Friday, October 11, 2013


Have I mentioned yet here that I bought a Chromebook?  No, I don't think so.  Well, I bought a Chromebook.  One of those Samsung ARM books (They're called Series 3, sometimes).  I went from a Chrubuntu install (dual boot Xubuntu and ChromeOS) to a straight Arch Linux install (deleting ChromeOS off completely) to a Crouton install (Ubuntu running at the same time as ChromeOS).

Originally I shied away from Crouton, because I worried that it might not be as battery-friendly (two OSes running at once). I haven't put the battery through the paces yet, but it seems to be holding it's own.  I also didn't try it first because it seemed like a temporary solution.  I had no interest in using ChromeOS, so why shouldn't I just dual boot?

Well, here's what I learned:
-I have learned next to nothing about ChromeOS, as I've only seen it briefly on my way to installing or launching Linux.  It played all the videos I tested on it, nothing bigger than 720p--too bad there's no graphics acceleration for Linux at the moment. Regarding the hardware, I will say that while the device feels a little flimsy, I think it's due to it's thinness and lightness, and not due to build quality.  As I said I haven't gotten a chance to really get a feel for battery life in Crouton, in Chrubuntu I feel like I consistently get at least 6 hours out of a single charge.

-Neither Google Drive nor Dropbox has an ARM version of their desktop apps. Of course they have ARM versions for Android phones, but AFAIK those apps don't do proper sync anyway, so who cares?  I made sure most of my key apps--gedit, LibreOffice, etc--would work, but I overlooked syncing.  No biggie.  I got Grive set up, which works well but you have to tell it to manually to sync each time.  I could probably set it up to run automatically, but I'm fine syncing it once a day after I'm done working.  Ubuntu One also has an ARM version, so if a perpetual Dropbox-style sync is desired that will do the job.

-I dislike the design that this and apparently most Chromebooks use for the touchpad.  There are no proper right or left click buttons, instead you press down on the bottom right or left corners of the touchpad.  This seemed okay in theory, but after heavy use I realized that when browsing I tend to put my right hand on the touchpad and my left index finger on the left click button.  With this touchpad that leaves two fingers making contact simultaneously, so you can't move the mouse cursor--in Chrubuntu, anyway.  In the stock OS and in Crouton I can actually move the cursor with both fingers on the touchpad at once, and it works intuitively.

-The Ubuntu Software Center seems to have one major flaw, in that a description of the app is prominently displayed but you have to click on it's description to maybe see the actual name of the package if it's in the description.  (I know how to apt-get install for apps, but the problem is I'm on an ARM processor, and a lot of applications aren't available for it.  Easier to use Ubuntu Software Manager and see what alternatives might be available).

-Xfce has an option to ignore the trackpad when the user is typing.  That's great, but the delay after typing is way too long. It takes a few seconds to get use of your trackpad back.  You can't configure the delay in trackpad settings.  This lack of configuration is ridiculous because it turns out that Xfce just uses syndameon, which is very easy to configure.  Check out how to set your own delay here.  (note that the the link's suggested syndaemon parameters let the cursor move while typing, you just can't click or select anything.  I thought it wasn't working, then read syndaemon's manual and realized that it was).

-I had a bad time getting Java to work, mostly because I'm stupid.  Well, mostly because I wasn't sure what to install as an end-user vs what a developer would need.  I installed OpenJDK 7 Runtime, then in a terminal had to "sudo apt-get install icedtea-plugin".  May not have been the right things, but Java does work in Firefox now, so no worries (apt-getting icedtea-plugin is what ultimately got it working in Firefox, though I'd already installed OpenJDK by that point too.

-You know what?  This Chromebook doesn't have a delete key.  I knew the Caps Lock would be gone,which is fine.  Who uses Caps Lock anyway?  I never realized before how much I use the delete key. ChromeOS is set up so that hitting Alt+Backspace will emulate delete key, as well as having Alt+Left being Home, Alt+Right being End, Alt+Up being page up and Alt+Down being page down.  This handy site tells you how to set those shortcuts up in Ubuntu, as well as how to set up some of the F-keys to their Chrome-decreed functions (volume and brightness control), but I use the F-keys for serious F-key business so I left them alone.

 -I was looking for a Notepad++ replacement (I like Gedit but really want folding) and discovered the excellent Cream.  It's essentially Vim with a better interface.  But then Cream started acting a little odd, so I tried Kate, and then Geany.  They are all very good, upstanding editors but I couldn't get them to fully suit my needs. I tried Bluefish, abandoned it, went back to it and figured out how to get custom folding in text files.  I literally copied the C++ language definitions, changed the block open/close symbols, then deleted everything I could and still have working folding and inline spell check.  A little kludge-y, but hey, it worked.

Here's a little side note on folding.  A lot of the apps I looked at wouldn't allow me to set up custom folding because it used language definitions from an outside program, and in order to change those definitions I'd have to change that program itself (Scintilla, I believe).  Bluefish keeps all the definitions in it's own files, so it's very easy to customize folding and syntax highlighting.

-Sound isn't working out of the box, but that is because it isn't turned on.  The proper audio channels are muted.  Apparently these audio settings shouldn't be messed with, because you can actually melt your speakers by messing with them.  I thought people were joking, then I stumbled upon some of blog posts talking about people sending theirs in for speaker repair.  Here's a link the get sound working.

-There's no Flash.  Well okay, there is a way to get Flash, basically by copying it from Google's OS on the device, but it's not important enough to me to fix right now (details are on the same page as that sound fix link directly above).  If you get it working it'll only work in the Chromium browser, by the way.

-Crouton is definitely the way to go, in my opinion.  It has better touchpad responsiveness, you have ChromeOS that you can switch to on the fly, you can even music from ChromeOS and it keeps playing when you switch to Ubuntu (in case you don't want to set up sound in Linux).  It also plays videos better than Ubuntu can on the device, and I think it has Netflix support, doesn't it?  Anyway, I assumed Crouton was for people who wanted to try Linux on their Chromebooks for a lark in-between Chrome sessions, but it's just as capable as any other Linux implementation that I've tried on this device, more capable in many ways.

I think with that, I have most if not all of my issues ironed out. Now maybe I can start using this thing to actually write on.


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