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With the open sourcing of Google Chrome OS as Chromium OS project, people have started building the OS on their own and a couple of them can be found here and here. I have tried out the build that is available as a torrent mentioned in the TechCrunch article, but could not login to the OS (Network not connected and offline login failed) in neither VMWare nor VirtualBox on a Leopard. However, it logged in fine in VirtualBox on Ubuntu 9.10. The performance though was terribly bad. There is also a USB bootable image available here, which I have not tried out yet.

I have downloaded the Chromium source code and have built the OS image and ran it successfully on both VMWare and VirtualBox. The code is downloaded as a tarball for this build process. If you wish to make changes to the code and contribute, the source should be downloaded using git, in which case, the Chromium depot tools need to be installed as a prerequisite.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a lightweight OS designed to be used by netbooks, focused only on the web. It is built on top of the Linux kernel and aims to be faster, simpler and secure.

  • Built on top of Linux kernel
  • Faster boot times
  • Entirely web-based
  • Minimal user interface
  • Encrypted storage of all user data in the cloud
  • Self verification of integrity of OS at every boot

What it is not?

Chrome OS is NOT a replacement for desktop operating systems. You can’t just go and replace your current OS with Chrome OS!

Build Process:

I have done the entire build on my 32 bit Ubuntu 9.10. The image works fine in VirtualBox in the same machine and also on VMWare in a Leopard. The steps in brief are:

  1. Making the local repository
  2. Creating the build environment
  3. Including Chrome browser
  4. Building the platform packages
  5. Building the kernel
  6. Building the final OS image
  7. Converting the image to a VMWare image
  8. Converting the image into a bootable USB disk (optional)

Creating the local repository took about an hour to complete. Other steps are relatively faster; the building of the platform packages and the kernel took 10 minutes each and the final OS image itself took 5 minutes. Conversion into a VMWare image requires qemu. Do a sudo apt-get install qemu-kvm before starting the conversion.

How does it work?

The OS is nothing but a browser, well almost! The OS boots and you have a nice blue screen (no, not the BSOD :P) asking for the username and password. A Gmail account is required to login to the OS. The build number below the login screen is unique for each build of the Chromium OS image.

Chromium OS Login

On login, the user is directly taken to the Chrome browser and everything the OS has to offer is available right there. It’s all about the web!

Clicking on the Chrome logo on the top left corner gives you a list of web apps (even Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail). Orkut is missing, but Facebook isn’t 🙂 Almost all the websites that I use regularly worked fine. Flash too works great without any noticeable problems.

On the downside, command line access sucks (Do Ctrl + Alt + T to access the terminal). Typing ‘exit’ at the command line does not take you back to the browser right away. It never did for me, at least! I always ended up typing ‘exit’ about 4-5 times and suddenly the browser will appear. Also the OS becomes unresponsive in both VMWare and VirtualBox if left unused for a few minutes.

The minimalistic UI seems to be a cautious approach. There are two themes available right now – GTK+ and Classic. The look feel at the moment is not at all good. But we can expect Google (and the Open Source community!) to improve on this in the coming months.

The OS is targeted at those who use computers almost solely for accessing the Internet. It is simple and nicely done. But the performance of the Chrome OS is not satisfactory on a virtual machine. The user interface also needs to improve quite a bit.

Keeping all the data in the cloud could be a double-edged sword with potential paranoid users trying to avoid Chrome OS just for that reason. Google is betting on the fact that the market for net-books will increase in the future and that users who want to connect to the Internet fast would prefer an OS which lets them do that without much difficulties.

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