Hands-On: Aura UI On the CR-48 Chromebook

While Samsung and Acer Chromebooks got the latest developer build Google's Chrome OS and its new "Aura" UI earlier this month, anyone using Google's own CR-48 Chromebook couldn't download the update until late last week. Developer build 20.0.1116.0, offers access to Aura's new "windowed" user interface. We went hands-on with Chrome OS 20 to see how this open OS is coming along.

At first glance, the Aura UI is a welcome addition to Chrome OS that should make the user experience much more intuitive for anyone familiar with Mac OS or Windows. Whereas earlier versions of the operating system consisted of nothing more than a Chrome browser window, Aura adds a functioning desktop, including a system tray, task bar, quick launch menu and resizable browser windows.

From the system tray, users can quickly manage their wireless and Bluetooth connections; adjust their volume and brightness settings; and shutdown, sign off or lock their Chromebook. The system tray also provides quick access to the Settings and Help menus.

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The quick launch menu allows users to jump straight into Gmail, Google Docs (which has now been integrated into Google Drive), YouTube and Google Search. Of course, the multitude of options presented in the quick launch menu belie the fact that Chrome remains the only application you can use on  your Chromebook.

An Apps button can be found next to the quick launch menu; this brings up a grid of Chrome-based applications such as Google Calendar, Google+, and Scratchpad (a word processor app that allows users to write to their Google Docs account in a separate window). Also included are shortcuts to YouTube, Gmail and Chrome, effectively making the App menu a full-screen version of the quick launch menu.

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Installing Chrome OS 20 is easy -- simply click on the wrench icon in Chrome and then on "About Chrome OS". From there, click on "more info" and use the drop-down menu under "Channel" to select "Dev - Unstable". Once you've done that, Chrome OS should automatically download and install the current development build Restart your Chromebook, and voila -- enjoy your new Chrome desktop, courtesy of Aura.