Distributed Announcements With ChromeOS and Chrome Sign Builder

chrome_sign_builderProblem: You work at a school or business and want to a cost-effective and simple to deploy solution for distributing information to displays across your campus or enterprise.

If your organization uses Google Apps for Education or Google Apps for Work, you are in luck!  Chrome Sign Builder is a great application for accomplishing this.  In this post I will outline how I used this tool to distribute daily announcements (via Google Slides) to multiple locations throughout our building.  Using our existing wireless network for connectivity, I was able to put 65″ LCD TVs in multiple locations for $1,133 per location ($929 of which was the display itself).

Breakdown of products purchased:

What it looks like:


Dell’s Chromebox comes with a VESA mounting plate that is the same footprint as the device.  This display didn’t have a place to mount the plate (most don’t), but because the Chromebox is very lightweight I was able to use mounting tape to secure that plate to the back of the display, then “drop in” the Chromebox onto the mount.

Suggestions for lower cost implementations:

  • Use a smaller / less expensive TV – We used 65″ TVs because these were going in large rooms and we wanted students to be able to see the information at a distance.
  • Use a Chromebit instead of a Chromebox – I used Chromeboxes because I was familiar with them and wanted the ability to secure the device using a security cable.

Chrome Sign Builder Initial Setup:

  1. Enterprise enroll the ChromeOS devices you are planning to use so that they show up in your Google Admin Console.  The ChromeOS devices need to be managed for this to work, hence the ChromeOS Management Console License included in the Chromebox purchase listed above.
  2. Create a device OU in your Google Admin Console for your signage devices. You’ll need one OU for each configuration, but multiple devices may have the same configuration.  In my situation, I have several displays, but they all display the same content, so I only needed one OU.
  3. Move your newly enrolled devices into the applicable OU.
  4. Using an account hat has access to devices in the Google Admin Console, go to the Chrome Web Store and install Chrome Sign Builder.  (Note: You do not need to do this on the signage devices – your normal computer will work just fine)
  5. Launch Chrome Sign Builder.

Setup a Schedule:

You should have a default schedule under “My schedules” and a calendar shown at right (as seen below).  In this example, I am going to show how to loop a single presentation, forever (other scenarios are supported, see here for other use cases).  Below you’ll see how to automatically re-load the presentation so that changes made to the slide deck are reflected on the displays automatically.

  1. schedule12Select the schedule you would like to use from the left column (or create a new one).
  2. Click in the “all-day” row of the date you want to start displaying your content.schedule3
  3. Paste the URL of the Google Slides file that contains your content into the URL box and click the “Open Advanced Drive Configuration” option that appears.schedule456
  4. Set your options for your presentation.  In my example, I turn all of these on.
  5. Set the amount of time you want each slide to be shown.  In this screenshot, it is set to 3000ms.  1000ms = 1s, so 3000ms is 3 seconds.
  6. Click “Done”.schedule7910
  7. Check “Show forever” to repeat this schedule every day moving forward
  8. Click “Advanced…”
  9. Check “Automatically reload url” and provide a value for how often the URL should be reloaded.  Note: Using this option is important if you want modifications made to the slide deck to reflect on the displays.  I reload mine every 10 minutes.
  10. Click “Save”schedule1112
  11. You should now have an entry in your “all-day” row.  Click it to make modifications if necessary.
  12. Once you are satisfied with your configuration, click the green “EXPORT” button.
  13. Name and save the policy file in an easily accessible location (like your desktop).

Deploy Your Configuration:

Once your export file is saved, you should be directed to log into the Google Admin Console.  If you aren’t sent there automatically (or want to revisit your deployment settings later), you can find it under Device Management > Chrome Management > App Management > Chrome Sign Builder.

  1. deploy15In the “Kiosk settings” section, select the OU you created that contains your signage devices.
  2. Turn on both “Install automatically” and “Allow app to manage power” (if the parent container does not have these settings applied, you’ll need to click the “Override” hyperlink under each switch first).
  3. Click “Upload Configuration File”, then select the file that contains the configuration file you exported in the previous section (if you don’t see this button, you’ll need to click the “Override” button beneath “Configure”).
  4. Click “Save”.
  5. Click the “device settings page” hyperlink.deploy67
  6. In the left hand column, select the OU that contains your signage devices.
  7. In the “Kiosk Settings” section, select “Chrome Sign Builder” for the “Auto-Launch Kiosk App” drop-down list.
  8. Make sure to click “SAVE” to apply your changes.

Congratulations – you’ve just told the devices in that OU to launch Chrome Sign Builder as a kiosk app and configured them to display your content automatically!  Go turn on your ChromeOS device(s) and enjoy your distributed content!

If you have questions about this process or have a tip on Chrome Sign Builder, please leave a comment.

Useful Links:

Dell Chromebook 11 Service Tag

UPDATE: You can now just powerwash the device and press ALT + V at the welcome screen to get he serial.  (see here)

I had a large delivery of Dell chromebooks recently, and while sorting them into OU’s using Andrew Stillman’s awesome chromebookInventory script, I was unable to locate one of the devices in the dashboard.  Assuming something went wrong during enrollment, I powerwashed it and re-enrolled.  Still unable to find it in the dashboard, I sorted by enrollment date.  What I found, was that the device I enrolled had a different physical service tag than was listed in the “serial number” column of the dashboard.  Strange…

I started searching the internet for another way to get the serial number, but kept getting linked back to my original post on getting a serial number off of a Chromebook.  After a wasted chat with Dell support, Google support was able to give me the process.dell_chromebook_serial

The process below involves booting the device into “developer mode” which can impact local user data. Please follow the process below at your own risk.

  1. Enter Chromebook developer mode:
    1. Press esc+refresh (the circular arrow)+power
    2. You should see the “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” screen, press ctrl+d
    3. To turn OS verification off, press enter
    4. The screen will inform you that OS verification is off, press ctrl+d
    5. Entering developer mode can take up to 15 minutes (this machine took less than 5 minutes).  A progress bar is shown across the top of the screen.
    6. Upon completion, the device will reboot and return to the OS verification screen.  Press ctrl+d to continue in developer mode.
  2. Retrieve the serial number:
    1. Connect the device to wifi using the welcome screen and agree to the ToS
    2. Log into the chromebook (if you have forced enrollment enabled you may have to re-enroll first)
    3. once the welcome screen loads, press ctrl+alt+t to open the terminal
    4. type “shell” and press enter
    5. type “sudo bash” and press enter
    6. type “vpd -l” and press enter
    7. Your should see a screen (like the one above) containing the serial number of your chromebook.
  3. Exit developer mode:
    1. Turn the chromebook off
    2. Turn the chromebook on
    3. The OS verification off disclaimer is shown, press spacebar, then press enter
    4. OS verification is now on (green checkmark) and the chromebook will reboot.  The device will again be cleared and you’ll need to go through the initial setup (wifi, ToS, enrollment).

While the scenario that affected me is very unlikely, this process would also be helpful to determine the serial number or service tag of a device whose physical tag is missing or damaged.  I hope this helped you – please leave any questions in the comments below.

Creating a Bookmark as a Chrome App

cghs_chrome_appI published my first “app” to the chrome web store today (I use the term app loosely).  When installed, it allows the user one-click access to the Cary-Grove High School web page.  Your first question may be “Why?”.

  1. It provides another avenue to your users for accessing important services.  Bookmarks are effective for some users, others prefer to have Chrome open to a predefined set of URLs.  Alternatively, providing a Chrome app allows one-click access from the new tab page for those who want that option.
  2. Apps can be easily pushed out using the Google Apps Control Panel.  While I’m unlikely to force this specific application on my users, this can be useful in several other scenarios.  For example, if I’m a Google Apps for Business customer and my accounting department are all heavy users of a cloud-based accounting system, I could  pre-install an app to their Google account that links directly to that service.  From the first time they log into Chrome, the app will be at the ready on their new tab page.

Google has several good tutorials for creating apps for the Chrome Web Store; I used this one.  A few things to know before if you want to make an app similar to mine:

  1. You’ll need to verify your site with Google Webmaster Tools.  Verifying a site proves that you have ownership of the site.  There are several options for site verification (I used a meta tag).  More information on site verification can be found here.
  2. You need to use the same Google account to verify your site that you are going to be using to publish your application.
  3. If this is your first app, you’ll need to pay a $5 fee to become a registered developer.
  4. You have up to 16,000 characters available for a detailed description.
  5. You’ll need to provide some graphic elements (full details).  At minimum you’ll need:
    1. one 128x128px icon (your app icon)
    2. one 1280x800px (preferred) or 640x400px screenshot
    3. one 440x280px promotional image

The process was very straightforward.  If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.  Good luck on making your first app!

Chromebook Serial Number

I recently saw a discussion involving a user who was trying to figure out how to determine the serial number of a chromebook when the sticker had been removed from the device. Unable to easily locate that procedure, I thought it would be a good idea to make a post to help others in this situation.  This process has only been tested on a Samsung 550 model.

If you aren’t familiar with developer mode, I’d suggest reading this article.  In most scenarios, all user data is stored in the cloud; erasing the stateful partition has no ramifications to the end user.  Please understand what you are doing by booting into developer mode before continuing with this process.

  1. Boot the device into developer mode (toggle the developer switch)
  2. At the chrome OS verification screen, press Ctrl+D (this will wipe the stateful partition)
  3. The device will erase and reboot
  4. Once again, press Ctrl+D at the chrome OS verification screen
  5. At the select language screen, press Ctrl+Alt+→ (the “forward” key, top row, F2)
  6. Type

    and hit enter

  7. Type
    sudo dump_vpd_log --full –stdout

    and hit enter

“Product S/N” is your serial number!  Let me know if this helped you or if you have any questions in the comments.