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  • Can I Install Chrome OS on My Netbook?
Technology Articles > Software > Network & Internet > Can I Install Chrome OS on My Netbook?

The new Chromebooks are netbooks the way they were meant to be. Netbooks are subnotebooks that have been optimized for web browsing on the outside. That is, they are smaller, thinner and lighter, with compact screens and keyboards. However, on the inside, they still run the same operating system as desktops and laptops. The Chromebook takes the netbook model to the next level by optimizing the operating system for the web as well. Rather than running Windows or Mac OS X, Chromebooks are powered by Chrome OS. Chrome OS is essentially a lightweight version of Linux that only runs one application: the Chrome browser. The benefit of this is that the Chromebook boots incredibly fast--just 10 seconds from startup to login screen--and it also loads web pages and runs web apps fast.

If you’ve ever used the Google Chrome web browser on your Windows, Mac OS X or Linux computer, you should find the Chrome OS environment very familiar. In fact, if you have Google Chrome Web Store apps, bookmarks and other settings synced with your Google account, they’ll be there waiting for you when you log in to your Chromebook.

At the end of the day, the Chrome OS notebooks are designed for a simpler, faster computing experience. It achieves this by limiting your activity to the web. Ironically, the fact that a Chromebook does less than a laptop running Windows or Ubuntu or OS X doesn’t necessarily make it less expensive. In fact, the first Chromebooks to hit the shelves on June 15 will be priced between $350 and $499.

Furthermore, as you may have heard, Chrome OS is based on open source software. So, what’s to stop you from downloading Chrome OS and installing it onto your existing netbook or laptop, or purchasing a less expensive machine and loading up Chrome OS on it?

That’s a very valid question, and the answer may be a bit confusing. First, it’s important to understand the distinction between Chrome OS and Chromium OS. Chromium OS is the open source project that Chrome OS is based upon. Chromiums OS is available for developers to view, edit and build without charge. This “building” is important, because without building the source code, Chromium OS won’t be bootable. This means that the average user cannot feasibly download Chromium OS and install it on their computer like they might an application like Microsoft Office or Minesweeper.

Chrome OS is a build of Chromium OS that is developed and supported by Google. In creating the Chromebooks, such as the Samsung Series 5 and the Acer Chromebook, Google worked alongside these manufacturers in order to optimize Chrome OS to work with the hardware on these machines for the best performance. Because of this, you cannot download Chrome OS and install it on any computer you wish. In fact, you cannot download Chrome OS at all.

You can, however, find Chromium OS builds that are supported by the open source community. These builds will not be as stable and may not even work on your computer. The challenge lies in providing drivers for Chromium OS that are compatible with all the various models of laptop and netbook on the market. This is a problem faced by Microsoft Windows computers and solved by plug and play, where the computer automatically discovered and configured the appropriate drivers for the device. There is no such luxury for open source builds of Chromium OS.

That being said, the most popular build of Chromium OS is called {{http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/|Flow}}. You can write Flow onto a USB device or SD card and then boot your computer into an open source build of Chromium OS. The experience will be very similar to what you would have on a Chromebook, but it won’t be the same. It will be less stable and, because of driver issues, will likely not have the same outstanding performance as a branded Chromebook. Flow may not work for your machine at all, due to the lack of crucial drivers, such as wireless cards and touchpads. If that’s the case for you, you’ll just have to wait for the developers to add support for your hardware.

In summary, you cannot install Chrome OS onto your own netbook. But you can get an open source build of Chromium OS, which may or may not work for your laptop.