Using Chromium OS

My Dell Mini 9 is not my primary computer.  But the release of the February 2013 build by Dell was so easy to install that I’m finally taking more time to play around with Chromium.  I thought it would be worth talking a bit about some of the functionality that I use, rather than just how to get it installed.

Extended Screens

One thing that I do with my primary laptop is attach it to a standalone LCD monitor, and extend the screen.  I was interested to see how Chromium handled that.  I booted up and then attached the VGA cable to my Mini 9.  Chromium immediately found the monitor, set the resolution to maximum, and extended the screen over to it.  Based on experiences with older (think Ubuntu 8 or 9) issues with Linux and monitors, I was really pleased that it didn’t require any tinkering.

I went into the Settings (bottom right corner of task bar) and looked at the display settings.  They link very similar to the Display manager on Ubuntu.  I set the extended display (Acer) to my primary monitor.  Unfortunately, everything froze.  When I restarted the computer, though, the Chromium login was now on the extended display, so the setting took.  But whether it’s my laptop or the OS that is a bit flaky, it would have been nice to stay running!

Apps and No Flash

Not surprising, just as with Android tablets there is no Adobe Flash support on Chromium.  I have the Pixlr editor installed as an extension but it won’t work on Chromium.  I don’t use Flash that often (and usually block it) so it’s not a big hassle for me.  If you need Flash, you might consider using a virtualized desktop like that is a remote Linux desktop and has a lot of the typical Ubuntu tools on it.  They also have Pixlr for graphics editing.

I saw the announcement yesterday that Google has ported Quickoffice over for Chromebooks.  I had been planning on using Google Docs in the Web browser but it would be nice to supplement the Scratchpad app with a more feature-rich office suite.


I will frequently take a screenshot of something I see on screen that I want to share or save for later.  The old PRTSCRN function works nicely on Chromium.  Just like Windows, there is no notification that anything has happened – I notice a very slight flash on the screen.  Ubuntu users will miss the small notification asking you where to save the screenshot.  But Chromium does save it, and if you navigate to your Files (bottom left corner of task bar, 9-tiled box), you’ll see the screenshots listed and saved there.  I right-clicked and cut the file from the default folder and saved it into my Google Drive account and it was then synchronized out to the cloud.  I know I’ll get a lot of use out of that.

This screenshot is of my extended display in Chromium OS.  I have the Google Scratchpad extension open as well as the Kindle Cloud reader.
This screenshot is of my extended display in Chromium OS. I have the Google Scratchpad extension open as well as the Kindle Cloud reader.

Mouse and Keyboard

My hands are large and have always struggled with the Mini’s small keyboard.  Chromium OS is not very friendly to the Synaptic mouse pad either, so there is a common and ongoing pointer issue with the Mini:  sometimes you have to click in order for your mouse to appear.  Since I’m using an extended display, I hooked up a mouse and keyboard to the laptop as well.  The larger keyboard is easy to use and the mouse pointer issues go away with a standard mouse.  I’ve still got the portability but it works great as a desktop CPU (although much slower).

Multiple Computers

When you sync Chrome on multiple computers and go to a New Tab page, you will see an “Other Devices” menu at the bottom of the screen.  Obviously, you get the benefit of synchronizing bookmarks and passwords to Chromium.  But this Other Devices menu gives you access to recent History, links you’ve accessed on your other computers.  I may use it more now that my operating system is essentially my Web browser.

It’s still Linux under the hood so I’m hoping to take a closer look at the underside as well as the obvious features in Chromium.  I am sure Chromebook users have a more polished experience (faster hardware, etc.) but I’m pretty impressed.   It’s a great ultra-light operating systems, particularly if you’re a heavy Web and cloud/software-as-a-service user.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.