Chromium OS on Dell Inspiron in 2015

This is not my first blog post on putting the Chrome operating system on a Dell laptop.  In particular, I started with a Dell Mini netbook and talked about that, as well as tried on a few OS updates.  This time I wanted to see the state of Chromium and try it on slightly newer (4 year old) Inspiron.  I was surprised at how easy it was, at the advancements in what you could do, and also how limiting I found the OS.

Getting Started

The first place to start is with a Chromium OS build.  Chromium is open source and intended for developers, so you can download the source and create your own build.  But that’s beyond my skill set or, frankly, interest.  Instead, you can find someone who has already created a build.  I once used Hexxeh’s builds but Arnold the Bat’s updates are current.

Arnold the Bat has different types of builds.  I used the latest for AMD 64 bit systems that incorporated special drivers.  Based on previous experience with Chromium, and its failure to find wireless drivers, and comments on Arnold the Bat’s site, the special builds seemed the best bet.  In fact, when I installed the OS, everything worked and the wireless started without a problem.  Also, the mouse problems I experienced previously were gone.

The Bootable USB

I was fortunate that I had both an Ubuntu machine (that was about to become Chromium) and a Windows PC.  First, if you’re on Ubuntu, you can grab the 7zip extractor using apt-get:

apt-get install p7zip

Once you’ve downloaded the compressed 7z archive from Arnold the Bat, this will extract the necessary image file:  chromiumos_image.img.  Unfortunately, on Ubuntu, his instructions for making a bootable USB didn’t work for me.  It would transfer the image to the USB but wasn’t bootable.

I also tried to use ccd2iso (apt-get install ccd2iso) to convert the .img file to .iso.  The goal was to then use Ubuntu’s built-in Startup Disk Creator to make the bootable USB.  However, while the conversion seemed to be successful, I got error’s trying to open and write the .iso file.

Long story long, I ended up using the Win32 Disk Imager he links to and had no problems creating the USB on a Windows machine.

The Installation

The bootable USB just enables you to boot and use Chromium.  It doesn’t install it on the machine.  It’s like a Live Ubuntu experience.  The difference being that the close linkages with Chrome and your Google accounts will mean your activity is or could be partially saved.

To install Chromium, you need to switch to the terminal side and run the installation command.  First, toggle to the terminal – [CTRL][ALT][F2] (and remember it’s [CTRL][ALT][F1] to toggle back) – and you should see a login prompt.  Login as chronos and use the password password.  Chronos is the default Chromium user and the builder makes the password.

The next bit is pretty easy if it works.  To install, the instructions say to just type:

/usr/sbin/chromeos-install

That didn’t work for me.  First, I needed to run it as sudo (the sudo password was also password.  I also needed to tell it what the destination was.  So my final command was:

sudo /usr/sbin/chromeos-install –dst=/dev/sda

There’s a good chance yours will also be /dev/sda.  Otherwise, type lsblk and it should list your computer’s disk and partitions.

Running Chromium

This was so much easier than the last time I took a look, what, 2 years ago.  There are more apps and more offline utilities.  There are fewer ways to customize the device but I was surprised at what I was able to do.

The settings menu and power, network information in Chromium OS

The settings menu and power, network information in Chromium OS

For example, I’m still a bit leery about using an operating system controlled by Google.  Sure, it’s open source, but everything flows through your Google account.  I use HideMyAss’ VPN and was glad to see it was very easy to configure it as a private network in Chormium.  The secure icons did not appear for me, but I was able to verify that my IP had changed correctly.

Take a look at your search engine list.  Normally, I only have a single Google search (customized) as a default.  Somehow, my list now included the spammy Conduit search and so I removed it and a bunch of others, and reset the default to a de-personalized version of Google.

The Chrome browser Web store is still rich with choices.  They now segment apps from extensions, and you can distinguish true apps from things that just link to a Web site.  Also, importantly for Chromium users, the offline apps are easier to filter, in theory.  In practice, I used offline in my searches because the filter didn’t seem to work.

Two apps – crouton and Filesystem CIFS – looked particularly promising.  These enable you to broaden the Chromium environment to do things that it doesn’t.  Crouton creates a lite version of Ubuntu so that you can do things like connect to Samba file shares (Windows network drives), among other things.  This was WAY above my head but the scripts are dead simple to use.

Filesystem CIFS was another way to connect to Windows shares, but I couldn’t get it to work for me.  There are apps for Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox for cloud-based files, but I really wanted to connect to my local network drive.

If you’re interested in a lightweight operating system and are a heavy Google user, this is a great way to go.  It can give an old piece of equipment a new life.  For my part, I’m going back to Ubuntu where I have a bit more flexibility and can work outside the Google environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *