Linux on a Chromebook

Lately I've been watching YouTube video's for entertainment and educational purposes. I tend to search for topics like Linux and Open Source, and last week I stumbled upon a video made by Phil Shapiro where he shares his first impressions on GalliumOS.

What is GalliumOS

GalliumOS logo According to their website

A fast and lightweight Linux distro for ChromeOS devices.

If you google for Linux on Chromebook you'll find a lot of posts talking about different ways of installing and running Linux on a Chromebook but not a lot talk about GalliumOS specifically.

So why would you choose to go with GalliumOS?

  • Performance
    • It is very lightweight and Chromebooks tend to be limited in resources
  • Drivers
    • Things like the touchpad and special keys work as expected
  • Bug Fixes
    • Issues that are specific to Chrome OS devices are fixed
  • Xubuntu based
    • Xubuntu is a Ubuntu derivative which results in great software availability

The hunt for a Chromebook

I'm a big fan of Linux and run Ubuntu 16.04 LTS on my main desktop, so this intrigued me. For my work I carry a 13inch Apple MacBook Pro and it works well, software availability is good, but most of it is paid and getting more and more expensive. This would be a great way of carrying a light machine running my favorite OS and applications for free. Super handy when traveling, especially on planes where working space is limited.

Dell Chromebook 11 (model CB1C13)

On our national equivalent of eBay, called Marktplaats the cheapest Chromebook offered was a Dell Chromebook 11. This is the same device that Phil Shapiro used in his video and when checking the GalliumOS Hardware Compatibility page turned out to be fully supported. The price was €85 and I offered and bought it for €70 (~$77) within a couple of hours.

Specs.

Feature Technical Specification
Processor 4th Gen Intel® Core™ 2955U processor
Memory 4GB DDR3L
Disk 16GB SSD
Display Options 11.6” LCD Min 1366x768 / HDMI 1080p output

It comes with two USB 3 ports, HDMI, WiFi, SD Card Reader, Audio. I got lucky with the memory, since most Chromebooks come with 2GB and mine has 4GB. The SSD is rather small, but I run my own instance of NextCloud and store most of my information there. After installing the OS and some of my favorite applications I still had 10GB available.

Installing the OS

The installation instructions on the GalliumOS website are pretty self explanatory, this is the path I followed.

  • General Installation Instructions
    • I choose the Traditional ISO Install method
    • If you haven't already, checkout ETCHER for creating .ISO based install media
  • Installing/Preparing
    • Some Chromebooks will require custom firmware
    • Disabling the firmware write protection differs per make/model
    • Mine actually required opening the device and removing a screw
    • Install/Update Firmware Step 2b shows the following command cd; curl -LO https://mrchromebox.tech/firmware-util.sh && sudo bash firmware-util.sh which didn't work for me
    • What I did instead
      • cd
      • wget https://mrchromebox.tech/firmware-util.sh
      • sudo bash firmware-util.sh
  • Custom Firmware
    • MrChromebox seems to be the leading authority when it comes to custom firmware for Chrome OS devices
    • I decided to go all in and totally replace my firmware with the Install Full ROM option MrChromebox Firmware script
    • I did have to restart my system and the script a couple of times, for my system to realize that the firmware write protection was disabled
  • Install
    • Boot from your install media, USB in my case
    • Follow the guided installation, pretty much a next, next, finish experience
    • Enjoy the power and flexibility of Linux on your Chromebook
    • GalliumOS to be more specific, with working WiFi, function keys, trackpad and a intuitive and beautiful UI GalliumOS on a Chromebook

My experience

I've been using the device at home primarily and really enjoyed it. The screen quality isn't that good (most heard complain about cheap Chromebooks), but for long sessions I'll hook it up to my 1080p 24inch monitor via HDMI and run a dual screen setup, which works like a charm.
GalliumOS screenshot, running HexChat, Brackets and Top Three applications on the 1366x768px screen

In meetings I tend to glance at the screen from time to time or have it connected to a beamer/screen. The keyboard and trackpad are great. Battery life is good, it will run for six+ hours no problem.

From a performance perspective I really can't complain, reading email, browsing the web, editing text/code, social media all works really well. Applications like Libre Office, Firefox, Chrome(ium), Gimp, Inkscape, Enpass and other favorites install, run and function just fine. I wouldn't expect great 3D rendering performance in Blender or the likes, but that's why desktop computers are still relevant. GalliumOS in it's current release doesn't come with a user friendly software center or AppStore which people might expect, but uses Synaptic Package Manager. I install most software from the command line, but Synaptic Package Manager works fine if you ask me. Just lookup the software you would like to install on the web and type the name in. Synaptic Package Manager will most likely find it and will take care of dependencies if there are any.

Highly recommended

Have a Chromebook lying around, I recommend you give this a try and repurpose it. If you don't want to use it yourself, I'm pretty sure your kids, your parents or a friend will be very pleased with it.