Saturday, November 21, 2009

Google Chrome OS How To and First Impressions

Twitterstract: Walter installs Chromium OS and realizes that it's a lot like the Chrome browser. He offers a few tips if you are wanting to take it for a spin.

It feels like this has been my Google week. Saturday again, and it's been Google Wave, Chromium for OSX, App Engine and now Chromium OS (I even set up my Google Voice account). Here's a quick how-I-made-this-work post for the Chromium OS virtual machine.

I first saw that someone had taken the time to compile the code into a virtual machine from this post on Lifehacker. I think without this, I wouldn't have bothered. At this point, Chrome OS is really just a concept, dancing bearware.

I started out by venturing over to The Pirate Bay and grabbing the virtual disk image via Bit Torrent. FWIW I still haven't embraced the whole Bit Torrent thing. I've spent too many hours watching P2P take bandwidth from my company's connection while my boss or some other Important Person is screaming about how slow the network is going.

The disk image I pulled over was called chromeos-image-999.999.32309.211410-a1.vmdk.bz2 and was just under 300MB compressed. There are already a number of files on TPB that say they are chromeos images. After I downloaded the image. I unpacked it and then started up Virtual box. As an aside, I'm really starting to like Virtual box as a Parallels and VMWare replacement for home use.

In Virtual box, I mounted the disk image and created a new machine. First, I used the Virtual Media Manager (File -> Virtual Media Manager) to Add the vmdk file as a hard disk image. To do this, click on the Add icon and navigate through the file system to find the .vmdk file. Now we are ready to create the machine. From the main Virtual Box screen I click on the New icon to start the wizard. On the first screen of the "New" wizard, I told it that the Operating System was of type Linux and version Debian. I've read conflicting forum posts in various places on what to set here, but Linux/Debian works for me. I kept the defaults for memory. Then at the Virtual Hard Disk screen, I selected "Use existing hard disk" and chose my image from the drop down.

Then I started up the system. At the login screen I entered the username of "mark" and no password and pressed the enter key on my keyboard. This part seems to be causing lots and lots of consternation on the forums as people miss this point. As he says in his release notes, Mark used the local account name of "mark" for the system, not chromeos and not my real Google credentials. As each person builds an image, they must have to supply some credentials during the build. Once the ChromiumOS loads then we will be able to use our own credentials to get our own information from Google. On subsequent starts of the machine, I've found that I can use my regular Google account login to start the machine. When I do this, it loads with my Gmail and Calendar right away which is nice.

And voila. We are looking at the home page of Google Chrome OS or Chromium-os or Chronos as some are calling it. A couple of points if you're actually following along: once Virtual box captures your mouse, you release it by holding down the key sequence shown in the bottom right. For me it's a Left - command key

Another thing is that if you've been using Chrome, you've seen all of this before. You've also seen it in a much more stable way. I'm getting regular crashes of the virtual machine. There are a few differences though: the home screen of applications which is accessed by the icon on the top left of the window is one. Even this home screen isn't actualy on the machine. It's served up by an AppEngine robot. You can tell by the language it gives you if you are not logged into Google. If you've ever developed with AppEngine you've seen this screen.
This is truly a net computer then. You can use any device running this OS and get at your information. It seems that it's caching a little bit of my profile, but not really expecting to spend a lot of time reading and writing local files. The final piece of the OS that makes it different from Chrome is the system tray looking set of icons.

The triangle icon and the wrench icon below it expand to show the exact same menu. This duplication is because on some screens (right now only the Welcome screen) the wrench and other parts of the browser menu bar go away. The icon in the middle that resembles a wine cup tells me that I am connected to the network via wire and that my WiFi is turned off. The gray plug icon shows that I am plugged in.

If you're one of those people who needs to see the man behind the curtain, you can get a glimpse of the file/folder structure by changing the download location which will open a standard X file dialogue box. Use either the wrench or the triangle menu select "Options" then choose the "Under the Hood" tab. In the Downloads section choose "Other..." and you can poke around to at least see the folder structure.

The folks over at Google are posting a lot of their philosophy on this project over at Chromium.org so I would recommend you visit there to learn more. The videos and User Experience documents are accessible to most everyone. A lot of the other stuff is going to make your brain hurt at first.

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