Thursday, April 18, 2013

Getting My Own Chromebook

Today I brought a Chromebook. There's a perfectly good reason to do so. It's brilliant hardware. It's the sort of hardware I always wanted for the image. A 16GB solid state drive (although I would have settled for 8GB), 2GB of RAM, an Intel processor.... all within a decent price point and 8 hours or so of battery life (though charging takes a fair whack of time - 4 hours or so).

I've been having a play.

Anyone who's heard me talk about the Chromebook has heard me practically yell "It's just a browser!". It truly is. I can't, for example, access files from another machine - unless I just want read access. The only other way of doing this I can think of is using some sort of cloud solution within my own network (which just feels bizarre).

I did ask someone else what they had thought of their ChromeOS experience. He summed it up in one word. "Underwhelming". It does what it's supposed to do - which probably isn't what you want to do.

There's a general comment to be made for what Google are doing to Linux too. While Andriod and ChromeOS are based on Linux, it feels a bit like when Sarah Chalke took over the role of Becky on Roseanne (yep - really old TV reference. Basically they kept the character but swapped the actor. They did make reference to this at some point). It's her but she's just not the same. So it's Linux. They keep telling me that it's Linux. But it just doesn't gel. It tries to keep me out of all that Linuxy goodness. If I dig deep enough, I can find it. But boy, does it take some digging (in the case of my Android phone, I had to use Windows to jailbreak it).

Every guide about hacking the Chromebook starts with "Put it into developer mode". So flip a switch. Turn it on and get this big ugly screen referred to as the "Scary Boot Screen". To get rid of that screen, there are two possibilities. Turn off developer mode (essentially sit down, shut up and do what Google tell you to do - any modifications you might have made will be wiped) or open up the device in order to unlock the read only BIOS and flash it (I haven't seen any links to firmware that you can be used for this purpose - it's sufficiently scary enough not to attempt it).

But what's so scary about this boot screen? It offers you one option. Press the space bar to restore. Basically, "go sit in the naughty corner while I clean up this 'mess'".

So you've gone through the effort to put it into developer mode, and then you have to know to press Ctrl-D. Brilliant! Once in developer mode, you can also put the BIOS into developer mode - so that it doesn't look for a signed kernel (whereas developer mode JUST gives you access to a bash terminal). But even after this very manual step (Flick the switch, turn it on, see the scary screen and go into developer mode - which takes 5 minutes the first time. It appears to image or something though apparently it doesn't do this again if you flick the switch back assuming you haven't made any modifications. Open up the shell either by pressing Ctrl-T and typing in shell (to get bash) or press Ctrl-Alt-F2 and log in as chronos and then issue the command to put the BIOS into developer mode) Google STILL deems it in my best interest to show the scary boot screen. Surely, there's got to be a better way of letting the user know they're in developer mode...

To me, this is the show stopper. The usability HAS to be what Google want it to be, otherwise, they're going to make it as ugly as humanly possible. It has a god awful stink of "We own that device. (Oh and thanks for paying for the privilege)". The most upsetting bit for me... they've used OpenSource firmware to do this...

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