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Building A Win8.1 based Chromebook - A How To

, posted: 1-May-2014 11:32

Background: We've got quite a few Netbooks of varying horsepower here, and for the slower ones I've been converting them to a fast booting locked down EduBuntu build - works fine.

Except for one model of HP Netbook where the WiFi driver wants authentication every time it roams between AP's - not cool in a student environment.  Win7 on them is far too slooooow to use...

So, I decided to have a quick look at Win8.1 and see how it copes.  8.1 has a new feature - assigned application to user that pretty much takes care of fiddling, and after a bit of thought I figured out how to staticise Chrome and turn the Win8.1 build Netbook into a Chromebook.  Here's the process for those who might want to try this themselves.

This process is how to build a Windows 8.1 based Chromebook.

Install Win8.1 onto the machine.  (Use the demo/eval Win8.1 ISO)
Language: English (US)
Time & Currency: English (NZ)

Custom Install, wipe the drive (delete any partitions the installer finds) and let Win8.1 use the whole thing.

Give it a name, pick the ethernet network, choose Customize for settings;
‘No’ for networks in public places
Windows Update - Automatic
Auto Drivers - off
Autoupdate Apps - off
SmartScreen - on
Do Not Track - on
Windows Error Reporting - off
Compatibility Lists - on
Location data - off
Customer Experience - off
Help Experience - off
Use Bing - off
IE Page Prediction - off
Use my name - off
Use my advertising ID - off
Request Location - off
Active Protection - off

Create a local admin account (Toshiba or BHS Admin) and give it the usual password.
(Scroll the page down, create new account, scroll down again, sign in without a microsoft account)

Fully Windows Update + additions to pick up any required drivers. (PC settings, Update & Recovery, go into ‘Choose how updates get installed & turn on Microsoft Update)

Download & Install the ‘Chrome Browser for Education’ from here;

(This is a Chrome install for all users).

Create the student account;
Press the windows key, type ‘users’ and select ‘Add, delete, and manage other user accounts’
Add account called ‘BHS Students’, select child account. No password required.

Log out as Toshiba, then log in as BHS Students. (To log out, press the Windows key, click account name and log out under that)
Fire up Chrome, set it as the default browser, go into Chrome settings;
‘On startup’ - ‘Open a specific page’ set to
Expand out advanced settings
Passwords & forms - disable both
HTTPS/SSL - tick ‘Check for server certificate revocation’

Close Chrome and re-open to double-check it goes to Moodle

Log out of BHS Students and back in as Toshiba

Grab Chrome Defaults & make them static

Make c:\users\static folder
Copy c:\users\BHS Students\appdata\local\google\chrome\user data\default to c:\users\static\default
Make c:\users\static\Netlogon folder

Set up the share (from an Administrative command prompt)

net share Netlogon=c:\users\static\netlogon

Use notepad to create in c:\users\static\netlogon a file called reset_chrome.cmd

Put the following line in it;

robocopy /mir c:\users\static\default “c:\users\bhs students\appdata\local\google\chrome\user data\default”

Bring up explorer (Windows-E) and right-click ‘This PC’ and select manage
Expand out Local Users and Groups, Users, double-click BHS Students
Tick ‘User cannot change password’, then go to the profile tab and enter reset_chrome.cmd into the login script field.

Log out as Toshiba and back in as BHS Students. If you’re vigilant you might see the script running briefly.  To test it, bookmark something, then log out and back in and see if the bookmark exists.  As long as it’s gone the script is doing it’s job.

User the power options to set lid-close-power off and power-button-power off.  Also hook the device up to WiFi as well. Disable sleep. Set up time sync.

Set up the kiosk mode

Log back in as Toshiba, run the users management app as you did at first to create the student account
Click on the ‘Set up an account for assigned access’.
Pick ‘BHS Students’ as the user, and then ‘Google Chrome’ as the application. (Chrome will only show up if you’re been in as the user and set it as the default browser.)

Get out of account management and reboot the device. Windows 8.1 will remember the last user you logged in as so it’ll prompt you to sign back in as Toshiba - go in as BHS Students and viola you should have a Chromebook like interface.

Once you’re happy, image the machine with your imager-of-choice (Clonezilla in our case) and deploy to subsequent machines as normal.  Just need to change the machine name & activate Windows by entering your own key.  

Note: on older devices where you might have a sub 1024x768 resolution (hint: netbooks) Win8.x apps may not launch as they need a minimum of 1024x768 resolution. To work around this; search for Display1_DownScalingSupported in the registry and set it to 1.  In the same place you find that you’ll also find a DynamicScaling entry - set that to 1 as well. Look for all instances of these two and change accordingly.

Reboot, go back in as Toshiba and set the resolution to 1024x768 and Chrome will now launch as the BHS Students account.

Other related posts:
Extending the CEPH cluster, things we've learnt
Creating redundant, clustered & scalable storage - a DIY guide
OKI B411n & how to reset the NIC

Comment by freitasm, on 1-May-2014 11:44

Wait a minute... You get the chrome UI but what about the underlying OS? You need a license for Windows 8.1 at some point...

Author's note by nzsouthernman, on 1-May-2014 13:05

Very good point re licensing, @freitasm.  I left that bit out as the person can use the demo ISO for P.O.C., and then you can activate Win8.1 with your own key when the time comes or use KMS/MAK from your volume license once it's been imaged over to subsequent devices.

As for the OS, you get the ChromeOS UI with Win8.1 underneath (which you only briefly see while booting).  Once booted and into Chrome you can't tell what the underlying OS is.

Comment by simon gray, on 1-May-2014 15:22

Could you also achieve the same effect with a minimalistic linux underlying the chrome experience?

Author's note by nzsouthernman, on 2-May-2014 09:40

@simon Yes, of course I could have. But as I mentioned at the top of the post, I have one model of Netbook where the WiFi drivers under Linux (have tried Ubuntu/Debian & Redhat based distros so far) always prompt for root authentication whenever the adapter changes AP - not cool when you're trying to lock down the interface and have no user interaction possible with the configuration. It turned out to be *very* easy to do with Win8.1 and the fast boot tech really does a good job on quickly booting the OS. Much quicker than my tied-down Edubuntu build.

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