A couple days ago as I was browsing my google+ feeds I noticed an article about Neverware’s CloudReady solution for turning aging computing resources into more useful devices. They have put together a good Chromium OS install aimed at older hardware, which for schools and businesses, can be hooked to google management services, which makes it sound pretty attractive to any IT department with a budget. As it happens, my buddy Joel must have been reading about it too, because I saw him post something about being in the middle of creating the boot media. That got me wondering, and with an old laptop to play with, I decided to do it myself.
Many years ago I got a cool new Dell Latitude D630 and I likes it so much that a few years later I picked up a used one. It’s one of my test boxes – 2.mumble ghz and 2gb ram – a perfect candidate for a chrome(ium)book test. I also have the perfect thing to compare it to – a genuine chromebook I bought last year for my wife – who I refer to as the destroyer of laptops.
Anyhow, first I downloaded the software from their site, which is free to use if for home and experimental use. The image is a zipped binary image about 5.5gb uncompressed. Big file so it’ll tale a while to get it. Be patient. There are what look to be pretty good installation instructions on the site itself for Windows and MacOS users, however I am neither so I had to improvise a bit.
On Linux, once you have the file downloaded and uncompressed (again big file and takes a few mins), you need to write it to a usb stick for installation. For explanation purposes say my usb device ended up being /dev/sdb. I used the dd utility to get the image onto the drive but because the file is so large I wanted a progress indicator for the process so I installed “pv”. Do this – trust me, you’ll want it.
The command line (as superuser) to install the binary installer image to the usb stick is “dd if=/path/to/installerimg.bin | pv | dd of=/dev/sdb bs=4M” and make sure that’s a capital M at the end for a 4 Meg blocksize. Like the download and decompression of the file, this take a LONG time, which is why you will be happy that progress indicator is in there.
In essence, that is all the hard and interesting stuff. The rest of the installation instructions are quick and simple – boot off the usb stick, log in, click on the time bar in the lower right, select install. A few minutes later (minus a couple no-brainer questions) you have, for all practical purposes, a chromebook!
I’ll be darned! I tried a ChromiumOS install several months ago on some even older hardware and wasn’t really impressed. I thought it was a bit laggy and buggy, but this time it works a treat! Multiple accounts work well. All my google settings were imported correctly. The chromebook shortcuts work. It works so well I am typing this review on it right now. I even handed it off to the destroyer of laptops and she was able to successfully install her profile and use it just like her chromebook. Outstanding Neverware, and a lot of fun too!
Although the other articles I read on this glowed and gushed about how well it worked, I have to say I was skeptical until I tried it myself, due to my previous experience. I am happy to find I was wrong. I can really see something like this being able to not only stretch that IT budget a little, but responsibly so, making good use of still functional hardware and keeping the end user experience consistent and manageable at the same time.