Life With ChromeBox

Daily Use

OK, I’ve had my HP ChromeBox for a few weeks now and done a fair amount with it. Presently that link says it is on sale for $159 (I paid $179) so either it isn’t selling as well as expected, or there is an improved model coming… So some comments:

There are the usual “young software” indications. Things like when in the browser you add a folder, it gives you the ‘change name’ kind of box with typeover, but when you type, it reverts to “New Folder”. THEN you can chose “rename” and it actually renames.

Not a lot of them, but enough to say the bug fixers are doing the A and B list bugs, not the “mildly annoying but no real impact” bugs. OK, I can live with that.

One of the first “What?” moments was at first boot. I could not find a way to control it / log off. It is in the lower right corner as a rectangle you click on to get controls. Turns out the TV was not showing that part of the screen, so I had to use the TV remote to resize the image enough to see it at all. That let me get to the controls (two rectangle stacked offset that I guess is supposed to indicated a monitor or two with a cryptic name next to it that implied HDTV sizes), where one was a resize of the image size ChromeOS was sending. Shrinking that a bit more got the whole screen area to show on the TV.

The overall security seems good (against folks not at Google / NSA). They’ve done things that are smart, on the security front, to keep out malware and bad folks. Unfortunately, as it does send everything it can to “the cloud”, you are wide open to any Google Snoops and their NSA Dominatrix friends. (Since Google is in the Prism program, expect that anything you do with them is captured and recorded. Even things in SSL links – where they can do a kind of “man in the middle” with a decrypt / recrypt between the two ends of the pipe.) As long as you trust Google / NSA / their friends and fellow travelers / anyone else who figured out their entry points; then no problem. (Lets just say I use mine only for completely uninteresting and relatively bland things. Running this blog with public data, searching for things for blog articles, reading email from the blog and from job searches, sorting spam, storing copies of Linux and similar public-bag-o-bits things. Not for anything you want private from Google or the NSA or…)

It looks to me like they tried to close the worst holes that let just about anyone into MicroSoft machines anywhere on the planet. Leaving open only those things that “share” with Google / NSA / TLA-of-your-choice. (TLA being Three Letter Agency). While I’m doing the leg work / layout planning for a full boat Linux load, I’ve not done an install like that just yet. Still at the exploring / planning phases.

The browser is classical Chrome. Works well. Not too quirky. (While I’d rather have Ice Weasel / Fire Fox or Opera, Chrome is “ok” and without any gaping holes that I saw). Installing the (free!) ad blocker add-on reduced network traffic and made pages more usable at the expense of having a couple of pages nag me about using Ad Blockers and why that would be a Bad Idea (especially for them).

I used a couple of “Web Apps” and they seemed fine. Not as mature or robust as the MS or Apple equivalents, but ‘workable’. Using the spreadsheet was a bit primitive, so for “real work” I think that needs a Mac or MS. (Or maybe I can find an Open Office for it… but I’ll likely just boot a Real Linux release.) Mostly limited features and/or odd interface changes to learn. For “lite weight” or “student” use, likely enough (IFF the teacher does not demand M.S. software / formats). The mailer is, of course, Gmail. I might well move the blog email onto it as soon as I get an I.D. that isn’t 40 char long with random char in it… (gmail, being popular, has few simple and short names that are not yet taken). Let the NSA read all my near-SPAM blog-Nags… like “Joe Blow is now following your blog” and “want to buy an upgrade?”…

All in all, a nice box for day to day use if you do not need the MicroSoft Office software, and especially if internet centric use dominates. (Youtube, browsing, email, …)

Other Operating Systems

While the official HP site says it is not possible to run other OS types on it, other folks do not agree. You can find several sets of notes on how to install Linux in a couple of ways and of several flavors; but it is a risk and for the technically inclined.

Can I install a different operating system, such as Windows, on my Chromebook?

No, you cannot install different operating systems on your Chromebook.

http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=194362

The EZ Setup Script was developed in order to simplify the setup/installation of Kodi on the Haswell-based Asus/HP/Acer/Dell Chromeboxes (with Celeron 2955U, Core i3-4010U, Core i7-4600U CPUs). Before using this script, you must perform the steps in the device prep section of the wiki (put the ChromeBox in developer mode, and disable the firmware write protect). If you are planning on installing a dual-boot setup, you must perform a factory reset using Google’e recovery image prior to running the script for a dual-boot install.

Lists the HP, so it ought to work.

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/132300-unleash-your-chromebox-how-to-dual-boot-ubuntu-linux-on-your-chrome-os-device/2

Once you’re logged in as chronos, run the commands wget http://goo.gl/oyjlt and then sudo sh oyjlt. Wget grabs a shell script to re-partition your drive, and the sudo command executes it. The script works by shrinking the Chrome OS partition and creating one for Ubuntu in the newly created space. Assuming your device shipped with a 16GB SSD, the Chrome OS partition will initially be about 11GB. You can tell the script how much of that space to give Ubuntu. 8GB or 9GB will give you a couple GB of space for Ubuntu programs and files, after the distribution is installed, while still allowing Chrome OS a little bit of room for caching and local file storage.

http://www.howtogeek.com/162120/how-to-install-ubuntu-linux-on-your-chromebook-with-crouton/

Crouton vs. ChrUbuntu
Installing Ubuntu Linux on your Chromebook isn’t as simple as installing the standard Ubuntu system — at least not at the moment. You’ll need to choose a project developed specially for your Chromebook. There are two popular options:

ChrUbuntu: ChrUbuntu is a Ubuntu system built for Chromebooks. It works like a traditional dual-boot system. You can restart your Chromebook and choose between Chrome OS and Ubuntu at boot time. ChrUbuntu can be installed on your Chromebook’s internal storage or on a USB device or SD card.
Crouton: Crouton actually uses a “chroot” environment to run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu at the same time. Ubuntu runs alongside Chrome OS, so you can switch between Chrome OS and your standard Linux desktop environment with a keyboard shortcut. This gives you the ability to take advantage of both environments without any rebooting needed. Crouton allows you to use Chrome OS while having a standard Linux environment with all its command-line tools and desktop applications a few keystrokes away.
We’ll be using Crouton for this. It takes advantage the Linux system underlying Chrome OS to run both environments at once and is a much slicker experience than traditional dual-booting. Crouton uses Chrome OS’s standard drivers for your Chromebook’s hardware, so you shouldn’t run into issues with your touchpad or other hardware. Crouton was actually created by Google employee Dave Schneider.

So the real problem is the number of ways you can do it, rather than not being able. Decisions decisions.

The question of BIOS is a bit murky. This link says that SeaBIOS is available for “legacy” OS running, but other places state that ChromeOS doesn’t use it; which leaves open the question of what IT uses, and is there Yet Another Bios below the SeaBios level… (i.e. is there a potentially prebuggered layer you can not reach as with UEFI on PCs).

http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/hp-chromebox

Legacy Boot

This device includes the SeaBIOS firmware which supports booting images directly like a legacy BIOS would. Note: the BIOS does not provide a fancy GUI for you, nor is it easy to use for beginners. You will need to manually boot/install your alternative system.

Like USB boot, support for this is disabled by default. You need to get into Dev-mode first and then run:

sudo crossystem dev_boot_legacy=1
and reboot once to boot legacy images with Ctrl-L.

So a bit more low level “dig here!” needed to assure that the hardware / firmware under any “secure BSD / Linux” layer is also, in fact, secure; even against Google and their NSA “friends” and not pre-buggered.

But for an initial test case, it’s clearly usable. (IFF it’s an issue, an alternative approach is to gang together a few ’embedded system’ boards with primitive BIOS suited for making a cluster with enough power for high load uses.)

Video

I’m putting this in its own heading as it was a surprise to me. The box is Just Fine as a video box.

It handles YouTube great. With NetFlix I’ve not had any issues at all due to the box. Only network congestion issues at the center of prime time. ( I’m at a ‘resort’ with shared WiFi …)

In fact, (see prior Netflix Article) It’s been so good that I find it is ‘occupied’ between about 5 pm and 10 pm with ‘entertainment center’ duties and not available to me for ‘browsing and blog operations’. I may end up getting a second device just to get this one back for regular computer uses.

The one issue I found was with the sound. When the box ‘sleeps’, and you wake it up again, sometimes the sound is just gone. Drove me nuts for a while, with the occasional need to reboot and / or log out and back in again just to get the sound back. Now I have a headset plugged in. When it sleeps, it defaults to the headset on wakeup. Then I just go to the lower right corner, open the settings, and swap sound from the headset to the HDMI link and sound is back. This is the kind of minor bug that gets fixed late in the cycle, so maybe soon… Or maybe there is some simpler way to do that that I just have not learned yet.

So, despite my expectations, the ChromeBox has been used for a lot of video / music.

In Conclusion

It’s a pretty good box for many things, and dandy as a second box. It’s a bit complicated to get Linux onto it ( I suspect this is ‘by design’ to discourage folks from using things Google / NSA can not snoop into easily) but it can be done per various postings. It isn’t useful if you have a need for industrial strength office tools (yet – that I could tell) but good enough for modest use. Not for those who need MicroSoft Office, nor for folks with little or no internet connectivity or folks who pay for it ‘by the byte’ and want to keep traffic down.

For me, I’m happy with it. Then again, I have a half dozen computers with me at any one time. (Mostly old, or small – for example a decade old Macbook that’s marginal, an HP laptop with a dying fan, and 2 Raspberry Pi boards are with me ‘on the road’ right now. But enough that I can make something go if needed no matter what.) As a “one and only one” computer, I’d be reluctant to commit to it. Too many times folks need some mandated MS software for classes or work. While that might change in the future, it would be a big risk for the “only one computer” user. Also, it won’t do much for you in that rest area next to the freeway in The Desert with no wifi or cell coverage. It depends on internet connectivity to work decently. Take a class where they kill wifi in the building, and you will have a PITA trying to use it in class.

For “around the house” with some browsing, some video driving of the TV, a bit of ‘download and store some bag-o-bits’ that are not secret? Nice tool.

For anyone wanting to actually have real privacy? Expect that anything “in the cloud” is also in the hands of Google Geeks and various TLAs and plan accordingly. (This is the same as Microsoft / TLAs and, sadly, also Apple / TLAs as of 2012 and the departure of Steve Jobs). Just remember that “in the cloud” also means “inspected by police and company men”…

So the next phase is to see if it can be made into a “Reasonably private and secure” package as well.

To Be Continued… (after a development cycle or two)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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8 Responses to Life With ChromeBox

  1. philjourdan says:

    In a pinch I guess. But other than browsing and reading web sites, I do not trust Google (and the NSA even less), so will stick with Proxy servers and end to end encryption.

  2. philjourdan says:

    But thanks for the write up! Knowledge is power and the more I know, the better decisions I can make.

  3. M Simon says:

    The best assumption is that everything you do is monitored.

  4. M Simon says:

    BTW you can learn quite a lot from traffic analysis without being able to decrypt messages. Proxy servers can help. If you trust them.

  5. philjourdan says:

    @M. Simon – I agree. But I spread my doings around so unless Microsoft, AOHell, Yahoo and Google are in cahoots, the only one that has the complete picture is the NSA.

  6. Power Grab says:

    I saw a news story today that said the information gathered on healthcare-dot-gov is being sent to Twitter, Yahoo, and Google.The only reason the article offered was that it would be used for selling stuff. Anyone else have another idea?

    I’m kinda thinking it’s because Twitter, Yahoo, and Google are already set up to collect and manipulate massive amounts of data, whereas the contractors who wrote healthcare-dot-gov are not so hot at that. And, heck, wouldn’t it be easier to quickly do a query on your patients if all you had to do was Google them online? I mean, that electronic-medical-records initiative is sort of foundering, right? Of course, if doctors’ offices can do those queries, then practically anyone else can, too, right?

  7. p.g.sharrow says:

    The ACA erases any right to medical privacy. Just read Justice Robert’s Opinion for the Majority. pg

  8. Pingback: What is enough ARM CPU speed? | Musings from the Chiefio

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