I spent some time with Chrome OS over the weekend and yesterday, first doing my own build of the open source Chromium OS, and then running it and writing a review.
The build process was interesting: you actually compile Chromium OS from a chroot virtual environment. My first efforts were unsuccessful, for two reasons. First, Chromium OS assumes the presence of a pre-built Chromium (the browser), so you have to either build Chromium first, or download a pre-built version. However, the Chromium build has to be customised for Chromium OS. I did manage to build Chromium, but it failed to run, with what looked like a gtk version error, so I gave up and downloaded a zip.
Chromium OS itself I did build successfully, though I ran into an error that needed this patch, which I applied manually. I was using the latest code from the git repository at the time. I expect that this problem has been fixed now though you may run into different ones; life on the bleeding edge can be painful.
I also had difficulty logging in. You are meant to log in with a Google account, which presumes a live internet connection at least on the first occasion. Although Chromium OS successfully used the ethernet connection on my laptop, getting an IP address and successfully pinging internet sites, the login still failed with a “Network not connected” error. Studying the logs revealed a certificate error. You can also create a backdoor user at build time, so I did that instead.
Once I got Chromium OS up and running, booting from a USB key, I found it mostly worked OK. It is a fascinating project, because of Google’s determination to avoid local application installs, thereby gaining better security as well as driving the user towards web solutions for all their needs.
That’s a bold vision, but also an annoying one. Normally, when reviewing something relevant like an operating system or a word processor, I try to write the review in the product I am testing. In fact, I am writing this post in Chromium OS. However, I could not write my review on Chromium OS, because I needed screenshots; and although there are excellent web-based image editing tools, I could not find a way to take screenshots and paste or upload them into those tools. The solution I adopted was to run Chromium OS in a virtual machine – I used VirtualBox – and take the screenshots from the host operating system.
It is a small point; but makes me wonder whether Google will end up bundling just a few local utilities to make the web-based life a little easier. If it does so, third parties will want to add their own; and Google will be under pressure to abandon its idea of no local application installs.
Another interesting point: the rumour is that Google will unify Chrome OS with Android, which does allow application installs. Can that happen without providing a way to run Android apps on Chrome?
I will be interested to see whether Google ends up compromising a little in order to improve the usability and features of its new OS.