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Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to Make Your Own Chrome OS Chromebook

On June 15, Samsung and Acer will release the first consumer-oriented Chrome OS laptops, or Chromebooks as Google likes to call them. Both hardware- and software-wise, these netbooks are nothing special: You can download Chrome OS's open source brother, Chromium OS, for free -- and at around $400 for a Chromebook, you would certainly expect some better hardware than what Samsung and Acer are offering.In fact, for around $300 you can get a cheaper and more powerful netbook with Windows 7 pre-installed -- and it only takes about 30 minutes to wipe Windows and install Chrome OS yourself. You'll end up with a better and cheaper Chromebook.

For the most part, any x86-powered laptop or Atom netbook should run Chrome OS without difficulties. Almost every x86 computer will at least boot Chrome OS -- but in some cases, you might need to do a little hacking to get your WiFi adaptor and other peripherals to work.

As far as specific models go, the Samsung NC10 is a good bet, as is the Acer Eee PC, Acer Aspire, Toshiba Mini, and Fujitsu Lifebook. For more info on what does and doesn't work, check theChromium Developer Hardware list, and Hexxeh's netbook andlaptop compatibility lists. There's no reason you can't install (or dual-boot!) Chrome OS on a desktop PC, incidentally.

To perform the Chromium OS install process, you'll need a 2GB USB memory stick. Any plain, not-weirdly-partitioned USB storage device should be fine -- you'll only need it for the install, so don't worry about performance or reliability.

You now need to grab a copy of Chromium OS. The only real option, unless you want to build Chromium OS yourself, is to download an image from Hexxeh. Because Hexxeh's nightly builds are automatically generated from the latest Chromium source code, they are not guaranteed to work -- but on the flip side, Hexxeh's builds always represent the latest bleeding edge version of Chrome OS.

Download Chromium OS
It's not common, but sometimes the latest build will be broken -- but if that's the case, you can simply download yesterday's build instead. You can also download a VirtualBox or VMware image to test it out, before going ahead and burning the USB image.

The other option, if you've built Linux before, is to build Chromium OS from source. It's fairly easy; it requires an Ubuntu install, and about an hour to download and build. You can do it from inside VirtualBox, too, if you don't have a Linux build environment set up.

Writing image to USB

The next step is to burn Hexxeh's Chrome OS image onto your USB memory stick. Windows users should use Image Writer; Mac users should use dd; and Linux users should use the usb-imagewriter package.

Once you've completed the imaging process, plug your USB memory stick into your soon-to-be-Chromebook, power on, and hopefully the Chrome OS boot sequence will begin! If it doesn't, you may have to enter BIOS and make sure your computer is set to boot from USB. If the boot process fails entirely, try another one of Hexxeh's builds.

After about 8 seconds, you should be greeted with a login screen that looks like this:
Login Screen

If a network connection has been detected -- WiFi or Ethernet -- you'll be able to continue to the login screen. Enter your normal Google account credentials and press Enter. If Chrome OS has detected a built-in webcam, you'll have the option of taking a photo of your ugly mug for the login carousel; you can click Skip if you'd rather have a faceless avatar, though.

Once you're through the photo-taking, you'll be presented with a very plain-looking Chrome browser window. You've made it -- you're now using Chrome OS!

Installing to Hard Drive or SSD

Your Chromebook will very happily boot from your USB memory stick -- but let's face it, you don't really want an ugly dongle sticking out of your netbook, just waiting to be pulled out by an angry girlfriend, or clipped on a doorway. Fortunately, installing Chrome OS to a hard disk drive or solid-state drive is easy.

Warning: this will completely wipe the contents of your HDD or SSD, so proceed with caution.

First, hit Ctrl+Alt+T, which will bring up a diagnostic-type terminal screen.

Then, type shell and press Enter
Type /usr/sbin/chromeos-install and press Enter. If prompted for a password, use facepunch
Installing to Hard Drive or SSD

When the install process finishes, reboot your computer, pull out your memory stick, wait 8 seconds, and voila: Chrome OS running from your hard drive. It might even boot in under 8 seconds, if you're using an SSD...

What you have just installed is Chromium OS, not Chrome OS. Like the Chromium and Chrome browsers, the OSes are very similar, but not quite the same. Two of Chrome OS's best features --Verified Boot and Easy Recovery -- don't exist in Chromium OS. Likewise, Chrome's built-in PDF reader doesn't exist in Chromium OS, and embedded MP3 playback requires some tweaking -- but it does come with a Flash Player plug-in!

More importantly, though, Chromium OS can run every Chrome web app and extension. You'll notice that Hexxeh's Vanilla builds don't come with any bundled apps or extensions, so your first port of call should be the Chrome Web Store. After that, you should set up Google Cloud Print, connect to Google Music (if you have a beta invite!), and then... well... the web's your oyster!

Finally, if you're having any problems -- even though Chromium OS isn't officially supported -- Google's Chromebook support pagesare a great starting point. There are excellent guides on setting up user accounts and tweaking settings -- and there's a complete list of keyboard shortcuts, too. For more in-depth how-tos and troubleshooting, check out the Chromium OS developer resources.

[via extremetech]

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