Initial Chromium OS Experience

I have done some fiddling with Chromium since installing the December 2011 Dell build for their Mini 9 and Mini 10 netbooks.  For one thing, it became clear I was not able to move from that build to the latest Chromium.  This meant that the operating system resembles the typical Chrome Web browser – with tabs at the top, albeit with other information like date, network connectivity, and battery life – rather than the more recent look and feel that Chromium is sporting.

Testing Other Builds

Since it is essentially a zero foot print operating system – all the applications and data is stored in the cloud – it was easy to try out other builds.  I installed Hexxeh’s Lime build from May 31 but there was no mouse support and it wasn’t immediately obvious how to activate wireless.  I resorted to Dell’s April 2012 build – the latest – and that worked fine from a USB drive.  Even better, it displayed the newest user interface (UI) that I was hoping to use.  The only oddity I came across was that the mouse took a long time to come to life; I was waiting at the initial customization screen (keyboard, network, etc.) for 20 or so seconds before the mouse pointer appeared.

Unfortunately, after installing it, I was unable to restart the computer.  The Dell logo flashed, I saw a cursor for a moment, then the screen went dark and at the point where the screen should display the Chromium logo, it just stopped.  I walked back to the Dell January 2012 build and that worked fine.  I’m going to run that until I can come up with more information on how to get past that initial hang in the April build.  I have seen one person with a similar comment but no additional information.

Update:  Here is the fix to get the April 2012 Dell build to boot.  There is a configuration file that is looking at the wrong location.  If you pull out the USB drive that you used to install Chromium, it won’t work.  If you leave it in and boot from your hard drive after installing Chromium, it will.  The instructions tell you how – once you’ve installed and booted from your hard drive with the USB drive still plugged in – to make a very simple text edit to a file that will enable the April 2012 build to boot.

Selecting Apps

I have not been a big fan of Chrome apps from the Webstore up to this point.  They are frequently just links to Web sites and I don’t need that sort of bookmark.  One of the most significant concerns a Chromebook user would have is how to continue to work offline, without an Internet connection.  This was my focus as I made selections.

Documents

Google Docs is the obvious app to use.  It works great online and is going to offer increasing offline options.  Google Mail has an offline app so that you can view recent e-mail and queue up new messages.  Google Docs has an offline function too but the version I was able to activate only allowed you to view, not edit.  I believe this is one of the features that the latest Chromium builds makes available.

I installed Write Space to fill this hole since it is a simple offline word processor.  In fact, it eerily resembles WordPerfect but it is meant to be a minimalist app with local storage of files.

Image Editing

The Google Picasa extension does not add any real functionality.  Pixlr is a full image editor and the Pixlr  Grabber is a screenshot extension from the same developer.  These will enable me to do the basic image manipulation I’ll need and they are integrated with Google Drive so they can act as the default image manager.

Remote Desktop (RDP, VNC)

I was hoping for something simple here but most of the VNC products that would enable me to manage a remote computer are bookmarks.  I decided in the end to just keep using LogMeIn for those machines that I need to access remotely.  Chrome Remote Desktop Beta is a nice product for any Google Chrome users, since it allows you to share your entire computer desktop through the Chrome Browser.

Research Management

Evernote has an offline app that means I can still use my favorite research manager online or off.  I am also going to play around with MindMeister, a mind-mapping tool that can also save its work offline.  The maps can be exported in a variety of formats, although you can get additional options if you get a paid account.

Chromebooks for Business?

Google has a Chromebooks for Business page that is focused on sales but this getting started page is far more interesting.  I don’t really see this as a business option yet for anyone who is really mobile.  The Chromebox makes a lot of sense as a desktop CPU replacement.  The increasing improvement of offline access, though, will make Chromium a great option for those who are away from the office and not always able to be online.  Businesses that provide smart phones with data plans may be able to rely on their ability to tether to a device to keep it always online.