July 9, 2011

Atomic Number 24

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:43 am by dgcombs

Can a steely gray, hard metal that takes a high polish and has a high melting point revive a wimpy, dull overheating laptop? Let’s find out!

After my Snow Leopard hackintosh crashed and burned due to Apple’s 10.6.8 update (Apparently, I wasn’t the only one taken out by this update), I decided to try a couple of other recently released operating systems. First I tried MeeGo with less than stellar results. Not wanting to run a “kiddish” operating system (so tagged by my 13 year old grandson), I tried to figure out how to run ChromeOS. The first hurdle I ran into was that ChromeOS is not available as a downloadable operating system. You can’t even buy it. It’s only available if you buy a ChromeBook. Ok, that doesn’t fit the bill at all. The idea here is to resurrect a dead laptop (or rather one running a kiddish OS), not to go buy a new one!

A little more searching and I found that there is, like the Chrome browser, an open source version of ChromeOS: ChromiumOS. This is cool, but I really don’t feel like building the whole thing from scratch just to test it. Surely there is some other thrill seeker out there who has compiled this thing. Right? That’s when I noticed Hexxeh (pronounced “heck-see”) a (then) 17-year old who seems to enjoy all things ChromiumOS. He built his own version with something called Flow. This is built on a very “old” version of Chromium – probably almost five months old. For the latest and greatest, young Mr. Hexxeh has automated the nightly build process and produces a Vanilla build suitable for use on VMWare, VirtualBox and a USBKey. Be aware that as good as these are, they are not video accellerated and as a result, your mileage may vary. I found that the VMWare version did not work without modifying the virtual ethernet adapter which is by default AMD PCNET. The Intel 1000E works fine.

Along with Hexxeh’s excellent builds, there is another. At ChromeOS Lounge, in the Chromium OS forum, Suhail Kapoor announces his Chromium OS Vanilla builds. But all of these lack the specificity to work well on a tired, sluggish Dell Inspiron 1318. Then, as I was just about to give up hope, I noticed a small post in a tiny corner of the Internet. @DougAnson pointed to a new release of a version of ChromiumOS for the Dell Mini. Even Techie Buzz posted a note. So I downloaded it. In my tests using a USB key, it came up perfectly fine on the old Inspiron. The only problems I encountered were sound (as reported on Techie Buzz) and the wireless networking.

To install this Dell version to the laptop from the USB key, you need to enter the command line shell. This is done by using the keyboard combination Ctl-Alt-T (not Ctl-Alt-L as reported by Techie Buzz). While at the command-line you enter the real LINUX shell by a series of commands:

Ctl-Alt-T to bring up the CROSH shell.

Type in the command SHELL to get to the BASH shell

Use the SUDO -s command to become root (the root password is dell1234).

You can now execute some commands in the Linux environment. One of the commands provided enables the wireless:

/etc/install_wl.sh

Another interesting command I found while in the /etc directory is this one:

/etc/mount_rw.sh

This command has some interesting uses since the root is mounted as read only at boot time. One of the interesting uses is to enable the sound. Running the command alsamixer brings up the sound ports. I noticed they were muted. Pressing the “M” key unmutes them. To save this setting you need to

alsamixer

TAB to each setting and press “M” to unmute (the “M” will disappear)

ESC to exit alsamixer

run /etc/mount_rw.sh to remount the root filesystem as read-write

run alsactl save to save your settings.

I like the ChromiumOS build quite a bit in spite of a recent Reuter’s article on potential vulnerabilities in the system. The general consensus is that since ChromiumOS and ChromeOS apps (extensions) are built using web technologies (such as HTML and JavaScript) and uses Cloud technologies that the OS will share vulnerabilities with both and be less secure. I think it’ll be more secure since it will present a smaller footprint for exploitation. Like my veteran 13-year old OS tester said on booting up the ChromiumOS laptop. “Wait, it’s just a browser?”

Watching the Operating System market share trends, I think we may see ChromeOS/ChromiumOS topping 1% before we see Linux reaching that watershed moment.

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