Living in the cloud
I’ve spent a few days with a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook. It’s an interesting device powered by a custom version of Linux. All the user interaction is accomplished through a fullscreen version of the Chrome browser. Although I’ve been using Chrome as my main desktop browser for a while, there’s a number of things that were not entirely clear or discoverable. Here are a few useful tips and tricks I discovered as I explored around:
- While doing the initial setup, which require network access, the Chromebook correctly detected the guest network I had access to, and offered to start a “guest” session to help me login to get access to the network. It took me a while to figure out that I had to type ctrl+shift+Q to exit the guest session and continue with the setup.
- Speaking of network setup, to find the MAC address of your device, type chrome://system in the address bar, then expand ifconfig and lookup “HWaddr” for wlan0. These instructions may give you an idea that this device was built with a certain audience in mind.
- You can have multiple “windows”, although it’s really more like “screens”, as they don’t overlap. A window is simply a set of tabs. You can create a new window using ctrl+N. To view all the windows, press the ]] key (in the F5 position): click on a window to bring it to front, then press the ]] key again to hide the other windows. You can also switch between windows by pressing alt+tab and alt+shift+tab.
- You can also create a terminal “window” by pressing ctrl+alt+t. This is a limited shell, with mostly command useful to diagnose networking connectivity. Type exit to close the terminal, or alt+tab to switch between windows.
- To switch between tabs: ctrl+tab and ctrl+shift+tab
- To take a screenshot, press ctrl+]]. The screenshot file is saved under “File Shelf”. You can access the file manager by pressing ctrl+m.
- The position of the caps lock key on the keyboard is taken by a search key instead. You can change that if you’d like by typing chrome://settings/system in the address bar, then select Language > Modifier Keys. However, you can also turn on the caps lock function by pressing the left and right shift keys at the same time (or holding one and pressing the other), i.e. shift+shift. A caps lock icon gets displayed in the status area (upper right) of the screen. Although why the caps lock key would be that important to you, I don’t know.
- Although there is a menu containing some commands (the wrench icon, to the right of the address bar), there are a lot of commands available only via keyboard shortcuts. To see the available keyboard shortcuts, press ctrl+alt+/. An overlay will display indicating many of the available shortcuts.
- There are also many advanced options that are available by typing a special URL in the address bar. You can get a list of those special URLs by typing chrome://about in the address bar.
- You can change the icon associated with you user account by entering chrome://settings/personal in the address bar, then selecting the Change Picture button. A panel containing a selection of preset images appears. The first two icons in that list (camera and folder) are not images, but buttons you can select to take a picture with the built-in camera or select an image from your local storage area. It took me a while to figure this out…
- When waking from sleep, my Chromebook can’t seem to reconnect to my home WiFi network. Even trying to reconnect manually fails. The best workaround I’ve found so far is to reboot, which is mercifully quick: hold the power button (top right on the keyboard), select Shut down, then press the power button again.
Hope you find these tips useful…