Software

A mysterious Chrome OS commit could hint at a Chromebook that dual boots Windows

Discovered in the Chromium gerrit, a branch named firmware-eve-campfire references AltOS and go/vboot-windows.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Code for a bootloader menu on a device codenamed "eve" shows the existence of "AltOS," indicating the potential for a future dual-booting Chrome device.
  • Most of the relevant AltOS code on Chrome is only visible to Google employees, making it difficult to ascertain what this is for.

A recent branch title "firmware-eve-campfire" was discovered in the Chromium gerrit, accompanied by changes referencing "AltOS" and "go/vboot-windows." That, combined that with the addition of placeholder strings for "Chrome OS" and "AltOS" being added to all languages, suggests that a future Chrome OS device, codenamed "Eve" will have the capability to boot more than one operating system. The commit was found by -nbsp- on Reddit.

Obviously, with a name like "vboot-windows," it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the feature is intended for Microsoft Windows, though little information about this is available. Most of the relevant code is hidden behind the private gerrit for Google employees, making it difficult to ascertain how this works and what it is intended for. According to a post at XDA-developers, it seems possible that this could be used for non-Windows OSes, such as Linux, or whatever Google Fuschia actually is. However, that functionality may already be covered by the recent addition of Crostini containers.

In an article by TechRepublic's Alison DeNisco Rayome in Feburary, Crostini was tipped as a new way to use Linux on Chrome OS devices without the need to use Crouton, which required enabling developer mode, thereby disabling most of the security functions of the device.

SEE: Securing Linux policy (Tech Pro Research)

So far, Crostini has only been seen on Google's Pixelbook laptops, which command a hefty premium over Chromebooks from other companies. Separate commits show additional work on this being done on Celeron N3150 (Braswell) devices, as well as aarch64 (64-bit ARM) systems, indicating that support for Crostini on other Chromebooks is being actively developed. At the time Crostini was discovered in beta channels, it appeared that the feature was being targeted for release with Chrome OS 66, which has a tentative release date of April 24th.

Chrome OS has been growing in scope over the last few years. Android-powered tablets have largely fallen by the wayside in the last two years, as Amazon has engulfed the low-end, content consuming market with the Fire Tablet series. iPads dominate in practically all other facets of tablet usage, and Microsoft's Surface tablets occupy a significant amount of the convertible market, though are reported to have return rates as high as 25% due to hardware fragility. Google's last Android tablet—the Pixel C—was an ambitious, yet half-hearted tablet available only through the Google Store, but it was discontinued last December after about two years. Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo reported at the time the device was released that the Pixel C was actually intended to run Chrome OS from the beginning, but the lack of touch interface scuttled those plans.

As Android tablets have faded, Chrome OS has grown to largely supplant that market space, with most Chromebooks gaining the ability to run Android apps, and newer devices such as the convertible HP Chromebook X2 and awkwardly named Acer Chromebook Tab 10 fitting the tablet form factor.

Further details are anticipated at Google I/O 2018, which will be held between May 8-10 in Mountain View, CA.

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Image: CNET

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.

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