Google’s lightweight and cheap Chromebooks offer a great alternative to a full-featured, low-barrier Windows laptop. With access to Google Docs and Android apps, Chromebooks can find many uses, whether for work or play. However, you can try a Chromebook before purchasing to see if it’s right for you.
It’s entirely possible to try your Chromebook as a virtual machine in VMWare. Technically, you will need to use Chromium OS, an open source alternative to Chrome OS. It lacks some features, but is otherwise identical and should give you an idea of how a Chromebook works.
What is Chromium OS?
Open source fans may already know that the Google Chrome browser is based on a project called Chromium. While the code for Chrome itself is not publicly available, much of it is based on Chromium, which allows Google to “block” other sections of code that are only for Chrome.
The same process applies to Chromebooks running Chrome OS, based on the broader Chromium OS project. Most of the code is the same, but Chrome OS includes a few additional features, such as support for Android apps, that you won’t find in Chromium OS.
Chrome OS is not available for download, so non-Chromebook users cannot try it directly. The reasons for this are partly commercial – after all, Google wants you to buy its Chromebook.
There are also some features that Google may include in Chrome OS, such as support for certain audio codecs that cannot be enabled in Chromium OS for licensing reasons.
Fortunately, Neverware CloudReady is a project that takes the underlying Chromium OS code and adds additional support to make it a more usable operating system on non-Chromebook devices.
You can install this version of Chromium OS on your computer or laptop directly, however before getting started you should check the Neverware Supported Devices List to see how well your device is supported. Instead, we’ll look at how to install CloudReady Chrome OS as a VMWare virtual machine.
Install Chrome OS on VMWare
VMWare allows you to run a virtual machine with its own isolated virtual hardware and storage on top of an existing operating system. For example, installing Ubuntu in Virtualbox will give you Linux access on top of Windows or macOS.
You can do this temporarily to test a new system, or run two operating systems at the same time for a longer period. Thanks to Neverware CloudReady, you can test and experience your Chromebook without taking any action.
- First you need to download and install VMWare Workstation Player, available for free, non-commercially to use on Windows and Linux. After installation, download the VMWare image for CloudReady to your computer. You also need to make sure virtualization is enabled in your BIOS / UEFI settings.
- In VMWare Workstation Player, click Player> File> Open. Find the CloudReady OVA file, select it and click Open.
- Give your CloudReady virtual machine a name (or leave the default name unchanged), then click Import. This will import the virtual machine image and settings into VMWare Workstation Player.
- Wait for the import process to complete, which may take a minute or two, depending on your computer. Once complete, select your virtual machine and click Play Virtual Machine to turn it on.
If your computer is properly configured for virtualization, VMWare Workstation Player should load CloudReady in seconds. Then you can start the setup process.
Setting Chromium OS
The first time you load ChromeReady, you will be presented with a setup screen. Chromium OS, like all Chromebooks, requires you to have a Google account in order to be able to sign in and use it.
If you don’t already have one, create a Google account now and then return to the CloudReady virtual machine.
- On the CloudReady welcome screen, click Let’s Go to begin the installation process.
- VMware will try to configure your network connection. VMware will usually automatically transfer your host’s Internet connection to the CloudReady virtual machine.
If that doesn’t work, make sure VMWare is using the correct connection by clicking Player> Manage> Virtual Machine Settings> Network Adapter> Configure Adapters and making sure the correct adapter is selected.
- Confirm if you want to provide anonymous analytics to Neverware by checking or unchecking the Send metrics check box to help improve CloudReady in the next step. Click “Continue” to proceed.
- In the last step, sign in to CloudReady using your Google account details. Once logged in, CloudReady will automatically log in and configure the Chromium browser to add your extensions, bookmarks, etc.
Using Neverware CloudReady
Your CloudReady Chromium OS virtual machine will run and look very similar to a typical Chromebook. Click the round menu icon in the lower left corner to access your apps, settings, and files, and install new apps from the Chrome Web Store.
- To continue configuring CloudReady, click Menu> Settings. A settings screen similar to Chrome will appear, where you can configure network settings, connect Android devices, and install third-party media plugins.
- You can also change the background and theme you use by clicking Menu> Settings> Appearance> Wallpaper or Appearance> Browser Themes. If you decide to add a new theme, you can download it from the Chrome Web Store.
- By default, Neverware CloudReady uses the US time zone and keyboard configuration. You can change this by tapping Menu> Settings> Language & input. Click Language to select a language and Input Method to select a different language for the keyboard.
- When you’re done trying CloudReady, press Ctrl + Alt on your keyboard to move the cursor off the CloudReady screen, then press Player> Power> Shut Down Guest to shut down the virtual machine.
With Chrome OS installed on a VMWare virtual machine, you’ll start to understand the differences between Chromebooks and PCs before you decide to buy your own. While the experience may be similar, there are differences you need to be aware of, including storage limits and app support.
If the Chromebook isn’t right for you, you can install other operating systems on VMWare Workstation and try them out.