Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chromium (Chrome) OS

Out with the Biblical and in with the Geeky for today.

For anyone who doesn't already know, Google is attempting to build a Netbook operating system,a linux distribution where the UI is the chrome browser, and the apps exist in the cloud.

The Chromium Project Homepage recently put up the (very beta) source code for developers to see what is offered. Get it here

Out of the gate seems too bloated. I can't help but wonder if there isn't more that could be stripped, or if there are more features coming.

A couple people indicated to me that they couldn't get it running in VMWare, and it would only start in VirtualBox. Since I know one of them was using Windows, I'll have to assume they both were and do what comes naturally: Blame Redmond. Because here it fired up like a dream (VMWare Workstation 7), as the screenshot attests.

The login, as I'm sure you can see, is pretty straightforward.  What might not be so obvious is that you don't create a local user.  Sign in is done through your Google account.  We're now officially in the cloud.

A local account still exists, in the event of network difficulties, but won't do you much good beyond trouble-shooting.

One thing that aggravated me here was the absence of a mouse pointer on the login screen.  That in itself wouldn't be so bad, except Shift+Tab won't move you to the previous field either.  In the event of a username typo, you have to go through with the bad login to get another crack at it. Of course, that issue doesn't exist if you're using a netbook, and the OS is made for netbooks, not VMs, so it's more an annoyance than a real caveat.

Once you're logged in your looking at the Chromium (unbranded Chrome) browser.  DNS is horrible. It's a bug in Ubuntu (linked to the avahi daemon, if memory serves), easily worked around by installing the pdns-recursor package.  I'd hoped an OS built around a browser--based on Ubuntu or not--would have a cure for this ailment, but it doesn't.  More time is spent resolving hosts than ever should be.

Once your up though, you're greeted with a tab opening to the Google homepage.  You'll notice the logo in the top left is white rather than the traditional Google Chrome colors.  That simply reflects that this is Chromium--unbranded Chrome.

Also missing, for anyone who's seen the screenshots on the Chromium page, are the quick tabs for GMail, Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Dissapointing as well is the drop menu (well, smaller tab creating a drop menu effect) seen on the Chromium page is absent here.  Instead we find a full tab with a list of programs (conspicuously absent as well is the notepad application).

Tasks either open up in a Javascript Window at the bottom of the browser, or in a new tab, depending on app.  When Chromium first debuted I though the new process for each tab was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen, useful only for debuggers.  Now, of course, it's obvious that they were just so far ahead of the curve I couldn't see them.

CTRL+ALT+T drops you down to the terminal, which will have sudo privilleges (be sure to set the password as directed on the build instructions!).  uname -a returns
Linux localhost 2.6.30-chromeos-intel-menlow #1 SMP $Date i686 GNU/Linux

The root file system is mounted read-only, but with sudo access it's easy enough just to remount it as +rw and remove the dpkg lock.  Haven't had a chance to see what, if anything, you can trick it into installing yet, but I don't imagine it'll be much, and nor should it be.  It's an OS for the cloud.  /etc/apt/sources.list is empty other than local sources.

Rather than fill the blog up with the output of fun stuff like dpkg -l or df -a, I threw together a little video of Chromium in action.

At this point it's not even so much a beta as it is a proof of concept. It's boot is lightning fast, but after that it's somewhat sluggish (even when running from an SD card installation, rather than the VM). You're not going to be putting it on your NetBook tomorrow, but there seems to be no escaping the fact that this is the future.

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