Samsung’s Chromebook: Thankfully it has SSH…

I am typing this post on my new Samsung Chromebook.  I was initially skeptical about such a device, because I viewed it as a nerfed laptop.  And to a degree, it is.  Normal applications can’t be installed on Chrome OS.  I mean, it doesn’t even run Emacs!  But despite this, I’m warming up to this portable computer.

With so many tablets, smart phones, and netbooks available, choosing a device is really a decision of aligning the correct device for your need.  For example, I have a desktop that’s my main workhorse, but I wanted a convenient portable device, that could still get “work” done.  Which for me means that it has a keyboard and can get access to email and the Internet.

So, the Chromebook fits that niche pretty well.  If you already drink the Google koolaid, than all of the Google services integrate well with Chrome (one would only hope…).  That and the keyboard is actually very nice.  I switched the “search” button with the ctrl key, but other than that it’s a very nice keyboard.  Probably not as nice as keyboards that cost more than the Chromebook itself, but otherwise not bad.  [Update 21JAN13: I posted a script to fix the trackpad issue here]

Samsung Chromebook keyboard.
Samsung Chromebook keyboard.

To mitigate against the limited OS (which to be fair, is limited by design), there is the option of dual booting linux.  Aptly named, ChrUbuntu (still in Alpha) provides a nice way to have a $249 ARM powered linux laptop (there’s no fan on this laptop!).  Amazon was sold out of them about two weeks ago, but it promptly arrived (yeah for Amazon Prime) once they received more in stock.  For me, I get my linux fix by sshing into a linux machine.  There is a built-in shell on Chrome OS or there is an Chrome app which nicely integrates ssh.

So, despite some drawbacks like not supporting Netflix (which I think is due to Chrome OS’s lack of support for Silverlight), it is a super portable laptop with a decent keyboard.  And for $249, it’ll do 90% of what users want to do: get on the Internet.  Other options, either better resolution tablets or higher powered laptops are at least twice as much and add only 10% of the features.

As of 30 December, I still get this Chrome OS warning from Netfilx.
As of 30 December, I still get this Chrome OS warning from Netfilx.

14 thoughts on “Samsung’s Chromebook: Thankfully it has SSH…

  1. My main concern is usefulness when there isn’t internet access. As I understand it, some iterations of the Chromebook become bricks if you can’t log on to your Google services, worse than tablets. That and the idea of all of my virtual hard drive going poof in a few years when my subscription runs out…

    1. It’s a little better now than the first generations, I think. Some of the google apps support an offline mode (mail being the most important one) and with a SD and external USB slot, I believe one can watch movies and interact with files on these devices.

      If you can dual boot the chromebook into linux, I would think that would be good alternative in offline mode.

      On Sat, Dec 29, 2012 at 8:03 PM, fortune datko

  2. I have no problem with doing everything from a browser, I know quiet a bit about webdevelopment and as long as it aint IE6 or something like that I can probably find a way to do the task. 😉

    What about the battery life ? Is it as good as advertised ? How about with Ubuntu ?

    My “problem” is with Google and the other providers like Apple with these kinds of devices, only fully work if you have/use a Google, or other account and I really don’t want that. All this tie-in is not something I want.

    There is enough profiling and tracking as it is. It’s bad enough that the government has access to all the records of the mobile phone provider (including location every 5 minutes I believe). A lot of the time this happens without a warrant. Most of the general public doesn’t seem to care though.

    I’m in the Netherlands, Chromebooks are only available proper in the UK and US and Netflix isn’t available for us either. Hell Nexus 7 isn’t available via the normal channels either. It is all kind of strange that way.

    Obviously Amazon UK would be the side-channel. I understand why Netflix does it, but Nexus 7 and Chromebooks this makes a whole lot less sense to me, but I believe this for example means they have no appstore for the Netherlands (or very limited) which means the device is also limited ?

    So I guess Netflix/Silverlight isn’t a problem for me 😉 But maybe a Chromebook with Ubuntu could be nice.

    And because the Firefox developers respects my privacy, maybe FirefoxOS could be interresting on it too ? Or would the closest thing to ChromeOS be WebOS ? because FirefoxOS is more of a phone OS.

    I did some digging and it seems Chromebook can run OpenSuse too, I’m more of a Debian/Ubuntu guy myself, but it seems the Suse/ARM guys also got KVM sligtly working, so hardware assisted ARM-virtualusation will work in the future too.

    1. Cool pointers, I’ll have to look into FirefoxOS… The battery life seems pretty good. After a full charge the indicator says it has 7 hours 44 minutes remaining, which is quite a deal more than the 6.5 advertised. I imagine if you are just surfing the web / sending emails you wouldn’t max the processor out as much as watching movies.

      I hear you on the tracking thing… I looked to see if I could run Tor on ChromeOS and it seems like a no go at the moment. Interestingly enough they seem to be working on an Android app.

      I’m hoping to experiment with Linux on this guy tomorrow and I’ll post an update to let you know how it goes. If that works well than there would be little reason to boot into ChromeOS…

      On Sun, Dec 30, 2012 at 4:18 AM, fortune datko

      1. I don’t think Tor helps much to prevent tracking anyway.

        Tracking usually doesn’t happen at the IP-address-level, but mostly using things like cookies, HTTP referers, etc. or just connecting the Google account.

        It seems to me the experience in Ubuntu isn’t to bad:

        The biggest problem are the touchpad and video acceleration (sound not working out of the box, but supposedly it can be done), there is no open source driver for the (Mali T604) GPU. There is an reverse-engineered open source MALI GPU driver ( ) which supports older models (MaliGP2, Mali200, Mali400). The developers of the driver is mostly 3 guys, but 2 are sponsored to work on it by a company (CodeThink). Judging by the name of the T604 it might be a new generation of the chip.

        It’s very similair to the Arndale developmentboard with it’s Exynos 5 Dual (formally known as Exynos 5250) and the Google Nexus 10. And I believe this might be the binary driver which can be downloaded from the Samsung site:

        Anyway, I ordered a Chromebook yesterday. Let’s hope it was a good idea. 🙂

      2. Judging by the video, it should be pretty simple (in comparison !) to get a stuff running to get an easy to work with open source (with some binaries) GPU-support because of the architecture:

        “The developers of the driver are planning to add support for the latest Mali-T604 and Mali-T658 GPUs for Cortex-A15 SoCs as soon as devices containing these chips become available.”

  3. I was jst watching a review of the Chromebook and they mentioned something about a Netflix app or Chrome extension ? So maybe it is available after all ?

    1. I’ll have to look into that. I went back to the website and I updated the post to show the Netflix issue with ChromeOS. I found this blog which says it’s been out since October!

  4. Great write up. I am thinking about buying this chrome book and ssh is a key app for me. Thanks for making it clear and linking to the app, so I can test prior to buying.

    1. No problem. This chromebook is great and I routinely ssh back to my main computer.

      The chrome ssh app does the job, but usually I’m in chrubuntu sshing.

      At $250, this is a great travel laptop that I don’t mind tossing around.

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