When experimenting with cloud apps, I am finding that older, out of date or low on memory computers are not great at running sleek, modern browsers like Chrome and Firefox. That netbook sitting unloved because Windows XP chews up memory and makes it run slow? Or that 10 year old desktop with 1GB of RAM and the hard drive that churns and churns and churns as you open your huge Outlook folders?
You can give it new life with Chromium OS. Chromium was launched in November 2009, and it has come a long way in 2+ years.
With that in mind, I tried the latest build of Google's Chromium OS. This operating system is as simple as possible: When you start, you just login to your Google account (gmail for example) and then you are presented with a Chrome web browser. Settings from Google's sync mechanism are available to you so your default bookmarks and tabs are brought over into Chromium. Basic things like touchpads, graphics, sound are supported without any drivers. I've tried this now on an Acer AspireOne netbook and an IBM Lenovo with success.
To give this a try, load up Chromium on a USB stick. I used a 2GB stick with success, although some websites suggests a 4GB stick. 1GB sticks or less won't do it. You're not going to be storing too much on this stick anyways, everything you access will be in the cloud! But if you need to store documents locally you will need some space for local files, although other filesystems (hard disks, DVDs) will be accessible from the "Google Drive" option.
Here is a step by step:
1. Get the "vanilla" build of Chromium OS from hexxeh. The latest build is probably best. The download is about 250MB and you will want to extract the .img file from inside the .zip file.
2. Use Win32DiskImager or this command line utility flashnul to create a USB stick with Chromium OS downloaded in Step 1. There are Mac and Linux utilities available online for writing IMG files as well. This will erase the contents of your USB stick, by the way!
3. Boot your computer holding F12 at the BIOS screen or F2 to get into the BIOS and tell the computer to boot off the USB device. This is key. If you cannot boot of a USB stick you will have to see other methods to try this out.
4. Be patient when you boot off the USB stick for the first time. It may take a 5-10 minutes for the video to be recognized and boot into the welcome screen. Follow the steps.
UPDATE: Using the USB drive as a way to run Chromium long term is not ideal. The speed of the USB key will severly hamper the performance of Chromium. So it is best to experiment and then when you are ready install the OS right onto your hard drive. Note that this will erase your hard drive completely, so be careful.
UPDATE 2: Flash is not being included with new Chromium builds. Something called Pepper is being built by Google to support Flash. Here's how you install Pepper (Flash for Chromium).
5. To turn on your mouse pad tap with 2 fingers simultanously. There are new swipe modes available in Chromium. And tons of keyboard short cuts. Use control-alt-shift-? to see a popup cheat sheet of all the keyboard short cuts.
6. Enjoy a super fast browsing experience, and remark how your computer feels brand new. Install Chrome apps, play games, go to Gmail, try a few websites. Load up youtube. It all works surprisingly well. Try Google Print in the Cloud. You can print to your printers at home from anywhere on the Internet, securely!
Google is selling a Chromium desktop and laptop now for $500, but you can reuse that old desktop, netbook or laptop quickly with this nice 15-20 minute project. Here's what Chrombooks look like:
Here's a video on Chromium OS in plain English:
Let me know what you think in the comments below!