How to run Linux in a window inside Chrome OS

Thanks to a handy set of scripts, you’ve long been able to install an instance of Linux on a Chromebook and switch between the two platforms with a simple keypress. What if you could run Linux inside the Chrome OS environment in its own window, though? That’s even better.

On this week’s Chrome Show podcast, we highlighted the Crouton Integration extension that lets you do just that. We also discussed why the new Acer Chromebook 15 isn’t likely on store shelves before April and why if you are still using [company]Google[/company] Android 4.0 on a mobile device you might want to consider a replacement for the Chrome browser. Tune in below or download the podcast here.

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Acer’s newest Chromebox packs more power, 4k video support

When you think of using a computer with a 4k video monitor, a Chromebox probably doesn’t come to mind. After all, those little boxes are just wimpy little browsers, right? Acer is out to prove that thought wrong by adding an Intel Core i3 option to its Chromebox CXI series.

Acer Chromebox CXI Top Angle View

The company announced the new chip choice on Thursday, with a starting suggested price of $349.99. That gets you a box capable of running [company]Google[/company] Chrome OS with support for up to 3840 x 2160 resolution. Along with the 1.9GHz Core i3 4030U dual-core processor, you’ll get 16GB of on-board flash storage and your choice of either 4 or 8GB of memory; the latter choice raises the cost to $399.99.

Given the recent Superfish scandal, I’m not surprised Acer made note of the security features built into its new Chromebox:

Multiple layers of security encompass data encryption and verified boot to safeguard the CXI against online threats, malware and viruses. User and system files are stored on separate partitions that secure data and simplify restoration from a backup. The Chromebox’s TPM 1.2 chip encrypts and protects individual user’s data by generating and storing secure cryptographic keys. In addition, individual accounts keep data safe when the device is used by multiple users.

Previously, Acer offered much lower-costing Chromeboxes: You could pick one up for as little as $179.99.

But at that price, you’re getting an older 1.4GHz Intel Celeron chip inside. Granted, Chrome OS runs pretty well on limited hardware — there are some models that use chips typically reserved for smartphones and tablets — however, the extra horsepower and memory in the new Acer Chromebox CXI models would be welcome for video playback having more open tabs or apps, particularly if you have a 4k resolution monitor for your Chromebox.

 

 

Chrome Show: Remote Chromebook access arrives for all

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The latest Chrome OS Stable channel update is here and with it comes remote access to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. Until now you could only remote out of such devices; now you can remote in to them; handy for tech support and other use cases. We also discuss why Acer’s new Chromebook 15 isn’t yet available and share a useful Chrome extension that lets you run Linux inside of a Chrome OS window.

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This week’s episode of the Chrome Show is brought to you by Sanebox.

SHOW NOTES:

Hosts: Janko Roettgers and Kevin C. Tofel

You probably can’t get that new Acer Chromebook 15 until April

Yay, a new Stable Channel update!

Chrome for Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) is melting away

There’s a 50,000 song upload limit for Google Play Music now

Here’s another Google Cast device: the Nvidia Shield TV

Google’s MVNO plans could be an interesting tie-in to Chromebooks with LTE

Want to make ChromeOS better? Check out this community

App / extension of the week: Crouton integration

Chromebook sales still on the rise

The latest figures from NPD, by way of BetaNews, show that Google Chromebooks are continuing to sell well in the U.S. The research firm estimates that in 2014 Chromebooks accounted for 14 percent of all laptop sales for both the commercial and retail channels; up 85 percent from 2013. The former market accounted for the bulk of those sales as Chrome OS is finding a home in the classroom.

On this week’s Chrome Show, we discussed the numbers and pointed out details of Dell’s latest Chromebook which is specifically aimed at education with a few unique features that students and teachers should like. We also recap everything we know — and don’t yet know —  about the upcoming [company]Google[/company] Chromebook Pixel refresh. Tune in below or download this week’s podcast here.

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Launched at CES, Acer Chromebook 15 expected in April

Acer was one of the first companies out the gate to announce a 1080p Chromebook with Intel’s fifth-generation chip early last month. Maybe that was a bit too quick: Availability of the Acer Chromebook 15 with latest processors that I had a chance to use isn’t expected until the first week of April, the company tells me. That means if you’ve been holding out for the 15.6-inch Chromebook with newest chip, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. As previously reported, the laptop will be available in multiple configurations with the base model starting at $249.99.

What to expect in the Chromebook Pixel 2

Google confirmed what we noted two weeks ago on our Chrome Show podcast: There is a successor to the Chromebook Pixel after all. OMGChrome caught the confirmation on a YouTube video, which was subsequently marked private to mask the news. Luckily the site transcribed the part where the next Pixel was discussed.

Pixel gaming

 

In the video, which was recorded at a Team Work 2015 event, Google’s Renee Niemi had this to say:

We do have a new Pixel coming out and it will be coming out soon. We will be selling it but I just have to set your expectations: this is a development platform. This is really a proof of concept. We don’t make very many of these — we really don’t. And […] our developers and our Googlers consume 85% of what we produce. But yes, we do have a new Pixel coming out.

Niemi, who runs the Android & Chrome for Work and Education group at [company]Google[/company], didn’t share any more specifics and is clearly setting expectations. Although Google will sell the next Chromebook — I’ll call it Pixel 2 for lack of a better name — the company doesn’t intend the device to be a mass-produced, consumer laptop. That message got lost on the first model, as some have considered the original Pixel a flop, while I’m sure Google internally considers it a success.

Small changes, big impact

So what can we expect in the Pixel 2? I don’t actually expect many changes. I’m basing that off the tidbits and evidence of the Chromebook Pixel 2 spotted earlier this month and discussed on our podcast. Between my own usage as an owner of the first Chromebook Pixel and what we’ve found in the Chromium bug tracker, here’s what I think we’ll see:

  • Little to no change on the outside of the laptop. There’s little there that needs an update or refresh. The trackpad is as good as the best of them out there, the keyboard is excellent and the overall design is thin, even if it’s not sleek.
  • The same 2560 x 1700 resolution touchscreen display. Again, this is one of the best features of the original Pixel and it still stands up against current screens. I wouldn’t mind if Google opted to lose the touch capabilities in a lower-priced model, though.
  • The biggest upgrade we’ll see is in the processor. Instead of a third-generation [company]Intel[/company] Core i5, Google can use a fifth-gen Broadwell chip. That would provide a slight performance boost, even though the Pixel may not need it. More importantly, it would allow the Pixel 2 to overcome one of its few disappointing attributes: poor battery life. The chip change, along with any battery improvements, could let the laptop run for nine hours or more on a charge. The original Pixel topped out around five hours.
  • Google will likely carry over the same connectivity options from the original Pixel but upgrade the capabilities due to available technology. Expect the Wi-Fi to include 802.11ac support, and the Bluetooth 3.0 of the existing Pixel will surely be 4.0 in the new one. I’d expect an LTE edition like Google offered two years ago, although I’m not sure it will use Verizon as its partner again. I could see T-Mobile make a play here, if not AT&T. Early evidence of the Pixel 2 suggested reversible Type-C USB ports as well.
  • I don’t see Google adding more local storage to the Pixel 2. The Wi-Fi model comes with 32GB while the LTE version doubles the storage. It could add more, of course, but the intended audience for this device doesn’t really need it, particularly with Google Drive integration and offers of free space. I received 1TB of Drive storage for three years with the Pixel I bought, for example.

Long story short: Don’t expect major changes in the Pixel 2, just look for the ones that will have the biggest impact.

One last note on the chip inside Pixel 2, though: Why not Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake chip inside? It depends on when Google wants to release the Pixel 2. Skylake isn’t expected in mass quantities until the second half of the year. Additionally, a Skylake board was only just reported to be used for Chromium OS a few weeks ago; it can take months for the software team to get the software working with a new chipset. With Niemi saying a new Pixel is “coming out soon,” that suggests Google isn’t going to wait for Skylake.

It can be yours, if the price is right

The final question is about price. Will Google keep the same pricing scheme as the original Pixel: $1,299 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,449 for the LTE version?

Photoshop on Chromebook Pixel

Having bought the latter edition in 2013, I hope not. Google probably isn’t going to make millions of these laptops, so it’s not going to get the best chip pricing from Intel. That puts pressure on Google to find other ways to cut the cost, use economies of scale, or reduce profit margins on a device that’s not really meant for the general population.

My best guess for the Pixel 2: Google may be able to cut $200 — $300 is a long shot — from the original Pixel prices by reusing much of the existing design and components which have come down in price over time. That would mean starting prices of $999 or $1,099 for a high-end Chromebook with solid performance, outstanding screen and build quality, and the sorely needed improved battery life.

Even if Google keeps the same prices as the first model, the Pixel 2 will still find an audience. Compared to the rest of the Chromebooks available, that’s at least a 3x premium, so the Pixel 2 still won’t be a hot seller by comparison. For those who want the best possible Chrome OS experience, however, I think it will be worth it.

Google makes it easier to back up media from Chromebooks to Drive

It’s no secret that Chromebooks rely heavily on Google Drive cloud storage. The devices have the capability to store data locally, of course, but Google provides far more capacity in the cloud and even integrates Google Drive into the Files app on Chromebooks.

Now the company is looking to improve the process of backing up local files to the cloud, particularly those on removable media. [company]Google[/company]’s François Beaufort is keeping us up to date on the experimental feature, which for now is called Cloud Backup.

cloud-backup Chrome OS

On Thursday, Beaufort provided the latest update, explaining how to use Cloud Backup to automatically sync photos and videos from a memory card or USB drive to Google Drive in Chrome OS:

Insert any removable media device such as a USB key or a SD Card which contains at its root the famous DCIM folder. Then, navigate to this folder and notice the ‘cloud’ icon at the very top right corner. Click on it and you’re done! Your photos and videos will be automatically synced to your Google Drive under a newly created photos folder.

The Cloud Backup feature is available to any Chrome OS device but you have to be using the Dev channel of Google’s operating system.

The Dev channel is generally considered to the most cutting-edge version of Chrome OS, because it has many experimental features and is updated the most often. By comparison, the Beta channel is updated every two weeks or so, while new features graduate to the Stable channel every six weeks.

This means that as Google refines Cloud Backup, it will eventually migrate over time to all users. My hope is that Chrome OS users will have the option to enable or disable Cloud Backup, though: With some Chromebooks getting just 100 or 200 GB of Drive storage, heavy camera users could lose track of their free space in the cloud.

Dell beefs up its Chromebook 11 for the classroom

Dell entered the Chromebook market last year, focusing mainly on education with its Chromebook 11. Now it has a refreshed model with a few small tweaks, still squarely aimed at the classroom with a rugged build and unique activity light.

dell Chromebook 11 2015

The new Dell Chromebook 11 starts at $249 and uses a newer [company]Intel[/company] Celeron chip than the previous edition. This isn’t the latest Broadwell chip from Intel inside the Chromebook 11; it’s a Celeron N2840, which has been around for a while. Still, that could help keep costs down without any huge detriment to performance or battery life, which is expected to be around 10 hours.

dell chromebook 11 classroomThat base price includes a minimal 2GB of memory and 16GB of flash storage, as well as a standard 1366 x 768 anti-glare display. The Chromebook 11 supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for connectivity and has an integrated webcam.

Since it’s for the classroom, Dell beefed up the [company]Google[/company]-powered Chromebook to handle a semi-tough environment. The laptop is “MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) tested for durability, pressure, temperature, humidity, shock and vibration so it can handle student life.” Choosing the optional touchscreen configuration adds a little more environmental tolerance: It’s a Gorilla Glass screen. The keyboard is also resistant to liquids so it’s safe for snack time and the hinge can rotate 180-degrees.

Dell added a very classroom-specific feature to the Chromebook 11 in the form of an LED light on the lid. It can change colors to indicate if a student needs help, has a question or is really good at programming LED lights from a command line. Maybe the latter item isn’t a real feature, but teachers can certainly benefit from seeing visual clues when a student needs attention. Dell says the new Chromebook is available immediately.

Chromebooks can now run Linux in a Chrome OS window

This is cool: Chromebook users can now run their favorite Linux distribution within a window right on their Chrome OS desktop. Google’s own happiness evangelist François Beaufort revealed with a Google+ post Tuesday that Chromebook oners who have set their device in developer mode can download special Crouton Chrome extension to run Linux without being forced to switch back and forth between the two operating systems.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 at 11.09.09 AM

Running Linux on a Chromebook is not a new thing. Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel, and there are a number of ways to run both Chrome OS and Linux on the device. My colleague Kevin Tofel highlighted three ways of accessing Linux (and other operating systems as well) a while back, and he even recorded a video of using Crouton to run Chrome OS and Linux simultaneously, which you can watch below. However, the new Crouton Chrome extension makes it possible for the first time to run Linux in a window.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v031udlfY5E]

Google to close down Russian engineering operations

Google is closing its Russian engineering office, according to a report in The Information.

Google’s Russian engineers will be offered jobs in other countries or in other departments, the Financial Times noted. The company is not saying why it is shutting its Moscow engineering office, which focuses on Chrome OS and the Chrome Web Store, but it said in a statement: “We are deeply committed to our Russian users and customers and we have a dedicated team in Russia working to support them.”

The move follows a series of new restrictions on internet activity in the country, ranging from requirements for popular bloggers to register themselves and abide by censorship limitations, to requirements for Wi-Fi hotspot users to log on with personal ID.

Perhaps most pertinently — unless the department’s shuttering is purely for business reasons — [company]Google[/company] has been ordered to store the data of its Russian users in Russian data centers, and also to comply with the bloggers register law. Russia’s security services have previously urged the use of locally developed encryption in the country’s data centers, suggesting that the move is tied to a desire to be able to access citizens’ personal information.