Monday, March 28, 2011

Test Chrome OS on VirtualBox

Chrome OS, The Cloud-computing-oriented operating system by Google is quickly progressing and maturing towards a soon to come final official release. Many of us have heard about it, but testing it is actually not that easy... Until several days ago, that is.

The great HEXXEH (THANKS!!) has done it again, improving his great Chromium OS project even further by providing virtual machine nightly compilations. If you have tried to install Chromium OS in the past, chances are you did so in a USB drive and then tried to run it on your PC. That was a great way to test-drive the stable version available, Chromium OS Flow, but the problem is that it is quite old, pretty obsolete at this stage. On the other hand, the nightly compilations, while more up to date, lack decent hardware support... Dead end? Not anymore!



Hexxeh has made available some virtual machine images, one for VirtualBox, which I will test here, and another one for VMware. The great thing about these images is that they no longer depend on your hardware to run smoothly, so you can download the latest nightly build knowing that it will run, period. In addition, it is convenient that a USB drive is no longer needed, thus providing more flexibility and a chance to test those nightly builds frequently to keep up with the ongoing development pace.

DOWNLOAD AND TEST

In order to download one of those nightly builds, simply access Hexxeh's SITE and get one of the latest compilations (obviously, the most current is recommended). Depending on your virtual software of choice, you should choose either VirtualBox or VMware links.



Both options are extremely simple to use, but I will discuss the VirtualBox one, since it is the one I am using.

  1. Essentially, once you click on the download link, simply save the tar.gz file at a location of your choice.
  2. Extract the file content, which is a VirtualBox virtual disk file, wherever you see fit (your home folder is probably most convenient).
  3. Open VirtualBox and create a new virtual machine (I used the generic Linux 2.6 profile).
  4. When prompted to create/use an existing hard disk, choose the latter, then select the .vdi file you downloaded on step 1.
  5. ChromeOS is apparently quite a resource eater as it stands today, so allow 2GB of RAM.

Once done, start your Virtual Machine, you should see an extremely simple, three-step installation setup. It very simply runs you through some minimalistic instructions to select your Google account, the network interface, etc. Since we are using a virtual machine, just leave the connection settings alone, they should pick up whatever your hosting PC uses (as long as your machine has a working connection, of course).

With everything in place, the login screen continues the minimalistic tradition, as can be seen below. The account that was created during the first access is set as owner, but Guest access is permitted.


Click on Image to enlarge.

Chrome OS is essentially just the Chrome browser with just a few extra options that provide the most basic system management features. I will concentrate on those, as I am sure almost everybody knows about the browser features already.

The screen below shows the user administration tab, which is again extremely basic. The only noteworthy feature is the ability to block certain users from logging in, one that I am not sure I understand given the Cloud Computing orientation of this OS.


Click on Image to enlarge.

It is easy to see these nightly builds are bleeding edge. The Chromium version is 12.0.711!!


Click on Image to enlarge.

Another example of an extremely stripped down interface is the Internet tab, which provides the basics for network connection management.


Click on Image to enlarge.

Chrome OS should be released as preinstalled software that comes along with devices specifically designed to provide optimum performance and tailor-made features. We can see below that the OS provides a bit of hardware tweaking, specifically for the mouse pad sensibility.


Click on Image to enlarge.

The Personal Stuff tab is where we can tweak/enable personal information, such as an account specific picture or the awesome sync feature.


Click on Image to enlarge.

So there you have it, an incredibly simple and convenient way to test/try ChromeOS before it goes live in the next few weeks/months.

THE FUTURE OF COMPUTING?

Chrome OS is an elusive concept, one that many (myself included initially) fail to understand. Not surprisingly, all you get once you login is a browser tab which allows you to browse the Internet... So what's the big deal?

Well, after spending quite a lot of time wandering the Chrome OS Web Store myself and getting to know and understand some of the applications available, I came to the realization that this concept could very well be the future of computing, at least for standard users. The amount, variety and power of some of the applications available is unbelievable given their online nature, which is why standard users will not miss a thing once they get past that starting learning curve. Storage, music, movies and all kind of collaborative tools are literally one click away. Games are improving by the minute, and with the latest WebGL and HTML5 technologies, I am sure we are about to see some impressive titles become available in the next months or years.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and one argument that has been raised as a concern here is that the computing model that is being proposed is extremely simplified and prone to privacy conflicts. I personally agree with the privacy bit to a certain extent, but it would be foolish to deny that at this stage I am already using tons of Cloud-based applications/services, so I have been assuming that risk for some time now. I disagree with the simplified part, though, because if there is one thing the new wave of smartphones and tablets are showing us is that end users want it simple. And yes, it is likely that power users may choose to keep machines that provide more processing power and richer features, but I am convinced Chrome OS and the Cloud capabilities it "sponsors" can cover the needs of most people out there.

Give it a go and let me know what you think!

2 comments:

  1. Hi Chema,

    Nice post... Did you manage to get "Guest Additions" installed to make it full screen? (of course talking of the vbox ;) )

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  2. Hey, mate, long time no speak, hope you are keeping well.

    No, but I don't even think it is an option? It would imply mounting the drive and then running the corresponding .sh script, all of which I think cannot be done in Chrome OS?

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