Got the Kids Each an Acer Chrome Book C710 – 2586 for Christmas — Now to Make Them Work

I've got two little geeks living with me.  They each got Chromebooks for Christmas this year (2013) and want to start using them right away to do weird stuff.  

December 27, 2013


First off, let me tell you that I'm not familiar with ChromeOS.  I know it's Linux based, so I've been thinking I should have at least half a clue.  It is now Christmas night, and as I tear into this thing, I'm finding that in fact I do NOT have half a clue.

My nine year old has a website brewing.  Right now he's got an index.html and another file with some text about the Titanic.  We've gotten as far as those couple of files, plus a stylesheet.  The site is orange with white text.  The files live in his home directory on our home PC, which is also a web server, which also has port 80 aimed at it through the router/firewall.  He can see this page from school, and it's very exciting for him.

So far, he's been using a Macbook (running Xubuntu 12.04) to edit his files.  We mount them up via sshfs and he uses Geany (vi might be tough on a nine year old) to make changes.  I thought I'd be able to duplicate this setup with ChromeOS, since it's Linux based…

This process seems like a complete ruckus, considering the itty bitty thing I want to do compared with all the steps I need to perform to get it done.  I needed to get into what's called Developer Mode, and found out how on Chromium's Poking Around Your Chrome OS Device page, then got sshfs-fuse installed by following the instructions on Chromium's Installing Developer and Test packages onto a Chrome OS device page. 

When the Chromebook booted, there was a message "OS verification is OFF — Press SPACE to re-enable."  I thought it was hung at this point, but it just took a couple minutes to finish booting.  I rebooted it a couple times to make sure it was all right, mounted and unmounted a share via sshfs and fuse from the command line, and at that point I called it a day. 


We needed a couple more things before we could call this project finished.  One was an easy process of mounting up his home directory (a bash script would be nice, but I'm not sure yet if I can run them in ChromeOS) and a good text editor.  There are a bunch that work in a browser and write to the cloud, but I'd rather there just be a stand alone editor that saves locally.  Caret looked promising, and I'd messed with it a bit the night before, but I couldn't make it show me what I was typing and haven't gone back and forth yet with the author enough yet to figure out what's wrong.

Caret became a moot point though early in the day, as my son (though he claims he didn't) hit Space to exit developer mode.  My wife called to ask why his book was wiped…  If you didn't know, entering developer mode wipes the book.  I guess getting out does it too.

A couple of weeks later I tried again to get this running.  I installed Ubuntu on the Chromebook, but somehow even though all signs pointed to "it's installed" I was back to ChromeOS after a reboot.  My heart wasn't too broken over it though.  Whenever I typed in a terminal, I couldn't see the difference until I clicked somewhere on the window.  I might have tried tracking this down, but after the reboot I just didn't have the ambition.

After one more try at developer mode and sshfs, I quit and put everything back to normal.  While I did in fact mount up his remote home directory and edit a file (the first try wiped the file though, for some reason), sshfs was a bit flakey.  Enough that I'd be worried about my son losing work.

Carat behaved as it was supposed to this time around, and I have no idea what was going on last time.

So, here it sits.  We're back out of developer mode, I created a directory and copied all of his html files and css into it, and that's how it's going to be.  I'm not going to be installing ftp on the computer at the house, so we'll have to find an app that does sftp.  ShiftEdit looks like the winner at the moment.

I'm also not sure what I would do personally with a Chromebook.  If I was working on a PHP site, I'm not sure how I'd create a test environment, or even get the files up to the live server, now that more and more hosts are FINALLY ditching straight up FTP.

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