!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//w3c//dtd html 4.0 transitional//en"> A Tutorial on Chrombooks, Chrome OS, and Chromixium

Linux Goodies

In Pursuit Of The Perfect O/S



A Review of Chromixium, a Chrome OS-like Environment

Amazon Computers

Chrome OS and Chrome-OS like Options

Chromebooks have been around a few years prior the writing of this web page, so you may well already know a lot about them. However, having just gone shopping for one at a couple of local computer stores, I was rather appalled at the limited knowledge possessed by the sales people I encountered. One salesman saw me looking at a model, and when I said I was interested in it, he said "You do know that it's just a browser, right?" I assured him that I knew what I was getting. That kind of response is what explains why I decided to put this information page together.

However, if you are knowledgeable and/or possibly in a bit in a hurry, let's cut to the chase. You can find several Chromebooks here. Or, if you want to explore the Chromebook experience first, you can download a Chrome OS-like setup based upon the Ubuntu Linux OS at Chromixium. And, you can download and get much of the Chromebook experience with this Precise Puppy derived Chromepup OS here, and a slightly different Chrome OS-like experience with a Slacko Puppy derived setup here.

Note that I can't guarantee that any of these Chrome OS-like distros will work for you or accept any responsibility for things that might go wrong. But I've installed and used them all successfully on my computers, except for one computer that hangs up with the Ubuntu derived versions.

So you can act now, or read the rest of the page for more useful information, then return to the top of the page and act later.

So to begin:

What are Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are laptop looking devices that run Chrome OS. They're cheaper, much lighter than conventional laptops, boot much faster (much faster), and run much longer on a battery charge -- like 8 hours or more for some models. To learn far more about Chrombooks and Cloud computing, consider a book on Chromebooks and Cloud Computing.

Chromebooks get that magic by dispensing with a hard disk altogether, and have, similar to Android Tablets, typically 1 or 2 GB of internal sdram, and an additional 16GB to 34GB as an SSD (solid-state drive) that replaces the need for a hard disc. They generally offer additional storage by way of providing a USB port and SD card reader slot. HDMI is a common included interface. Chrome users are generally expected to take full advantage of cloud storage to supplement their storage needs, and Chromebook vendors often offer 100GB of cloud storage free for a couple of years. Incidentally, there's much more than just storage available in the Google cloud arsenal.

Chromebooks are quite secure, in that security is primarily keep up to date by cloud providers. Updates to the Chromebook happen automatically and quickly. Safe, convenient and easy to use, easy to maintain -- that's the idea.

Chrome OS is a minimalistic operating system based on a modified Linux kernel that is designed to be small and fast. It's just big enough to manage a few resources (keyboard, screen, memory, and a couple of data interfaces), and run the Google Chrome browser. That's about it.

How can that be useful, you may ask? After all, Chrome is just a browser.

To me, it all starts with Java. Not that Java has anything directly to do with the Chrome browser or the Chrome OS, but some of the ideas that drove the development of Java seem to have been adopted by Google (and others), though in another form.

The major Java concept that I refer to is the idea of portable code. The intended promise of Java is to be able to generate a fast running compiled form of code, make it available on a network, and be able to run such code on any architecture on which exists a Java Virtual Machine. Code created in Java isn't compiled to machine code like traditional compilers, but compiled down to an intermediate form called byte code, which can be loaded and executed by any Java Virtual Machine. Byte code runs quite fast, much faster than interpretive code. Java Virtual Machines have been created for all commonly used operating systems. Java is still used, but I don't think it's taken over as much as was expected.

In the meantime web software developers have produced a number of tools to create languages that can be either executed on client computers by browsers (like Javascript code), or on network servers (like PHP or perl code). There are other such languages as well. These efforts continue to increase the power and usability of web browsers and an improved web experience.

Google grasped the idea that a well designed web browser could basically become the new manifestation of a computer virtual machine that could execute portable, network available code.

What Is Chrome OS?

The people at Google created the Chrome browser, moved it in the direction of a virtual machine as well as web interface, then created a Chrome Web Store where Chrome extensions and web apps runnable by Chrome can accumulate and be available in portable form that will run on any Chrome browser -- on any Chrome supported platform. Then, of course, the rest of the equation is to create versions of this browser/virtual machine for all commonly used operating systems, an on going process.

Since the Chrome browser became a code executing virtual machine as well as a web user interface, all that was needed was laptop like hardware with enough resources to support the Chrome browser, everything else could be web available by way of the browser.

With the Google concept, all supplemental software is either grabbed from the Chrome Web Store (some free, some not), or accessed on the cloud, like Google Doc and its family of products. Applications in the cloud and in the Web Store now abound, so real work can be done on a Chromebook even though the it runs only the Chrome browser. Applications that require modest resources generally run in Chrome on the client computer. Larger apps run on servers, and use Chrome on the client for user interface.

The Chromebook is just a browser?


Do You Need A Chromebook For A Chrome OS-like Experience

The answer is no ... and ... yes.

No in the sense that running a recent enough version of the Chrome browser on your respective computer and operating system will give you access to the Chrome Web Store and the Google cloud products and all the things Google Chrome can do. In fact, any modern browser will likely give you access to the cloud tools like Google Docs, but not the web app store.

But yes, in the sense that the more physical and convenient aspects of the Chromebook experience, such as super fast booting, very light weight, very long battery life, and effortless maintenance and security, are somewhat unique to Chromebooks. Tablets with keyboards give the most similar hardware experience.

Enter Chromixium

To address the non-Chrome OS aspects of running the Chrome browser on a general purpose and bloated operating system, some clever software experts put together Chromixium, a Chrome OS-like operating system built upon a trimmed down Ubuntu. It's light weight, for an Ubuntu system, and boots into a desktop interface that is designed to emphasize the simple and easy Chromebook look and feel. Cloud utilities and Web Store apps are all accessible in Chromixium.

I've used Chromixium, and have mostly positive things to say about it. It's a bit big to download (about 800MB), but installs easy, boots moderately fast, and indeed presents a very easy to use interface. It looks and feels like Chrome OS -- simple and effective, and provides user support through cloud applications and Web Store apps. Chromixium defaults to the Chromium browser, which does most things the Chrome browser can do, but not all. Particularly I found I couldn't stream Netflix videos in Chromium. But the Cromixium OS allows you to change from the Chromium browser to the Chrome browser by following these Chromium to Chrome directions. Then even Netflix streaming is at your disposal, assuming that you have a Netflix account.

The Chromixium look-alike setup is sitting on a fully functional and compatible Ubuntu operating system, so the very extensive Ubuntu package library is just a few keystrokes away. This gives the user not only the same on-line cloud and app capabilities as Chrome OS, but the full off-line and on-line capabilities of Ubuntu.

If you want to explore the Chrome OS look and feel before you spring for a Chromebook, Chromixium is a good choice. It's also a good choice if you want the full power of Ubuntu Linux, but the simple and easy to use Chrome interface. The Google cloud storage and utilities are useful even if you don't have or intend to get a Chromebook.

Once you burn a DVD with the Chromixium iso file, you'll find that Chromixium runs sluggishly from DVD, so to get anything like the real Chrome OS-like experience, you'll need to install Chromixium to a hard disk. The only downsides to Chromixium I've found are:

1) It takes awhile to download, being some 800MB in size

2) It must be installed on its own disk partition.

3) It may not work on all architectures. I've read that the mouse and/or keyboard can freeze up on some laptops, and in fact that happens on my Emachine desktop.

Enter Chromepup

I appreciate the way Chromixium introduced me to the Chrome OS concept. It works well on 2 of my 3 computers, and offers full Ubuntu Linux in support of the Chrome OS-like interface. But I wanted something smaller, simpler to install, and that booted and ran faster. It seemed like Puppy Linux was a good place to look for a solution.

Most Puppy Linux versions are small, typically weighing in at about 200MB or even less. Puppy Linux installs easily. If you use one of the Puppy Linux iso files to make a DVD, you can boot that and use the install option to put Puppy on your hard disk. Puppy installs in a directory on the selected partition. The partition need not be otherwise empty, Puppy can coexist with whatever's on the partition.

Once the Puppy distro is installed, you should then run (from the Puppy menu) the GRUB4DOS utility, and it will find all your current OS's, as well as the Puppy directory installation. GRUB4DOS will create a new grub boot manager for you. This method of install Puppy Linux is called a Frugal Install.

You can quite simply just boot from your Puppy Linux DVD and run with that. It will run fine that way, as the entire OS loads into RAM and runs from there. Files that you create or additional Puppy software that you install will be saved on a special file by Puppy on your hard disk (you select where), so that the next boot from DVD will have all of your additions. And finally, Puppy Linux has a utility to install the iso onto a USB disk, which will also make a fine running distro.

With Puppy, It's All About The Chrome

As I got into my Chrome OS-like project with Puppy, I found that the version of Puppy that I was using (Slacko 5.7) didn't have a new enough Chrome browser in the package manager. A browser that isn't new enough can access the Google cloud utilities (like Google doc), but not the Chrome Web Store. What to do?

After some intense web searching, I found a new enough version of Google Chrome at Chrome for Puppy that was created by an enterprising Puppy Linux user. I was able to easily get that installed into Slacko.

Walla! A Chrome browser with cloud and Web Store app capabilities. Everything was perfect.

Well, almost.

It turns out that I couldn't stream Netflix videos with that setup. Try as I might, I couldn't find what I needed to get Slacko to stream Netflix videos. But -- everything else worked.

Not satisfied, I installed Precise Puppy onto my computer. Since Frugal Puppy installations just exist in separate directories, it's easy to have multiple versions of Puppy Linux all existing on the same partition. So I didn't have to switch to Precise Puppy by wiping out my Slacko Puppy, just add Precise Puppy as a boot option.

With a bit of hunting, I was able to find and install the additional Puppy Linux files that turned the Precise Puppy version of Chrome into a full Chromebook experience -- including the ability to stream Netflix videos. I added one other modification to my Precise Puppy -- an auto loading of the Chrome browser on boot up. The remastered Puppy available as the Chromepup iso has all the ingredients in it to give a properly running Chromebook experience, minus the small differences between the Chromebook Desktop and the Puppy Linux Desktop.

Small, exceedingly easy to install, runs quite well even from DVD or USB stick, gives a near full Chrome experience. and allows full Puppy Linux function as well. What's not to like?

For most users, there's probably nothing not to like. But, Precise Puppy is derived from Ubuntu, and I found that like Chromixium (also based on Ubuntu), my Emachine keyboard and mouse would often lock up. So the Ubuntu derived Chrome OS-like setups (Chromixium and Chromepup) both apparently can lock up on some architectures.

Bummer -- if you have one of those architectures.

Yet ... there is hope for you to still get the Chrome OS experience before you decide if you can make use of a Chromebook, even if your computer and Ubuntu don't get along.

While I couldn't get my Slacko Puppy version (which was the newest at the time) to stream Netflix videos, someone else created a new derivative of Puppy from Slacko, called Simplicity Incidentally, it's not that hard to make derivatives of Puppy Linux -- a Remaster option is included in the Puppy menu system, though Simplicity is significantly enhanced and not a simple remaster.

It turns out that Simplicity Puppy has a recent Chrome browser already installed, and it does all the things you'd expect Chrome browser to do -- including the ability to stream Netflix videos. In fact, there are a few variations of the Simplicity Puppy OS, and one comes with a Netbook look. I used this one, added only the auto running of Chrome after booting, and made Chromepup Simplicity. It even runs well on my Emachine with no mouse freezes. It is, however, a bit bigger than the Precise Puppy version, coming at a bit over 300MB. Consider trying out this version if Chromixium doesn't get along with your hardware

Chrome OS-likes Summary

Chromixium gives the nearest to Chromebook experience, in that in addition to a fully capable Chrome browser, it gives a desktop and task panel that works just like a Chromebook. The Puppy Linux versions I created have fully functional versions of the Chrome browser that give all the Google cloud functions and Chrome Web store access, but I didn't endeavor to change the easy to use Puppy Linux desktops. I just added the auto-load of Chrome browser to them, and Chrome is essentially the user interface in the default Desktop panel. With Puppy Linux, you can switch to a different Desktop panel and do Puppy Linux things.

You might be wondering which Chrome OS-like distro to try. Here's a brief recap that might help.

1) Chromixium, which is based on Ubuntu. It's about an 800MB download, and must install in on it's own partition for good performance. It provides the most Chrome OS-like desktop look. It gives access to the entire Ubuntu package archive for Linux OS expansion.

Chromepup Precise, which uses a version of Puppy that's based on Ubuntu. It is only about 200MB is size. It runs perfectly from DVD or USB stick, installs to hard disk with Frugal method which need not use an entire partition. Gives access to much of the Ubuntu package archive. Boots much faster then Chromixium (20 seconds vs 35 seconds on my HP laptop).

Chromepup Simplicity, which is based on Slacko Puppy, a Slackware derivative. It is only a little over 300MB is size, and runs well from DVD or USB stick. It gives access to much of the Slackware archive. Is seems to have less issues with at least some hardware that Ubuntu derivatives don't like.

Note that since Puppy versions install in just directories on a partition, both Chromepup versions can easily exist on the same partition, letting you try both out. They can even exist as directories of the root partition of your Chromixium install, and all would be boot-able. In such a case, install Chromixium first, then copy the respective iso files of the Puppy versions into respective directors on the Chromixium partition, boot one of the Puppy Linux DVDs and run GRUB4DOS. It should find Chromixium, both Puppy installs, and any other OS's on your drive.

So make a decision already. Get a Chromebook, or try a Chrome OS-like setup of your choice. Or (as I'm doing) do both. I have Chromixium on two computers, a Chromepup on all three of my computers, and I bought a Acer Chromebook, 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670 (Intel Celeron , 2GB, 16GB SSD, White).

I've learned that functionally, the Chrome in the described Chrome OS-like Linux derivatives works pretty much like that in the Chromebook. The only functional difference I've noticed is that the Chromebook makes a more seamless coupling with Google drive, in that whenever a file selection pup-up is initiated by an app, the Google drive is always a selection option.

But when running Chrome on a desktop or laptop install of a Linux/Chrome install, the seamless integration of Google drive isn't there. On such systems, one can certainly upload and download to and from the Google drive, and run cloud programs and apps that work with files on the Google drive. But if a file selection pop-up is initiated, the Google drive isn't one of the options.

Life is good in the cloud.