Playing With Google ChromeOS

For the last 3 days I have been messing around with Google ChromeOS on a HP Notebook – 15ay190nia on loan to me for a week. It has been fun so far. Though it’s not all smiles and giggles all the way as it should be, since the hardware on this old thing kind of limits me, or rather the operating system, into really doing lots of stuff.

Let me be clear. This is NOT a Google Chromebook. There is a difference. I would not go into the details of that so much. To put it simply, Chromebooks are laptops/notebooks that were designed and intended to run with ChromeOS, and comes pre-installed with it.

So what is this I am talking about?

I’m talking about installing ChromeOS, the operating system, on an Intel-powered x86_64 PC, that dual boots with a Windows 10. Yes, it’s possible! I think it has been for a long time. I never got the point of experimenting with it much back then. I mean – the last time I tried ChromeOS was some years back on Ubuntu through this package that you install on top of the host OS, and ran it on its own shell directly from the login prompt – it was nothing more but a glorified Chrome browser. Didn’t impress me at all. Can’t even imagine buying Chromebook to begin with when all you have is a freaking web browser. No matter how cheap it was. So I kinda forgot about ChromeOS.

Some years forward… A lot has changed. Over the years it has grown into something much more. I cannot mention each and every major game-breaking feature, but there are enough and then some, that really piqued my curiosity.

Naming a few, the first would be being able to run Android apps on ChromeOS. Then there are the Progressive Web Apps (I think that is what they are called) – these are just web pages in some sort of way – that have evolved a lot over the years to the point that it is almost on par with its Android app counterparts. The functionalities and behavior are almost the same.

But what really made me turn around and look into ChromeOS is Linux. Yes, Linux. Last year I started getting news feeds of how Google was officially bringing in Linux into ChromeOS through project Crostini.

Linux on ChromeOS is not new. There is already a long-running project that already does this by the name of Crouton, although it is unofficial. It works great according to a lot of people who use it and swear by “how stable” it is. Also, just to point it out, ChromeOS is actually Linux. It is based off of Gentoo distro. Many people don’t consider ChromeOS as a Linux distro. I do. Just as Android is considered by many as not a Linux distro. Again, I do.

So it is Linux on top of Linux, you say. What is so exciting about it?

You see, ChromeOS was designed to be a cloud-based desktop operating system. At least that was the initial plan. Everything and anything you do on it is gonna be on the Web. Read: Online all the time. That means you can’t really do stuff without an Internet connection, or like you normally could through a traditional desktop OS like Windows. But this has changed over time. Offline support for many things, one of those features I failed to mention, has been steadily coming in.

Going back to my point, with this Linux thing on ChromeOS, that means native Linux applications will be able to run on the system officially. That’s with Google’s blessing and support. In black and white, I will be able to install developer tools, for example, and start doing software development work on a Chromebook. There is potential of being able to play games, like the ones you install through Valve Steam (I think I have read somewhere that it is already possible but limited). Other wonderful possibilities. Again, officially. I won’t have to fear bricking or breaking the device. No more need for hacks or reading countless manuals and watching how to tutorials on YouTube. It will just be supported out of the box. Potentially. But you get the idea…

Lastly, there is already news of Google enabling ChromeOS to run Windows applications. More wonderful news I must say. This one though, if I recall correctly, is still in paper. While official Linux support is already in Beta.

But to have both Linux and Windows all under one roof, that is really something. That would be the day. Or perhaps Microsoft just beat Google to it with its Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)? WSL is already in its second incarnation by the way. To be frank, I wasn’t really all that excited about WSL. If I had to use Linux I would do it on a proper Linux distro. Then I can boot Windows in a virtual machine or something to that effect while on a Linux machine.

With ChromeOS having the ability to run Linux and Windows applications on it, perhaps my days of dual booting will be over. Perhaps not.

That is why I am seriously considering a Google Chromebook for my next device. Not too soon yet. Right now I’m still trying to get my feet wet around this whole ChromeOS thingie. So far I feel positive about it overall. There have been some minor setbacks and hiccups, but I can’t really complain since this is not an official Chromebook. It was not really designed to be done like this in the first place.

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