Google’s Chromebook runs Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system based on Linux that offers you a complete Chrome browser and the main desktop experience. Before purchasing a Chromebook, you may wish to experiment with Chrome OS in a virtual machine in a window on your desktop.
What You’re Getting
Here’s the thing: You can’t get an official version of Chrome OS without buying a Chromebook. Google doesn’t offer a version of Chrome OS, you can install it on existing hardware, whether in a virtual machine or on a full laptop or desktop PC. You can only get the full version of Chrome OS on a Chromebook.
However, Chrome OS—like the Chrome browser itself—is based on an open-source project. The open-source project is named Chromium OS. It includes most of Chrome OS, aside from some extra features Google adds later, including support for Android apps.
We recommend utilising Neverware CloudReady for this. Neverware takes the Chromium OS code and changes it to run on current PC hardware. They then add extra corporate administration capabilities and offer their solution to schools and companies that wish to instal Chrome OS on existing PCs. However, Neverware provides a free edition for personal use and free virtual machines for VirtualBox and VMware. This programme is based on Chromium OS and is nearly similar to Chrome OS. It’s simply lacking a few bells and whistles you can only get on a Chromebook.
How to Get the Virtual Machine
First, you’ll need a virtual machine application installed. We suggest the free VirtualBox software, but you can also use a VMware product like VMware Workstation if you prefer that or already have it installed.
Once you have installed a virtual machine program, head to Neverware’s CloudReady virtual machine images page. Click the appropriate link to download the virtual machine image for either VirtualBox or VMware, whichever you have installed.
Next, import the downloaded virtual machine appliance into your virtual machine program of choice. In VirtualBox, click File > Import Appliance and browse to the virtual machine file you just downloaded, which will have the .OVF file extension.
VirtualBox or VMware will set up the virtual machine’s virtual hardware according to the specifications in the file. You do not have to configure anything or even install the operating system—it is already installed. Just click the “Import” button to continue.
To launch the CloudReady virtual machine, just double-click it in your virtual machine library.
Using Chromium OS
Despite the Neverware CloudReady branding, the words “Chromium OS” will appear throughout the operating system, indicating that you are primarily just using the open-source build of Chrome OS. Everything will work fairly similarly. You will see the usual Chrome OS setup screen, although it will be branded with a “CloudReady” logo.
When you boot up the virtual machine for the first time, it will offer to download the Adobe Flash plug-in for you automatically. This is something that’s usually included in Chrome OS, but cannot be included here. On a Chromebook, you will not see this window. However, this wizard still helps you install it with a single click.
You will sign into the operating system with a Google account, just like how you would generally use a Chromebook. When you do, you will receive an email alert from Google that there was a new sign-in from Chrome OS.
You can click around and use the environment like you would use a typical Chromebook. You will find the usual things: A desktop environment with a taskbar, tray, and launcher, apps like the Files app, and of course the Chrome browser itself. Some features will not be present. You will not find any support for Android apps, a feature that’s been appearing on more (but not all) Chromebooks lately. You may encounter issues with multimedia or DRM-restricted websites.
The operating system will not get updates from Google, but it will automatically upgrade to new versions of CloudReady provided by Neverware. These tend to lag behind new versions of Chrome OS published by Google themselves since Neverware needs to change them after they are released. When you start up the virtual machine in the future, you will get the normal Chrome OS sign-in page where you may input your password, sign in with a new user account, or sign in as a guest. In guest mode, your Chromebook will offer the visitor a clean slate and immediately delete their browsing data when they sign out.
While this is a preview of the experience of using Chrome OS, it can’t substitute for the real thing. Not only is it missing a few features, but the performance of Chrome OS on real hardware should be much better than in a virtual machine.
What’s more, the experience of using Chrome OS inside a virtual machine is kind of missing the point. Chrome OS is supposed to be lightweight and straightforward, getting out of your way and giving you an easy-to-use laptop that doesn’t need system maintenance or software installation, something you can easily use and hand to guests with its guest mode.
You can’t truly get the entire Chrome OS experience without trying a Chromebook, just like you can’t have the experience of using an Android phone by installing Android in a virtual environment on your PC. You may wish to visit a local electronics store and experiment with a Chromebook in person if you’re still intrigued. That will enable you to play with those Android apps on Chrome OS, too.