Geeks tend to pay attention when they see my laptop. It’s cool and sleek and quite industrial. It’s clearly not a Mac, it’s certainly not a Dell or Lenovo, what is it?
And usually a look of disappointment or confusion crosses their face when they discover it’s a Chromebook Pixel. Why, they ask, would anyone, anyone with serious intent, waste their money on a machine that just throws you in to the Chrome web browser?
And the answer lies in the Crouton project. A side project of a Google engineer, Crouton harnesses the fact that deep down the operating system of a Chromebook is a very stripped down and locked down version of Linux. And Linux is used by those with serious intent.
In fact it was Crouton that persuaded my to invest in the Pixel in the first place. It uses a fairly deep Unix feature called the chroot to run Linux alongside the Chrome OS. For the past couple of years this has been pretty good. I can boot into Chrome in around 3 seconds (no really) and do a lot of the things I might want to do in that environment. If I need some proper computing (or to use Skype which doesn’t have a Chrome client) I fire up my Linux installation. You have to switch between one and the other environment and that has a tendency to be slightly annoying, though it’s not exactly the end of the world.
Now the Crouton community have released a rather marvellous enhancement. It’s a Chrome extension and a modification to the Crouton code which means you can run your chroot in a browser tab.
And this really is special. It means I can effectively run Firefox in a Chrome Tab, or do some serious GIS work on QGIS and snap backwards and forwards between that and, my window onto the world, Hootsuite.
And it brings Skype onto my Chrome desktop.