Jun 17, 2015

Chromixium: A new Linux distro with a Chrome OS twist - TechRepublic

A long time Ubuntu fan, Jack Wallen opts to depart from the safe and familiar in search of something new. That search led him to a very Chrome OS-like Linux distribution called Chromixium. 
Chromixium
I already know what you're asking... why do we need a Chrome OS knock-off when we already have the real deal (and the real deal is dirt cheap)?
The answer to that question is two fold: 1) Because it can be done; and 2) Because you probably have plenty of older hardware sitting around that could easily power a Chrome OS-like operating system.
Recently, I had to reinstall the primary OS on my production machine. I opted to try something different than Ubuntu, so I started looking around at new distributions. In the end, the decision came down to two distributions:
I wound up going with Elementary OS Freya, but the decision was a challenging one. Why? Because Chromixium is incredibly well done and works as efficiently and easily as Chrome OS. In the end, however, Elementary OS Freya won out, because it offered a much superior audio recording experience.
Even so, Chromixium is an outstanding choice for anyone wanting Chrome OS on non-Chromebook hardware. What does it offer? Here are some of the features:
  • LTS Linux PAE Kernel 3.13
  • Chromium web browser (with the option of using the proprietary Google Chrome)
  • Pepperflash plugin
  • Openbox window manager
  • Compton desktop compositor
  • Plank dock
  • LXPanel
  • GTK+3 for a consistent look and feel
For anyone who has been around Linux long enough, the use of Openbox window manager (derived from the old-school Blackbox window manager) should be intriguing, especially in conjunction with a compositor. Openbox has been around for a while (initial release was 2002) and has always been lauded for its speed and small footprint. With Chromixium built on a Linux kernel, with a lightning fast desktop designed to mimic Chrome OS, what is there not to love?

Why you should try Chromixium

I can sum this up in a few quick bullet points:
  • If you've used Chrome OS and would love to see it with just a bit more flexibility
  • If you have aging hardware and want a solid OS to use
  • If you're looking for an incredibly easy-to-use OS that can serve just about any purpose
  • If you like the idea of Chrome OS with native apps like LibreOffice and GIMP
  • If you like the idea of Chrome OS but need much more local storage
The list, seriously, goes on and on.

Why you should not try Chromixium

    Again, I can sum this up in a few bullet points:
    • You hate Linux
    • You hate anything that resembles a Google product
    • You'd prefer the Chrome OS experience with the incredibly fast-booting Chromebook hardware
    • You depend on applications that aren't available for the Linux platform

    Installation

    As with most Linux distributions, you can "try before you buy" by running Chromixium as a live instance. Once you've tried it, you'll probably want to install it. The installation of Chomixium is as simple as installing any Linux distribution. You simply boot from the ISO image (download here and burn it onto a DVD or USB flash drive), log into the desktop with the credentials Username: user / Password: user, and click the Install icon in the Panel.
    You'll need to enter the sudo password user in order to start the installation process. The installation wizard is very user friendly and shouldn't toss anything your way that you haven't seen before.

    Setting Chrome as the default

    Out of the box, Chromium is the default browser. This is fine, except for the fact that you might find certain sites don't function quite as well with Chromium. If you'd prefer to use the official Chrome as the default browser, you'll first need to install it. Here's how:
    1. Open up Chromium
    2. Go to the Chrome download page
    3. Download the 32 bit .deb (For Debian/Ubuntu)
    4. Click Accept and Install
    5. Click Save to download the file to your Downloads folder
    6. Once it's downloaded, close the browser
    7. Open Files (the default file manager) from the dock
    8. Navigate to the Downloads folder
    9. Double-click on the file google-chrome-stable_current_i386.deb, and it will open in the Package Installer
    10. Click on Install Package and enter your password when prompted
    11. When the installation finished, close the Package Installer
    Now to set Chrome as the default, follow these steps:
    1. Open a terminal window by hitting [Control]+[Alt]+[T]
    2. Enter the command sudo cp /usr/bin/chromium-browser /usr/bin/chromium-browser-old and type your sudo password when prompted
    3. Enter the command sudo ln -s -f /usr/bin/google-chrome /usr/bin/chromium-browser
    At this point, Chrome will be your default browser.

    The caveats

    Chromixium isn't perfect (what do you expect from a 1.0 release?), and one of the biggest issues I've come across is that installed applications do not appear in the menu. Although the menu is great for all your Chrome apps and searching, it does next to nothing for those apps you install via Synaptic or the command line. There is, however, a bit of a hidden menu that allows you access to more of the Linux side of things. If you right-click anywhere on the desktop, the OpenBox menu will appear. Within this menu, you can:
    • Launch locally installed applications
    • Launch the Control Panel
    • Run commands
    • Change the desktop wallpaper
    • Logout/shutdown
    • Gain quick access to settings (Figure A)
    Figure A
    Figure A
    The Chromixium local menu.
    With the help of this menu, Chromixium becomes the best of both worlds. At first blush, you might wish to have these two menus integrated as one. However, given enough thought, you might come to the same conclusion I did... separately, they're much more powerful. After using the dual menus long enough, I realized the two were better left apart. This separation means better Google integration without getting muddied by the plethora of available Linux applications. Most likely, you'll spend the majority of your time on the Google side of things, but when you need a bit more, it's just a right-click away.
    The last issue you might find is the lack of a clear and obvious front end for package management and an update manager. Chromixium offers Synaptic, GDebi, Ubuntu Software Center, dpkg, and apt for the management of packages. This is too much (Figure B).
    Figure B
    Figure B
    Too many package manager front ends.
    Chromixium needs to settle on one and leave it at that, because the primary user base for Chrome OS want simplicity. Instead, they'll find Synaptic in the Applications | System, the Ubuntu Software Center in Applications | Internet, GDebi in Applications | System, Software & Drivers in Applications | Settings, Automatic Updates in Applications | Settings... you get the idea.
    The developers need to rein this in to avoid confusion.

    Conclusion

    If you're looking for one of the simplest Linux distributions, one that's very well integrated with Google, you need to give Chromixium a closer look. I've yet to come across a Linux distribution that does as good of a job at mimicking Chrome OS. Being a fan of the Google platform, this might eventually wind up being a perfect confluence of design and execution. For a 1.0 release, Chromixium is seriously impressive.

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