December 14, 2009, 8:43 AM — by Kevin Purdy - Google recently pulled off the rare feat of releasing a product without really releasing it. True, they offered up the source code for their Google Chrome OS, a fast-booting, minimalist netbook platform entirely focused on their Chrome browser and speedy web applications. But they also told an anxious press and public that, unless they felt like compiling it and hardware testing it themselves, they'd have to wait a year before trying it out on an approved, custom-built netbook.
[ See also: Take Chrome OS for a test spin ]
Don't want to wait that long? Grab a USB thumb drive, at least 1 GB in size, and you can try out Chrome OS in an early, but working, form. You can check first to see if your laptop hardware is halfway compatible, but wireless connectivity is the major issue--all Chrome OS really needs is Wi-Fi, a keyboard and trackpad, and a screen.
Head to Hexxeh's Chromium OS Builds site, and download the fairly hefty USB image. If you're downloading to a Windows system, you'll need a Windows image writer--included, handily enough, in the "Windows Instructions" section of Hexxeh's site. If you're using a Mac or Linux machine with the image, there are terminal command instructions included at Hexxeh's site as well. Note that while you can create a USB key on a Mac, it won't actually boot off a Mac machine.
When your image is transferred, stick the USB key into your system and reboot. Most modern systems automatically detect USB drives with system files and boot from them, but you may have to hit a key during start-up to specifically choose a USB stick as the primary boot--watch your screen when first booting up for that key to hit. When you get to the login prompt, enter "facepunch" as both your username and your password.
Once you're inside, you'll see, well, the Chrome browser. In the upper-right corner, there are three buttons--one to close this window (kind of), one with very few system options, and one left-most button that lists nearby Wi-Fi connections. Sign onto your network, and you can start exploring what a very early build of this fast-booting system can do.