Chromium OS – New Kid on the Block

Last couple of weeks were pretty interesting. Google finally announced its new OS ( Operating System ) – nicknamed Chromium OS. However, their operating system is not what you would expect from the usual OSs like Windows or Linux or MacOS.

Instead, its a bare bones browser which can run. The target is the Netbooks.

Installation

Google has said that the OS is still a year away from actual launch. So, what exists right now is more of an alpha version – not even the beta we are used to. Support for it is quite minimal, but there are some geniuses on the internet who actually are making it useful for many people. As of now, to check out the OS I would recommend you to either :

  • Use a Virtual Machine
  • Boot from a USB

You could be adventerous and install it on your hardisk – but I would discourage you from doing that at this time.

VM Ware Method

My first attempt, just the day after it was released and some enterprising people created a boot image was using a VM image. The steps required for this are :

  1. Download the file using torrent.
  2. Download and install Virtual Box ( I installed this on linux)
  3. Run the image file in the Virtual Box

My First screnshot of Chromium OS Running on Ubuntu Desktop

You use your gmail id to log in – and you are set !

USB Boot Method.

I prefer this method now to check out the OS , as it provides you faster speeds. With VM Ware, you are sharing the resources between your normal OS (ubuntu) and the VM Image (Chromium OS). However, when booting from the USB, you are giving 100% of your hardware and processing capabilities to the OS being running. Well, maybe not 100% as you are still booting from the USB – but fast enough.

The USB mode has been made possible by some stellar work by a student known as hexxeh ( follow him on twitter). Check out on his website for how to do it. In simple steps :

  1. Download the USB image
  2. Burn the image onto the USB flash drive you have ( you can use it on a 1GB flash drive).
  3. Setup your bios to boot from USB
  4. Login using the default username and password (facepunch/facepunc) as sometimes networking does not work – specially if you use a password to get onto the network.
  5. Login again with your actual credentials.

Impressions

The Advantages

  1. Its fast ! Its damn Fast !
    • Remember it is just a browser running without the usual baggage of the OS.
    • Boot time on my T61 from USB was like 10 seconds ( stopwatch timer – non scientific method etc)
    • Pages load a lot faster, than if you use chrome within an OS like Wondows or Linux.
  2. As far as I have understood, they are using the Chrome browser to be the only interface on the machine. So, when booting, instead of the OS’s usual set of checks, it will do very few checks and get the browser up and running.
  3. Ultimately, what they are aiming at is no Desktop. Quite a radical change if you ask me. But then this is more targetted towards Netbooks. The hardware specs are fixed by google so that device manufacturers know what to use.
  4. Stuff like Flash, audio decoders etc will be part of the OS. No separate downloading. Any updates will also be through the OS – so if Google does not provide a codec, I don’t think it will play it.
  5. Demos show stuff about plugingin a camera etc. But I am still in the dark when it comes to things like play back from DVD. Will the device even have a DVD ?
  6. As per the demos , nothing will be kept on the device – but will be available in the cloud. So technically, once you have this device and any supporting device like an Android based phone – you will have the same thing available whichever device you choose.

This OS is pretty much targetted at low end machines – e.g. people using mostly browsing. Google is betting on taking the cloud to the next level. So, everything you do, you will do on the internet . Already we do much of the stuff there – like email, browsing , buying stuff, chatting, etc. This browser/OS is going to push it out even more.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of this approach are quite many – but I think almost 80% of the junta wont miss it , as they usually get onto the net only for a few activities. So, mostly this disadvantage list is based on my impression – and probably most techie people will agree.

  • Browser lockin
    • We will be using only chrome as the browser. You will not have an option to use firefox or IE. This will mean a lot of hearburn, and also website compatability issues as many website (e.g. banks) are developed to work well exclusively with IE.
    • Microsoft websites will have issues. e.g. Hotmail still does not show a nice interface when logging in with anything except IE.
  • Development issues
    • I suppose someone will come up with a browser IDE, but for me that will be a bit strange.
    • I suppose it will also leverage the cloud to build your code – so that you can actually build code much faster than you would on your machine.
  • Google Lockin
    • This is the one creating the most fear.
    • Once all your data is with google, and you want out, how do you do it ? with a current Desktop machine, you would be able to download your emails, and keep your docs etc for offline storage. Here, there is no such thing.
  • Games
    • There are many games available which use flash and play in the browser. However, almost all great games are made specifically for the OS. I am talking about games like World of Warcraft, Dragon Age Origins etc. You will not be able to play them there.
  • Multimedia
    • This is a big blocker I feel.
    • As of now, I rip my CDs and play them using winamp or something similar. Though Chromium will be able to play off the net, if you want to own a collection – hard luck.

Conclusions

I think that this is an interesting spin to the OS wars. However, I do not think that this will be a threat to Microsoft and Linux in taking up the main desktops. However, for most businesses where they just require email and documents, this will be a big thing – as well as secondary PCs for people who want to have something light for the internet needs.

Credits

Its a long post , and actually would not have been possible without a few people. I feel that credits are due.

  • Google – for giving us this idea of a browser as an OS
  • hexxeh – for creating the USB boot image to use.
  • Vinay, Shantanu, Binil, Vineet, Praveen, Ashish for the discussion we had on this topic on Google Wave. Yes, we actually figured out how to use that ! 😀
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~ by Vibhu on December 7, 2009.

3 Responses to “Chromium OS – New Kid on the Block”

  1. pood post vibhu…

    but yes.. a lot to be unveiled..

    none the less.. it’s a google product… more or less… it will be (extra)ordinary…

    i am definitely goin to try n see.. if it’s compatible with the Mac… i assume not.. but lets see what happens.. *grin*

    Akhil

  2. Though am not much of an IT geek, but was able to understand quite of it owing to your neat explanation. Not to mention I enjoyed reading it. Good work Vibhuji!

  3. Не нужно пробовать все подряд…

    Instead, its a bare bones browser which can run. The target is the Netbooks.
    Installation
    Google has […….

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