The latest high-end gadget from Google, Chromebook Pixel, is a fantastic laptop. With a high-density 239 pixels/inch display, Intel Core i5 processor, and 4 GB RAM, it won’t disappoint many users. On its software side, Pixel runs ChromeOS, a consumer-oriented stack for day-to-day computing usage. It turns out that tweaking the Pixel to make it suitable for doing real development is not a rocket science.
Depending on how much effort you want to invest, there are different strategies which you can try. We start with the least intrusive one and close it with the most powerful, flexible solution.
The obvious plan is by using the built-in connectivity features of ChromeOS. For example, many web-based IDEs will run just fine under Chrome and thus you can use those services right away. System administrators can connect to a remote box (e.g. Amazon EC2 instances), either via the built-in crosh (Ctrl+Alt+T) or the installable Secure Shell. We can say that, borrowing the popular buzzword, Pixel is already convenient for doing cloud-based development.
Another alternative is to use the Pixel as a remote viewer for another machine. This is rather easy to prepare using Chrome Remote Desktop. Combined with file synchronization via Google Drive, this approach allows you to access and use existing Windows and OS X applications.
Of course, real hackers would like to leverage the Pixel as a stand-alone system. After all, what’s the purpose of having a powerful and shiny laptop if we are at the mercy of another machine? In this case, the full freedom can be (re)claimed by installing a secondary Linux system. The easiest way to do that is by using Crouton (GitHub: github.com/dnschneid/crouton). It requires switching to the developer mode (be advised of the security implication), a small price to pay until a better solution emerges.
The foolproof setup is described in Crouton’s README. I followed the steps almost blindly and in no time I have Ubuntu (running under chroot) at my disposal. Note that this is not dual-boot, you essentially run ChromeOS and Ubuntu at the same time, side-by-side. Since it is a real, full-blown Ubuntu installation, you can do whatever you want with it: run a web server, install Ruby, use Python, compile C/C++ apps, play with V8, and many more. You also have the choice of using a desktop environment (e.g. Xfce, with resolution adjustments) or just staying with the command-line (illustrated in the next screenshot).
While I always enjoy using my MacBook Air as the primary development machine, these days I tend to stick with the gorgeous Pixel. I guess, I am now officially Pixel-ed.