Over the last few years, Google has made some cool products for the internet. We’ve seen some seriously amazing web apps like Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google Play Music. With each new service, Mountain View is moving closer to its obvious goal – creating a complete, end-to-end ecosystem for its users. If it got its way, you would never have to use anything other than Google products.
Enter ChromeOS. This is Google’s answer to the desktop question. For people who still want a PC-like experience, the company offers a set of laptops running a highly customized version of Linux. It’s fast, lightweight, and quite literally runs nothing but Chrome. The whole setup is nothing but a browser, a portal for you to get online and use Google’s services.
The concept stands out for its boldness. It intrigued us. We had to try it. The most obvious solution was Oracle’s Virtualbox, a free and open-source virtualization program for Windows, OS X, and Linux. You can run ChromeOS within a virtual window this way, giving you a way to try the Google way of doing things without having to shell out for an entire Chromebook. We took the leap and installed the OS below.
(Note: We have followed the process on a Mac, but it’s identical on Windows. Just download the correct version for your OS and you’ll be good to go)
Stuff You’ll Need
- Virtualbox (Download link)
- ChromiumOS nightly build (VB file)
- Sufficient RAM and storage to run a virtual machine
Step One: Materials
The first issue with trying to install a virtual copy of ChromeOS is that Google does not actually provide official software for our use. They locked it within the company’s proprietary walls.
Thankfully, we have ChromiumOS, the open-source little brother which you can download free here. Make sure to download the Virtualbox file. Once downloaded, extract it somewhere on your hard drive.
Step Two: Creation
Now we’re going to create the virtual machine. Open Virtualbox and create a new VM. We named ours “ChromeOS” and set the VM type to Linux and Other Linux.
For the hard drive, we’re going to use an existing drive. You’ll have to click the folder icon and navigate to wherever you stored that downloaded hard drive file. It should end in the .vdi extension. For RAM, allocate however much you can afford. We gave it 1 GB.
Once you’ve made the virtual machine, we need to adjust the network settings. This is a Chromebook – if it’s not connected to the internet, it’s useless.
To open the internet connection, go to Settings > Network > Advanced. Change the adapter type to Intel Pro MT Desktop. Click OK and exit the settings.
Step Three: Virtualization
Click the green arrow at the top to start the VM. While it’s loading go up the top menu settings and uncheck the options for Mouse Integration. Our copy in OS X didn’t work with this turned on.
Disabling mouse integration means that clicking inside the VM “captures” the pointer. It won’t leave (and be accessible to the host OS) until you press the host key. By default, this is right Ctrl on Windows and left Cmd on Mac.
Once that’s working, sign in with your Google account and enjoy. That’s it. No setup, no installing, nothing. That’s the ChromeOS experience.
Step Four: Garnish Lightly With Salt and Enjoy
ChromiumOS impressed with its performance. It’s incredibly fast and lightweight. The OS puts everything behind the browser, with nothing else to distract it.
Even within a virtual window and with subpar specs (like 1 GB of RAM), browsing the web was snappy and responsive. We can see how a high-end machine like the Pixel would do well.
Of course, you could always just run Chrome on the host operating system. It’s essentially the same experience, without the messy virtualization. But that’s up to you.