for turn-by-turn instructions, you will miss the audible alerts. For some reason the audible alerts are not spoken when sound is set to Alerts Only.

While its been around a while longer, I also love the “Share trip progress” available from the navigation menu. I use it to send my trip progress in real time to my wife so she knows when I’ll arrive home from work.

Good stuff from Google. Thanks for reading, J

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