This HowTo lays out how to convert a regular netbook/laptop/desktop into an almost Google Chromebook using Hexxeh’s Chromium OS build. All you need is a 2GB USB stick and a bit of time. It also makes a nice portable operating system as well.
Why Make A Near Chromebook?
The following are a couple of good reasons to make a near Chromebook:
- It is a great way to repurpose an old netbook, laptop or desktop.
- It shows the potential of a total browser environment, everything is accessed from the web.
- It is a good way to see if a Chromebook might meet your needs.
Google has two systems for mobile computing available right now. Everybody knows about Android. They also have another system they are offering called Chrome OS. Chrome OS is principally used on custom Netbook computers called Chromebooks as opposed to phones and tablets.
In December 2010 Google gave away a bunch of test Chromebook systems (Cr-48)s to consumers for testing and getting feedback. In June and July of 2011 Samsung and Acer respectively have begun to offer Chromebooks for sale.
As Google makes the Chrome OS source code available several people have rebuilt the Chrome OS into the Chromium OS. Chromium OS does not have any additional code or services that Google may include with Chrome OS.your
Several groups have compiled up the source code and made it available to people. The most well known to still be making it available is Hexxeh and it is the version that he has compiled that we will be talking about for the rest of this howto.
Hexxeh has compiled two major versions of the Chromium OS. Vanilla and his customized version, currently Flow. Vanilla is built nightly from the latest Chromium OS source code. Flow is a heavily customized version that is designed to be more user friendly. Flow is more polished and is the one I will be using in this HowTo.
Flow adds the Nvidia drivers and Java to the distribution. Flow also adds an updater to allow upgrades between releases as well.
Hexxeh’s compatibility guide is broken into three sections (netbook, laptop and desktop). It is available in the Wiki for Flow at http://ChromeOS.hexxeh.net/wiki/doku.php
The official Chromium OS compatibility guide is available at http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/getting-dev-hardware/dev-hardware-list
Where is the fun in reading a compatibility guide? Isn’t it more fun to setup a USB stick and try it out 🙂
Trying it Out
The first step is to download the latest version of flow from Hexxeh’s page at http://ChromeOS.hexxeh.net/ here it is available in USB version or a VMware image. We’ll assume you want to make a live USB stick for the purposes of this Howto.
Copying The Image To A USB Stick
Caution: this will wipe out ALL data on the USB stick, nothing will be preserved.
Caution #2: done incorrectly this can also wipe out your hard drive, so please be careful when doing this.
Extract the image file from the Download file:
% tar zxvf Chrome OS-Flow.tar.gz
Plug in the USB stick into the machine. Wait 10 seconds.
Determine which device the USB stick shows up as:
% dmesg | grep “Attached SCSI removable disk”
The last entry should be the USB device. Typically the entry will look similar to the following:
[ 1872.106261] sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk
To write an image to the disk you need to become root on the machine. On most modern Linuxes this is done via “sudo”, but on some older boxes it requires the use of “su -“.
% sudo bash
Use dd to copy the image from your hard drive to the usb key stick:
% dd if=Chrome OS-Flow.img of=/dev/sd<x> bs=1M
Replace sd<x> with the correct device for your system, typically sdc.
Wait several minutes for this to finish.
Use 7zip or another utility that supports .tar.gz files to extract the image file from the downloaded .tar.gz file.
Microsoft Windows can not directly write to the USB stick so you will need to download a helper program for this. A good one to use is Windows Image Writer. There are other programs such as rawwrite available as well.
1. Start up Image Writer.
2. Select the Chrome OS-Flow.img to write to the stick.
3. Select the USB stick.
4. Click write.
5. Wait a couple of minutes for it to finish.
Booting Up Chromium OS
- Put the USB stick in the device you want to boot into Flow.
- Power on the device.
- Hit the F12, Escape or whatever key you need to hit to get into the boot menu.
- Select the USB/removable device menu.
- Wait for the system to boot.
- This should hopefully take about 8-12 seconds. 🙂
At this point you should be at a basic login for Flow. For logging in you will need to give the device your Google login information. For most people this will be their gmail account username and password.
Note: you have to login to the system to be able to activate the wireless and to be able to login you have to have a network. Quite a catch-22 if you only have wireless. You can login at the front screen with username “facepunch” and the password “facepunch” you can then set up the wifi by clicking on the wifi logo in the upper right hand corner. After that you can logout and log back in as yourself. If you are using a wired connection just go ahead and login with your gmail account.
Give It A Spin
At first glance Flow looks just like a maximized browser window. That is exactly the idea. 🙂 If you click on the blue Chromium logo in the upper right hand corner it will drop you into a tabbed environment broken into sections such as “My Apps”, “E-mail”, “Games”, etc. This gives you a good idea of some of the apps that are easily accesible. You might also discover a new application or two as well. 280 Slides is a very nice site for doing presentations.
You’ve now gotten a taste of what Chromium OS has to offer. It is an interesting little project and Hexxeh has done a very nice job of making it easily available to people to experiment with.
You now have a USB stick you can take with you and boot on most recent PCs into a desktop environment that won’t store files on the local machine by default. So it makes a very nice portable environment. Chromium OS has limited hardware support but works on most of the hardware I’ve tried it out on so far.
- Try out the Vanilla version built by Hexxeh – this is closer to what a regular Chromebook is like, but isn’t quite as nice as the Hexxeh’s custom builds.
- Install it on your hard drive, there are several options for this on Hexxeh’s site (replace base operating system, install alongside other operating system, etc.).
- Build your own custom Chromium OS from Source code. http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-guide lays out in detail how to do this quite easily if you are running Ubuntu.
Chromium OS homepage – http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os
Hexxeh’s Chromium OS Page – http://ChromeOS.hexxeh.net/
Hexxeh’s Chromium OS Wiki Page – http://ChromeOS.hexxeh.net/wiki/doku.php
Google’s Chromebook homepage – http://www.google.com/chromebook/