My latest brilliant idea was to purchase a $200 Acer C7 Google Chromebook, which includes a 320 GB hard drive, and use it to back up a digital camera while traveling. “So much lighter than a laptop” I thought and also cheap enough not to worry about. (In fact, if you factor in the included 100 GB of Google Drive storage for two years plus the airline WiFi passes, the Chromebook is actually free.)
The device includes an SD card reader but not a CF card reader. I thought “This will still be easy. I’ll just hook up the Canon 5D III digital SLR via a USB cable and both the CF and SD cards (each a whopping 128 GB) will show up as additional disks on the Chromebook.” I tried that and nothing happened. To verify that the Canon was working properly I plugged it into a Windows 7 desktop computer and in fact both cards showed up. I tried the same thing with a Sony NEX-6 camera and the Chromebook said that the device was not supported. The Windows machine had no trouble mounting the camera as an external disk drive.
I was able to get an 8 GB USB drive to be recognized by the Chromebook, but not either an 8 GB or 128 GB SD card, exFAT format, plugged into a USB reader. The only card that the Chromebook could recognize was an 8 GB FAT32 card. Then I moved the 8 GB card into the Sony NEX-6 and the Chromebook was able to recognize the camera as an external drive. Then I had the brilliant idea of removing the SD card, in exFAT format, from the 5D Mark III, leaving only the FAT32-formatted CF card. The Chromebook still would not recognize the camera as a USB device, though again it worked fine on the Windows machine.
http://code.google.com/p/chromium-os/issues/detail?id=37266 indicates that Google is not supporting exFAT in their operating system, which makes the Chromebook pretty much useless in combination with modern digital cameras. It would be nice if they beefed up their operating system enough to recognize exFAT and say “This card is in exFAT format, which we don’t support. You probably don’t want to reformat it.” (instead of a cryptic error message and an offer to reformat, which will of course delete all of the owner’s cherished photos)
It seems that one fix would be to reformat the 128 GB cards as FAT32 rather than exFAT. Does anyone have any thoughts about whether that is a good idea? Does exFAT provide greater data security? Wikipedia lists a bunch of “advantages” for exFAT, but none of them seem relevant to a card inside a digital camera. The free space allocation stuff doesn’t seem relevant given that the card will be reformatted by the camera, probably, every month or so. The Canon manual says “Cards with 128 GB or lower capacity will be formatted in FAT format. Cards with a capacity higher than 128 GB will be formatted in exFAT format.” Both cards have been formatted by the camera, so the SD card should not still be in exFAT format, but perhaps that is because I’ve never done “low-level” formatting (an option on the 5D Mark III only for SD cards).
Considering that the Chromebook is supposed to be “computing that just works” for not-very-tech-savvy users, the failures to support a Canon-brand camera and a popular format for memory cards seem like huge ones. A person who was willing to go to the effort of figuring out FAT versus FAT32 versus exFAT and why a camera plugged in won’t mount is a person who is capable of running Linux.
[Separately, the Chromebook seems like a pretty nice device. Offline editing of a Google Doc worked well and the software was able to merge some changes made to an online version with the offline version. It didn’t do exactly what I expected but no text was lost. Power management is odd. The device does not seem to sleep when idle. If opened up, typed on for a bit, and then walked away from for hours… the device will still be awake, with a nearly dead battery, after 4 or 5 hours.]