Monday, January 13, 2014

Two OS, dual screen, one Chromebook

The alternative title is Crouton vs Chrubuntu (vs Chrome OS)

Crouton allows you to run Ubuntu at the "same" time as Chrome OS without the need to reboot.  You can switch by ctrl-alt-forward and ctrl-alt-backward.  Very exciting.

Crouton/Ubuntu works well on the C720, and a lot faster than on the AO722 of course.  The trackpad is fully functional as in Chrome OS, and then some.  The "some" is the half double tap that replaces mouse drag without left mouse button.  (it's a double tap without lifting the finger on the last tap, and then move to drag)  I'm elated.  I prefer half double tap (single-handed) to drag but it doesn't always work on Ubuntu.  Now the whole trackpad of the chromebook is the left button so I have that for backup up without looking for the left mouse button!

Chrome OS supports dual screen about the same way as Ubuntu, but chromeos may be a little more intuitive.  You don't want to mirror the two screens because that will cripple the higher resolution one.  BTW, the C720 screen is of course not as good looking as my 1080p HDTV.  Well, if you want that good and squeeze a big TV into 11" or so, it have to be over a grand.

With Crouton you can run a different OS on each screen!  At least the illusion of it.  When you switch OS with the hot keys combination, the screen doesn't refresh in all cases.  I don't remember exactly.  But the key thing is that Chrome OS is multitasking (of course).  You have to drag a browser tab out of the window to get another window.  Then you can move the window to another screen.  It's not clear because if you start an app anywhere, it will always default to use the first opened window.

That's the good of Crouton.  Switch with hot key.

The not so good.  Crouton is just a process in Linux.  It is under a shell under a terminal in the browser.  It seems that you can run the crouton process in the terminal background.  So you have to keep the terminal tab.  If you kill it you have to start again, get a terminal, get a shell and start crouton. I'm not sure if sound works on the other screen, the TV.

The fatal.  Crouton is using the same Chrome OS kernel, which is a version of Linux, not fully compatible with the Ubuntu kernel.  So some apps on Ubuntu will not work on the C720.  How to I know?  Trying to be clever, in chromeos I got a terminal and try to run openvpn and eryptfs as if I'm in Ubuntu.  I hope they will work as they are already part of chromeos so I don't need to install anything.  Both doesn't work.

In crouton, I got exactly the same error message as I was in a chromeos terminal.  Specifically, chromeos crippled ecryptfs so it won't work the way in Linux does.  May be so you can't possibly hack the encryption with stolen key, etc.  You can't install anything in the normal mode.  Chromeos probably use a more secure mode in openvpn for handling keys and certificates so most current vpn providers do not support chromebook's openvpn.  It's the same story for the command line execution.

For vpn I can work around it, paying more for a vpn provider who support chromebook, or run vpn at the router level with a vpn access point.  But no way I can work around the usb drive encryption.  The other encfs also doesn't work on crouton.

That drove me to Chrubuntu.  It was there earlier and there were some problems.  But for the C720 it's straight sailing.  I install with all default options and it worked fine.  It just takes a long time.  > one hour?

Everything works, video, sound, trackpad + half double click.  Ecryptfs and openvpn works.  It's about 5Gb.  I left some for Chrome OS.  So there's no much left on the hard drive.  But the usb 3 is capble of over 100 MB/s near peak.  For my old USB 2 drive it's more like 10!

I love chromeos.  The security fits me.  You can add a secret google account and delete it on the chromebook after use, all with ease.  Now that google encrypt the browser data (links + stored password), it will be easier than me currently using ecryptfs to encrypt all firefox data on the fly.  You can totally lost the book without exposing any data.  Even more secure than hardware encrypted disk drive.  The data just isn't there.

Crouton turns out to be not useful for me.  How do you know if your app is compatible with the Chromeos kernel?  If you prefer the Unity interface, may be.  But the chromeos UI isn't bad at all.  And google sync is pretty good and across android too.  If you need skype (and it works on crouton), and you can't Hangout with your friends yet, may be.  But if you don't replace the kernel, you can't be fully compatible.  And if you replace, you need bios reboot.

Chrubuntu turns out to be superior.  On intel chips, it's fully compatible I suppose.  It's also easier to dual boot.  ctrl-d to chromeos and ctrl-l to ubuntu.  You can't switch after boot, but well, you have to make some decisions.  And since booting doesn't take that long, it's not a big deal if you need to boot to another one for some work.

As for chromebook itself, it's a very good linux machine.  It's much faster than the AO722.  Everything works because the chromeos drivers should work for linux.  There's only 10Gb hard disk.  But in a way you don't carry a big hard disk with you all the time - the principle of portables.  It's absolute quiet and fast.  You can have file servers, streaming and all that.  And that it is $50 cheaper than the AO722.

Now I really doubt if the chromebook killed the chromebox.  Well, a quad core android stick computer cost $80 and more.  That's about the same if you plug the chromebook into a big monitor.  It cost $120 more but you get a portable as an extra.  The C720 is probably fast enough to run virtualbox, and run some Windows in it so you have all the os's just in case.

The chromebook screen gets in the way if you plug it into a desktop monitor.  You can use bluetooth keyboard/mouse/trackpad.  But you can also plug it into your HDTV in your home theatre.  You can have a big background screen and a close working screen.  The chromebook screen won't get in the way if you have a big screen.  Believe me, it's like working as Citizen Kane.

OK, if you installed Chrubuntu on the SSD, you can safely exit and reenter developer mode without affecting you Chrubuntu partition. But you cannot boot into Chrubuntu by cntrl-l. It wouldn't work. You have to reset the boot options. The following isn't all necessary, but sure it will work:

  • get into developer mode (probably not needed)
  • boot into chromos (what else?)
  • get terminal by ctrl-alt-forward (not t, probably better)
  • login as chronos, no password needed
  • at the command line do this: (from reddit)
$sudo su
$crossystem dev_boot_usb=1 dev_boot_legacy=1

The boot legacy option obviously let you boot into chrubuntu by ctrl-L instead of ctrl-D into Chrome OS. The usb option will boot from usb if you attach a drive to it.

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