lundi 24 mars 2014

Behind the hood: a business & technical analysy of the latest Samsung ARM Chromebook

After Apple turned to Unix (FreeBSD + NextStep) in 2001 for the core of its Desktop operating system, exactly 10 years later major players Samsung and Google released the first ChromeOS devices, based on a customized Gentoo with some Ubuntu components (Upstart)

Market Overview:

 Since Google is already a major player in the mobile field, some would ask: if they have android, why add another OS ? The aim is simply for Google: more Google based devices, means more eyeballs for its ad business (which remains from far its most important revenue stream).
I would estimate the development costs of the ChromeOS to be rather low compared to Android. Android started by writing from scratch nearly all components on top of the Linux kernel, from its Bionic libc to its Surfaceflinger display software, whereas ChromeOS is happy with Glibc, Ubuntu's upstart init system, X server and Gentoo build system. The User Experience of ChromeOS (Application Store, System Settings) is mostly a Chrome Browser experience, so the development costs might have been here as well kept as minim

For Samsung which is a vertically integrated player, even with the thin margins of the Chromebooks, benefits could be there, as external costs are kept to a minimum. Many of the hardware components are produced by Samsung itself starting with the Exynos 5 ARM processor, also produced most probably in Samsung own foundry.
Actually the business bet seems to have been a lucky one, since Chromebooks are riding the top 100 of laptop sales in Amazon US, and are doing not that bad in Europe.

An interesting points for tinkerers, ChromeOS specifications require the devices to have a "developer switch" which after passing some scary screens will allow you to be root on your own device. This is contrary to Android where locked bootloaders and signed kernels are the norms for some device manufacturers (Motorola being the biggest I can name)

Technical Overview:

After activating the developer mode, following the ChromeOS wiki, you can access via the "shell" command to a standard Unix shell.
A very standard Unix shell you get young padawan
GPT partition table, with ChromeOS extensions

Inside this shell, you get access to a very standard Unix environment, with bash, vim, wget and curl. No Perl or Python though.
It 's always interesting to play the grep games to see which opensource projects where used in a commercial product ( you can also play the License Game ) Let's try with gentoo

sudo grep  -rl gentoo /etc/
/etc/env.d/00basic
/etc/profile.env
/etc/csh.env
/etc/init.d/functions.sh
/etc/dmtab
/etc/X11/chooser.sh
/etc/X11/startDM.sh


So this confirms the news that gentoo has been used for building the base Linux system, and if you run the command dev_install you can even start using Portage !

Extra proprietay bits seem to be installed in /opt, respecting the Filesystem Hierachy Standard.
chronos@localhost ~ $ ls /opt
gct  google  oem  Qualcomm

Finally the command crossystem provides different information about the platform like the firmware version used:

chronos@localhost ~ $ /usr/bin/crossystem fwid
Google_Snow.2695.117.0

Of course projects to natively install Debian/Ubuntu/Fedora quickly started but frankly speaking I haven't found the hassle is worth: you will end with missing accelerated X drivers, missing Flash Player and it requires quite an amount of hacking.  If you're here for the Linux stuff, just buy a Celeron or AMD C-7  Netbook without OS , for 40 Dollars more and with the distro of your choice you'll be much better served in term of performance and what you can do it with the machine (hint: a chromebook cannot print by plugging to a printer)

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