General geekiness found me trying to get the Chrome OS running this weekend. It took quite a bit of time to work through all the resources including some conflicting instructions and bad software. It all worked out though and I now have the OS running on a netbook. This post is a brief summary of what was involved and doesn’t include the numerous deadends and problems I encountered.
Basically, this is Google’s attempt to develop a small-footprint control system for netbooks running web-based apps. The core plumbing is Linux and the UI is a variant of the Chrome browser. Whether or not this will find large-scale mindshare won’t be determined for quite awhile. The official release will probably be a year from now. But it is an interesting concept and I wanted to get my arms around it. If it does become popular then it will be something that user assistance professionals will need to understand in order to effectively support their apps.
The two major elements are the device hardware and the Chrome OS software.
The pre-release version of Chrome OS has a lot of hardware dependencies. So I did some web research to pick a device on which the OS has been successfully installed. There were a number of candidates. I picked the Asus Eee PC Seashell because it met the requirements and also looked like a nice netbook.
The netbook comes with Windows 7 installed. In order to use the Chrome OS, you need to boot from a USB flash drive that has an image of the software on it.
The page referenced below by Jorge Sierra provides instructions, a Chrome build, and an image writing tool. I already had a couple of the tools mentioned in the article.
I did all of the flash disk processing on my Toshiba/Vista laptop.
The Sierra article provides a link to a Bit Torrent package with the Chrome OS and an image writing tool. There are other Chrome OS builds available but this one worked fine.
I ran the torrent and the download took about ten minutes. I opened the zip file that was in the torrent package and then extracted the Chrome OS build: chrome_os-img.
The next step was to format a flash drive. Since the image file was close to 3 GB, I purchased a 4 GB SanDisk Cruzer. Any brand will work but I wanted one with a LED so I could tell there was activity on it. I used the HP Disk Storage Format Tool to format the USB drive using the NTFS setting. The Format Tool is available from a number of sites.
I checked the formatting using the Windows Manage command. Click Computer/Manage/Storage/Disk Management. If the formatting went correctly you should see the USB drive listed and a “Healthy” message.
Next, I used the Win32 Disk Imager utility to install the image file on the USB drive. This was included in the Sierra package but I had it already. After launching the utility I pointed to the chrome_os.ing file. My USB drive (E) was already selected. Click Write and the process begins. When the Progress bar is full the copying is complete. The USB drive is now ready to be used.
After unpacking the netbook I first activated the Windows 7 Starter kit which is included on the device. I don’t think you need to do that but I wanted the device to work with Windows anyway. And I wanted to test the wifi connection. The wifi found my network just fine and I powered it down.
The last step requires a change to the BIOS so the netbook boots from the USB drive.
I plugged the USB drive into the netbook. I pressed the power button and tapped the F2 key until the BIOS setup appeared. The BIOS key is probably different from device to device. BTW, I had to tap the F2 key rather than holding it down.
The boot instructions I found on the web didn’t quite work for me. I had to make two changes in the BIOS. The following instructions worked for this Asus netbook.
From the Boot menu select Boot Device Priority. The first option should be the device HDD hard drive. Press enter and you should see Removable Dev as an option. Select that by pressing enter.
Below Boot Device Priority is the option Hard Disk Drives. The 1st Drive was the HDD hard drive. My USB was listed by name (SanDisk Cruzer) as the 2nd Drive. Pressing enter on the 1st drive brought up a pop menu. I selected the USB drive and it swapped places in the list with the HDD. Then F10 to save and exit from the BIOS setup.
The device immediately booted to the Chromium OS logon screen. I used the username and password provided by Jorge Sierra: “Chronos” and “password”. I believe this is a logon applied by Jorge for his specific distribution. I saw instructions for a different Chrome OS distribution and the logon was different.
The first thing to appear is the Chrome browser. The same browser you have on Windows or Mac. The OS doesn’t automatically recognize your wifi. A small icon in the top right corner of the screen has a wifi menu. Click that and select your network. I also tested out my ethernet cable and that worked fine. Once that was done I could begin browsing the web.
All of that work and to this point I hadn’t accomplished anything that you couldn’t do in any other OS with any browser. The OS definitely loads really fast, much faster that the Windows 7 Starter.
There is a page that operates as an application dashboard. You can see a screen capture on the Sierra web page. A Chrome icon in the top left corner of the screen launches that page. From there I launched Facebook, Google Docs, etc and put in my logons for each. I couldn’t change or add any items to the control panel. I assume that will change. For unlisted applications, like LinkedIn, I launched them in the browser and set bookmarks.
There was an important OS feature that you could test – Cut and Paste. I was able to cut and paste between the various web apps without a problem. While we take this for granted on Windows, Mac, etc, that is the type of behavior that you need an OS for.
Another important behavior is printing. This apparently isn’t supported right now. I tried using the print commands in the various apps. Mostly I received error messages. In Gmail, the only choice was Print to File. I didn’t really expect there to be support for explicit printers. That will be a difficult proposition for Google, I think. But probably a necessary one.
I had set the date and time in Windows. The date was recognized in Chrome OS but not the correct time. There was a menu item to change time options but the dialog box did not have a way to change the time. Only the time zone.
There is no OFF button in the OS. I just used the power button. However, the next time I booted, Chrome showed a message that the system hadn’t been shut down correctly. I assume there will be some fix for that.
When I pulled out the USB drive and powered up again, Windows started just fine. However, that also resets the BIOS to the original settings. That was kind of irritating. I have to repeat the BIOS adjustments every time I want to use Chrome after having used Windows. The adjustments only take a couple of seconds but you have to remember to hit F2.