Lately, I’ve been hearing so much about Chromebooks, I even played with it at Best Buy (thanks to their “Showrooming” ;-). When their prices dropped below $200 for a brand new Acer C720, I decided to get one to play with it. I read all about its limitations and the potentials for the expanded capability after installing Ubuntu through Chroot (Crouton) and dual-boot (ChrUbuntu) methods. I have used Enterprise Linux version at work and would like to try the “client” Linux like Ubuntu for the fun of it. Because I knew I wanted to play with Ubuntu Linux so I decided to buy a used 32GB (vs. standard 16GB) flash storage version from eBay for $169. By the way, 32GB is needed if you want to run ChrUbuntu since a full Ubuntu by itself would probably need 24GB on its own if you plan to keep the Chrome OS as a dual-boot.
Since I received the Chromebook on 6/27/14, I have spent numerous hours playing and hacking it. My impression of Chrome OS is that it’s really for the consumers of digital contents due to its limitations. Here are the pluses and minuses:
1) Fast boot and wake up from sleep (almost instantaneous like a tablet).
2) Excellent browsing experience. The two-finger scrolling and three-finger flipping through the browser tabs are nice. Of course, having a physical keyboard makes a big difference as compared to browsing on an iPad. And the trackpad on Acer C720 works really well with sufficient immunity from accidental palm touchings.
3) Most apps are responsive and fast, thanks to the Intel Haswell Celeron 2955U 1.4 GHz CPU, 2GB DRAM’s and 32GB flash drive.
4) Seamless integration with Chromecast. (More on Chromecast on a later blog).
1) No email clients like Thunderbird except webmails like gmail, which works very well but not good enough for work-related emails.
2) No use of OpenOffices.
3) No IPsec VPN (the one my employer uses)
4) Can’t run Java apps. Java plugins cannot be installed. I sensed some bad blood between Google and Oracle such that Google refused to put Java on Chromebook at the time of this writing.
If you don’t plan to do lots of emails and are mainly browsing the web and run only Chrome Apps, then Chromebook may be the right laptop for you as a supplement to your tablets. Since the #1 and #3 minuses are show stoppers for me, I need to add on Linux to mitigate them. There are two options: Chroot and ChrUbuntu.
I first installed Chroot to enable running Ubuntu along side the Chrome OS in “Developer” mode. This was ideal as I would have the best of the both worlds: Chrome OS and Ubuntu – switching back and forth with simple CTL-ALT strokes. The only problem was that I couldn’t install VPN properly on it – neither Cisco AnyConnect nor OpenConnect. I suspect that the Chrome OS, running in parallel, may be causing conflicts. I gave up on it after 3 days of intensive hacking.
Then I decided that install Ubuntu as a duel-boot partition. I followed the installation directions here. After a couple of hours of downloading and installation, I was able to boot to Ubuntu and installed Cisco AnyConnect VPN. I was now in business.
Then after playing with the Ubuntu on Chromebook, I discovered a few quirks that really got me to wonder why I bothered with Ubuntu.
1. Some system settings don’t work right, like disabling the mouse while typing to avoid cursor movement. I had to type in a command to enable it manually (“/usr/bin/syndaemon -i 1.5 -K d”) and I had a hard time putting in the autostart service.
2. Locale issue: Constant “Locale” warnings popped up when running a shell. I fixed it with this locale tip.
3. Font sizes: I had a hard time fixing the font sizes on Ubuntu. It was either too small or too big.
4. The touchpad no longer works after I accidentally disabled it and wasn’t able to bring back the driver. Sigh! (This was fixed by following the directions in this link).
So at the end, I started to miss and appreciate Microsoft’s Windows 7 or even Windows 8. With Ubuntu on Chromebook, I would be wasting lots of my time fixing some minor Linux issues which seem to pop up here and there, unless I revert it back to the standard Chrome OS Chromebook, which would not do better than an iPad or an Android tablet. Then I looked around and found that for an extra $20~30, I could have bought a cheap full Windows laptop instead!
My conclusion is that, at this time, Chrome OS Chromebook and Ubuntu Chromebook are not ready for prime time. I like the pluses but the minuses are too great for me to ignore. I will most likely be reselling my Chromebook on eBay…