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Installing Linux on a Chromebook

Updated on August 17, 2015

About Chromebooks

A Chromebook is NOT a Windows machine. Chromebooks are developed with a lightweight (Linux based) operating system. The operating system is served up with a GUI reminiscent of most operating systems made within the last 10 years. It comes with Google Chrome by default and is basically a browser based laptop, or what I call a tablet replacement. Chromebooks are extremely cheap and are becoming more popular for the casual user. By "casual user", it is generally understood as user that likes to browse the web, do some emailing, or let's face it, watch Youtube or Netflix for 12 hours. Information most people aren't keen on divulging willingly. For this simple form of web browsing I recommend Chromebooks wholeheartedly, as long as the end user understands that this is NOT a Windows machine, a Mac, or Linux box (although it is in a sense), and will lack basic compatibility with most programs and file types. There is however the Chrome Web Store that is stocked with Chromebook compatible apps, and the library is growing everyday. With modest hardware, (most models running Intel dual cores) modest ram and memory (2-4 gb of RAM, 16-32gb flash storage), a Chromebook is perfect for casual users, mobile professionals, and students that may not be able to afford a name brand machine with all the trimmings.

Unleash the Beast!

So you bought yourself a cheap Chromebook, and want a little bit more functionality? Maybe a full desktop experience? Let's turn the Chromebook into a fully capable Linux box.

Step 1: Haxor Mode

This part will differ a lot from installing a fresh install onto a normal desktop or laptop. A lot of Chromebooks do not support USB or SD booting, and Optical booting is not an option as they are built without optical drives.

Before Chrome OS will enable us to make any changes to the software, we will have to put the Chromebook into Developer Mode. Developer mode is like, Root privileges, administrator, super user, whatever nomenclature you prefer. With the Chromebook powered on, press Esc + Refresh + Power. This will enable Developer Mode and the sytem will reboot. Upon rebooting you will be greeted by this screen. The OS missing or damaged screen. This is normal so don't panic, I mean you have skills right? When you see this screen press Cntrl + D to boot. The computer will now prepare for developer mode. It will take a few minutes as it loads into Developer mode for the first time.

Step 2: Salad Time

We will have to download a tool called Crouton. Crouton uses Chrome OS to simultaneously run another instance of an operating system, virtually side by side, so there is no need to boot into separate boot partitions. Crouton was actually developed by a Google employee if that helps put your mind at ease.

Step 3: Window Shopping and Terminal commands

Now that we are booted up in Developer mode and have Crouton installed, we can open a command prompt. We do this by pressing CTRL + ALT + T (for terminal, derp). This will bring up a terminal window, sorta like this.

We have to get into the Linux shell mode, which is easy. Type shell. Once in shell mode we can start looking for Linux distributions supported by Crouton. Let's see what is available. Type in:

sh ~/Downloads/crouton -r list

Exact syntax is always a must when working in Linux, while it is not too big of deal in Windows and DOS, a lowercase or uppercase can send things into chaos.

Now that we know how to browse distributions, we can choose one to install. For simplicity sake, will install 'Unity' which is a Ubuntu with the 'Unity" desktop environment. To install a target type:

Sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t unity

The download and installation of all the packages and files will begin. This process could take 20-30 mins, so grab yourself a beer (juice if your underage) and come back when the files are installed. The terminal will prompt you for a username and password when the installation is complete. You will always have to launch your new Linux desktop environment from the Linux shell. To launch unity, get back into the shell, and simply type sudo startunity. 'Sudo' simple means "super user DO" and grants administrative execution. Enjoy your Linux Chromebook! Congratulations turning your 200$ piece of hardware into a full blown desktop machine. There are many great open source, and free programs that Linux has to offer:

-Libreoffice (Linux version of Microsoft Office)

-Chromium and Firefox (Browsers)

-Wine and Playonlinux (Windows Gaming Compatibility)

-GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) Aka Free Linux Photoshop

If you ever need to erase everything and start fresh, you only need to power wash your Chromebook in the Chrome settings to completely restore it to factory. Another method is to turn OS verification back ON during the boot sequence to run a system wipe.


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    • profile image

      Ben 2 years ago

      Will crouton run with kali linux?

    • Tortugaa profile image

      Tortugaa 2 years ago

      Thanks for reading Corey!

    • profile image

      Corey 2 years ago

      Great write up!