Chromium OS – Creation and use of a USB Flash Drive Boot

Preface

    Having played a bit with Joli OS, and generally liking it (see 2011-September-17 ‘Joli OS – A Primer’ post), I wanted to play with Chromium OS.

    Chromium OS is the open source version of Google’s ‘Chrome OS’.  You’ll notice it’s icon is identical, to Chrome’s, except it is four shades of blue, versus Chrome’s blue, red, green, and yellow icon.  It is available for devices running Windows, Linux, and MAC OS.

Goals

    My intention was to find a compiled Chromium USB flash boot image that would allow me to play with the OS without performing a full installation.  After some Googling, and a bit of reading on the boards, I opted for ‘Flow’, built by Hexxeh, found here: http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/ , and versions for Windows, Linux, and Mac devices are provided.

    Hexxeh does a great job of documenting the steps involved.

Experience

    To duplicate my experience you will need:

  • 2GB USB flash drive (or larger) that you are willing to reformat
  • A current Chromium OS image file (available via the Hexxeh links above)
  • A USB image-file writer.  Since my primary OS is Windows XP, I chose to use the writer that Hexxah recommended, ‘Image Writer for Windows’, available at https://launchpad.net/win32-image-writer/ .

Creating and Using the USB Boot Drive

    Creating the USB flash disk was simple.  I downloaded the image (IMG) file, downloaded the disk imager software, then installed the image file to my USB drive.  The formatting of the drive took proximately ten minutes.  Note I used an 8GB drive, as I didn’t have a spare 2GB drive available.

    Upon completion of the drive’s image installation, I inserted it in my Acer One D255 netbook and turned on the device.  Within moments the Chromium logo and name appeared and my USB drive’s light flickered, indicating to me that the drive was in use.  After four minutes I thought perhaps it had frozen, but a few more minutes indicated there was still activity.  After a total of ten minutes (apx.), I was presented with a simple configuration screen.  The time lag was obviously spent with Chromium interrogating the netbook to find the appropriate drivers to use.

    At the configuration screen I was able to select my WiFi network and enter its authentication credentials.  The connection to the network went well and I was soon presented with a Google login screen.  I opted for ‘Guest Login’, the Chromium browser launched, and I was looking at tabs displaying the contents of the USB drive.  On another tab I navigated to www.google.com and was able to quickly access the Internet.

Trying the Already Configured USB Drive in Another Device

    I then wanted to see how the USB drive worked in my notebook (versus my netbook).  Upon booting the notebook, the configuration seemed to take even longer than it had in the netbook.  Perhaps this is due to the USB drive already having been configured, for the netbook, and the reconfiguration was involving internal “Are you sure this really isn’t the netbook?” kind of interrogation.  The system announced “Your system is repairing itself. Please wait.” and was nice enough to provide a time estimate, in the upper right corner, of how long the process would take: 12 minutes.  Indeed, the countdown changed periodically, leaping from 12, to 8, to 7, to 5, holding there for a while, etc., but the total time of repair did take around the 12 minutes that had been estimated.  Once the repair was completed, my experience with the netbook was duplicated, in that I chose the network, entered the credentials, and was able to browse successfully.

    Shutting down, via the power button, was extremely slow, with several minutes of staring at a ‘Disabling IRQ 7’ message in the upper left corner of the screen.  Growing restless, after apx. four minutes, I held the power button in, powering down the notebook by force.  I restarted it, and the USB flash went back through the repair process, estimating another 12 minutes.  I assume this is because I had rudely shut the notebook off without allowing the shutdown process to complete, so perhaps my device settings had not been properly saved.  I bailed out of this process as well, forcing a shutdown.  I removed the USB drive and powered-on the notebook to ensure it’s regular OS (Windows7) was intact, and all was well, with one exception:  The system time had lept five hours into the future.  I assume the Chromium OS had been set for some European country, in the image, and that had lived through into my running of the image, and it reached in and grabbed my notebook’s clock and adjusted it for the Eurozone.  Pure speculation.  My notebook’s clock had not been set to use an Internet time server, so in Windows7, I enabled that, and it set my clock to U.S. Central time, which is what I wanted.

Trying the Boot Drive in the Original Device in Which it Had Been Created

    I then wanted to see what would happen if I returned the drive to the netbook.  As anticipated, I was presented with a time estimate (6 mins) on the ‘Your system is repairing itself. Please wait.’ screen.  The anticipated time passed and the Chromium OS launched, I selected my WiFi network, and proceeded.  This time, I opted to sign in to my Google account.  I was prompted to choose a picture, to represent my account, and I was taken directly to a browser screen.  Because I choose to sync my bookmarks and history, to my Google account, all my browser history was ready and waiting for me, a nice touch.

    I noticed my system clock was two hours in the past.  I shut the OS down, via the power button — I was gracefully taken back to a login screen and then chose the ‘Shutdown’ icon — and the device turned off within 30 seconds.

    I restarted the netbook, with the USB drive still installed, and the OS booted quickly.  No repair was necessary.  I was presented with a login screen containing the picture I had chosen, along with my previously used login name, as well as the choice of the guest login.  I opted for my login name, and the Chromium splash screen displayed.  After forty minutes minutes, of the splash screen continually displayed, and the flash drive’s light fluttering, I turned off the netbook.  After restarting, Chromium OS launched, in just a few seconds, and I was able to again choose my login.  Upon logging in I was quickly taken to the browser and Internet.

Installation of the OS as a Multi-Boot Option on a Device with an Existing OS

    I did not test this option, due to time constraints.  The directions that Hexxeh recommended, though mentioning Windows, were more geared toward devices containing existing LINUX OS’s, versus Windows.  Although familiar with various boot loaders, I was not willing to dive into this on a Sunday afternoon minutes away from the start of the Packers game (American football team).  I will return to this, however, as I am a big fan of multi-booting my devices, and I will update this entry accordingly.

Synopsis

It was a fun experiment, but I did not find the OS to be usable, launching and running it from an external USB flash drive.  It certainly is less than ideal to reconfigure the USB drive from one device to another.  Were I to use the OS, via a USB flash, I would dedicate the stick to one device.  My ideal situation would be a multi-boot, as I mentioned above.

The OS itself is fine.  It’s a browser and it will run apps.  I expect its load time would meet its advertized lightning fast times were I to have installed the OS as a multi-boot option.  The option to have a guest login, as well as a dedicated login, is what I wanted; Joli OS does not make it easy to lend one’s device to another person, since the OS login is basically an admin-level root-access login to the device itself.  [On that note, I think I have a solution, so look to my previously mentioned Joli OS posting for an update on that soon.].

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