The Basics of Chrome OS
Choosing a computer can be a tall order. Obviously, you want a device that can do everything you need it to, but there are frequently other parameters that are worth consideration. Is it compatible with old files and documents? Where can it be used and how portable is it? How much will it cost? There have traditionally been three options: Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux PCs. But a young contender in the market is shaking things up.
Chrome OS, designed by Google, is a different breed of OS. It is almost exclusively a web browser, so it definitely lacks some serious functionality. But while it may fall short in application selection, Chrome OS makes up for it in speed, ease of use, and most importantly, price. The most popular Chromebook can be bought for $250.
This post will walk users through some of the basics of Chrome OS and how to utilize it here at the University of Oregon. Since it’s a longer post, here are some shortcuts to topics to jump straight to.
Chrome OS is designed as a cloud computer. This means it keeps data (bookmarks, settings, history, etc.) synced across devices by connecting with a Google Account. Google offers a host of apps that are intended to replace some of the standard applications found on traditional computers. For instance, below is a table of Google Applications and their Windows and Mac counterparts:
|Google Drive||Windows Explorer||Finder|
|Google Docs||Microsoft Office||iWork|
|Google Play Music||Windows Media Player||iTunes|
All of these resources keeps your data stored in the cloud, so you can access them anytime you have access to Chrome device (which includes traditional computers that have web access) even if it isn’t your device. The only form of local storage available on a Chrome device is the “Downloads” folder, where documents are kept when downloaded from the web. Fortunately, Google Drive is built into the file manager, so these files can easily be moved to the cloud.
Chrome devices can be a bit tricky to get on the network because it’s not a particularly intuitive process. However, to connect simply:
- Click on the far right of the task bar
- Click on the Wireless menu
- Click on “Join Other”
- Click on “Advanced”
- Type “UO Secure” for the SSID
- Choose PEAP for the EAP Method
- Leave Phase 2 Authentication as Automatic
- Choose “Do Not Check” for Server CA Certificate
- Enter DuckID and Password
- Click on “Connect”
Chrome OS devices will let the user know when it is ready for an update and apply it on relaunch. That said, there a few update channels that a user can be on. For the sake of performance and consistency, it is recommended that user stay on the Stable update channel.
The stable channel updates with the latest features that are completely stable and ready to use. This is the default channel that every Chrome device is on.
The Beta Channel updates with tested features that Google wants to give more “field” experience. While pretty stable, there are some possible functionality/glitch problems.
Developer (Dev) Channel
The Dev channel is the least stable channel. It includes features that have very limited testing. This channel updates frequently, and the updates often bounce back and forth between stability fixes and annoying errors. This is really only for adventurous people who really want to be on the cutting edge.
Changing the Update Channel
If the update channel has to be changed it can be done by:
- Going into settings (Either from the list icon in the browser or from the task bar).
- Clicking on the “Help” tab on the far left
- Selecting “More Info” from under the “Your device is up to date” message.
- Selecting update channel.
Reverting to Previous Channels
Channel changes will take effect when Google has an update newer than whatever version your using. (So if you want to switch from Dev to Stable, it may take a really long time for your computer to update because the Dev versions are usually quite a bit ahead of Stable). There is however a way to revert to a lower channel’s version. In order to do this you will need to follow these instructions. It will create a recovery file to put on external media, and then ask you to put the device in recovery mode. In doing so, you can put an older version on the device. That said, it will wipe everything stored locally, so move any data in the downloads folder into Drive before beginning.
Chrome OS uses Google Cloud Print to print from the device. The means the user has to have a printer setup in their Google Account to be accessed by Cloud Print in order to actually print from their device. There are a number of printers that are “cloud ready” so to speak. These have software built in that enable them to be connected to Google Cloud Print from the get go. “Classic” printers (like the network printers on campus) can be added to Google Cloud print by connecting the Google Account with Chrome on a computer that has the printer installed. The downside is this computer needs to be on at all times in order for the user to print from a Chrome Device. Here’s how to enable cloud print on Chrome:
- In the settings click on the “Show advanced settings…” link at the bottom of the page.
- Scroll down to “Google Cloud Print.”
- Click the “Add printers” button.
- Have the user sign in with Google Account credentials.
All printers installed on the computer will now be available to print from. When you print from Chrome OS, you can choose which printer you would like to use. If the desktop machine is off however, these printers will not be accessible. People who have already setup printers with Google Cloud Print can share those printers to other users from the Cloud Print homepage.
The following table is a list of the display ports for Chrome devices currently being sold from the Chrome site.
|Samsung Series 5 550||DP++|
|Acer C7||VGA and HDMI|
|HP Pavilion Chrombook||HDMI|
|Chromebook Pixel||Mini Display Port|
Currently there is no native option for mapping network drives. The only “feasible” option is an application called Emit, which enables a user to make network drives available in a web interface. Unfortunately to do so, we would need to open ports on the routers, which is a can of worms unto itself. The best work around available is to copy any documents from your server share to your Google Drive account. Understandably, this may not work for people needing to access shared folders and files.
This is still in process. Currently, there is no way to do this and the following solution will not actually work, but it’s worth reviewing.
The VPN process is a little complicated. Right now, we’re using the instruction on the Chrome Help Site. It first requires you to install the network certificates. In order to do so, please follow these steps:
- Download certificates (At this point, we don’t have a procedure for actually doing this. We’re currently looking into it).
- In a new tab, enter chrome://settings/certificates into your browser’s address bar.
- Click the Your Certificates tab.
- If you have a .pfx or .p12 file to import, click the Import and Bind to Device button.
- In the dialog box that opens, select the certificate file and click Open.
- When prompted, enter the password for your certificate. If you don’t know the password, contact your network administrator.
- The certificate will open and install itself on your Chrome device.
Once certificates have been installed, you can proceed to setting up the VPN:
- If you haven’t already, sign in to your Chrome device.
- Click the status area at the bottom of your screen, where your account picture is located.
- Select Settings.
- In the “Internet connection” section, click Add connection.
- Select Add private network.
- In the box that appears, fill in the information below. If you’re using your Chrome device with an organization, you may need to get this information from your network administrator.
- Server hostname: Name of the server that you need to connect to in order to access your VPN. This can either be the IP address or the full server hostname.
- Service name: This can be anything you want to name this connection, for example, “Work VPN.”
- Provider type: If you use a passphrase or key besides your personal password to connect to your VPN, select L2TP/IPsec + Pre-shared key. If you use certificates that your network administrator gives you, select L2TP/IPsec + User certificate.
- Pre-shared key: The Pre-shared key is not your personal password, but a passphrase or key used to connect to the VPN.
- Server CA certificate: Select your installed server VPN certificate from the list.
- User certificate: Select your installed user VPN certificate from the list. If you don’t have any certificates installed, you’ll see an error message. To install a certificate, see instructions below.
- Username credentials for connecting to VPN.
- Password credentials for connecting to VPN.
- Click Connect.
ChromeOS devices can be put into different modes to achieve different purposes.
ChromeOS devices ship in this mode. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep them this way. Unless the user has some very specific functions they need to do, they won’t need to be in Developer Mode.
This gives the user access to more system “stuff.” This is the way to access the root directory, and it must be enabled if the user wants to install Linux. (Not every machine can install Linux). The user will notice a difference at start up when the device is in developer mode. There will be a computer with “X-ed out eyes” when they turn the machine on. Hitting control D launches regular start up. Otherwise, regular start up will begin after 30 seconds, proceeded by 3 obnoxious beeps.
- Having the device in Developer Mode will also allow you to run a Linux Distribution. Instructions can be found here.
Every ChromeOS device has different methods for changing modes. Some have physical switches, and others have virtual methods. The following indicates how to for the major devices, with links to demonstrations:
|Samsung Chromebook||Hit ESC REFRESH and the POWER button|
|Samsung Series 5 550||Switch inside Kensington Lock|
|Acer C7||ESC REFRESH and the POWER button|
|HP Pavilion Chromebook||Inside Device (Requires Tear Down)|
|Chromebook Pixel||ESC REFRESH and the POWER button|
|Chrombebox||Switch inside Kensington Lock|
Switching the modes will do whats called a “powerwash” and it will wipe all data on the device. This includes system data like network passwords and loaded accounts. For this reason, switching modes is encouraged ONLY if the user absolutely needs it.
Chrome Devices can also be put into recovery mode if, for instance, you want to reinstall the OS from a recovery file generated by the OS. This link will show you how to put your device into recovery mode.
Written by Stephen “Louie” Hogan, Student ITC