Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting started with Chromium OS

Love the Chrome Browser ? Have seen the shiny new Chromebooks at your local Best Buy (May be not since they are all sold out :)) ?

Wanting to play with Chromium OS on your laptop before you take a dive in the fantastic world of Chromebook, you can install it on a USB stick and take it for a ride...

One important thing to keep in mind is that it's not exactly like Chromebook experience but very close. Chromebooks add a lot of value including secure boot and different plugins like Java/Pdf/Flash which are all sand boxed for security. Due to licensing requirements these plugins would not be present in the Open Source builds but if you look hard enough you can add them too.. Just google it...

I will stop beating around the bush and try to explain in a few simple steps how to go about it with due credit to people/website/content owners who have done all the hard work to make the builds available for everyone...

I will explain from the perspective of installing it on a USB stick...

Prerequisites :

1) Chromium OS builds from :
   Hexxeh's site  or Arnold's site or Build your own

Note : Arnold distributes even ARM builds. Most probably you need X86 as you may want to try it on your X86 (Intel/Amd) based machines.

2) USB stick of minimum 4 GB size. 

3) Some additional Linux drivers if you run into issues

4) Basic software for writing into USB like Windows Image Writer

So let's start :

1) Download the build

2) Unzip the file

3) Write the unzipped img file into the USB stick

4) Reboot and select boot from USB in your boot loader. Depending upon your BIOS you may have to go into settings to enable booting from USB. Some old machines may not support it but not sure if they are still alive :)

And there you have it... A welcome screen from Chromium OS :)

You may be first time lucky and able to enjoy the simplicity and power of Chromium OS with just 4 simple steps given above. But its entirely possible that you may get stuck due to lack of some drivers....

To be honest I faced an issue with wifi (Intel Wifi (iwlwifi) / Broadcom) and my laptops's touchpad which simply refused to work.. I was disappointed but for time being I connected it through Ethernet and used a USB mouse to get my way around. Once the basic setup was done and I liked what I saw, I was determined to solve the touchpad and wifi issues.. As expected I googled about them and thanks to Arnold whose builds I listed above I was able to solve the touchpad problem. But still there was no available solution for the wifi issue so had to dig deep into Chromium OS code and look into comments by some Googler's to figure out a solution.

Here are the solutions :

1) Touchpad : Arnold has a solution which worked for me..

2) Wifi : This is how I found the problem and solved it.

a) Login as chronos with password as either "facepunch" for Hexxeh's build or "password" for Arnold's build.

b)  In order to do this you would have to remount the root file system as rw which can be done by running these commands :
   a.1) Change to su by typing this : sudo su
   a.2) Enter password again on prompt
   a.3) Type this command : mount -o remount, rw /

c) Check file /var/log/messages and search for wifi. 
In my case I saw errors because the request for driver files were failing as they were missing in the builds...

d) I simply found my Intel Wifi drivers for Linux here. You should be able to add other drivers as long as they are standard and in the linux kernel tree...

e) I downloaded the gzip files for the drivers listed below and put them here : [# cp iwlwifi-*.ucode /lib/firmware]
  • Intel® Centrino® Wireless-N 1000 (2.6.30)
  • Intel® Centrino® Wireless-N 1000 (3.2+)
f) The last step to test all of this is to just type : restart ui

Hopefully everything will work and you will be able to enjoy the new OS. It's an amazingly fast and clean solution to your everyday computing needs...

Comments are welcome....