code ramblings and technical oddities

Pixelbook Development Mode: A Cautionary Tale

It was all going far too well

So for about a month I've been using the Pixelbook as my portable development and note-taking laptop, and it's been generally going well. Like I mentioned in my first impressions post, the pen support is great, Android apps run surprisingly well, and while the Linux container has some quirks it's pretty useful overall.

My biggest complaint so far, is that enabling ChromeOS developer mode puts it it in a state where it's far too easy to accidentally wipe your system. (Yes, I say this from experience - it just happened to me.)

Putting the Pixelbook in developer mode requires disabling its boot-time OS verification, and every time the device starts it splashes up a warning screen to inform you of this fact. The warning screen helpfully recommends you press the spacebar to re-enable OS verification, but neglects to mention that doing so will factory reset the device.

Developer Mode Boot Screen

Image of Pixelbook stating "OS verification is off"

Source Android Central

If developer mode was more stable, this wouldn't really be an issue - the problem comes from when the device reboots unexpectedly.

This morning I was using my Pixelbook in tablet mode with the keyboard folded behind it. This configuration puts the keys on the exposed bottom face of the device . . . where I was holding it.

I was moving some windows around when the system froze and restarted, and before I could realize what was happening my Pixelbook started resetting itself. The way I was holding it, the spacebar was depressed (which normally isn't an issue since keyboard input is disabled in tablet mode, but the bootloader isn't smart enough to know that) and within seconds it had cleared the OS verification screen and started the reset.

Luckily most of my projects are in git and all the Android apps I was using sync to cloud storage automatically, so I didn't end up losing anything. But it definitely made my heart skip a beat when I saw that powerwash screen come up!

So if you think you'd like to get the latest features, or pehaps you want to sideload some Android apps onto your Pixelbook - whatever it is, think long and hard about the risk of living one crash away from accidentally resetting your device.

I think Google should potentially make it a bit harder to activate the powerwash function from the bootloader, but developer mode is supposed to be unstable and dangerous. Personally I'll be sticking to the stable branch from now on, so there's not any risk of this happening again. If you decide developer mode is right for you, be sure to back up your work regularly!