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Computers

How to Run Linux Side-by-Side Chrome OS on a Chromebook

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The shortfall of Google’s Chrome OS, and it’s Chromebook laptops, is the lack of a full-featured applications. As the platform has progressed, some great web-based apps have come along, but there are still some holes. 

The good news is that Chrome OS is based on Linux, and for that reason, a Chromebook’s software can easily be modified to run a full Linux environment. Doing so results in a near seamless side-by-side runtime environment for both; this tutorial will show you how to set it up.

Stop! Back It Up

As with any software modification, before proceeding, you should create a Chrome OS recovery USB drive  in case of malfunction or unintended outcomes. To do so:

  1. Plug in a USB drive or SD card.
  2. Open the Chrome browser and navigate to chrome://imageburner
  3. Follow the directions to make a backup.
Installing Linux requires booting into an insecure version of Chrome OS called Developer Mode.

Entering Developer Mode

Disclaimer: This process was completed on an HP Chromebook 11. Chromebooks with Intel processors may have more Linux app compatibility than those with ARM processors.

Installing Linux on a Chromebook requires the use of the Chrome OS developer mode, an insecure booting of the platform for the purpose of higher-level access, developer programming, and other testing. To enter developer mode on second-generation Chromebooks:

  1. Press the Esc, Refresh, and Power keys at the same time
  2. Press Control-D and you will be prompted to reboot in developer mode (Warning: this will wipe the current Chrome OS settings)
  3. Press the Enter key to begin the conversion to developer mode.
  4. After five to seven minutes, the Chromebook will reboot to a screen indicating your OS is insecure. Press Control-D to boot into developer mode.
Converting to Developer Mode will wipe the current installation and settings of Chrome OS

Not Just For Salad

Crouton is an exploit written to allow a host of Linux distributions to be installed on Chrome OS without overriding the original operating system. The small utility is a free download from GitHub. 

In order to use it:

Using Terminal can be intimidating, but this process is just a few easy commands

While in developer mode:

  1. Open a Terminal session by pressing the Control-Alt-T keys simultaneously
  2. In the Terminal, type shell
  3. Enter sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t xfce
  4. Linux will download, extract, and install its required system files. This process can take 20-30 minutes to complete
  5. You will be asked to choose a username and password for the Linux installation
  6. When complete, you can enter sudo startxfce4 to start the Linux desktop
Remember the username and password you choose when installing as you will need it to make modifications to the programs and system.
Crouton will download and install the necessary system files for the Linux distribution

The XFCE-based install chosen above is somewhat sparse, because it’s meant to run well on low-level components like those found in Chromebooks, and it uses few system resources. 

Crouton is compatible with multiple Linux versions, such as Ubuntu, Kali and Debian

To see the list of distributions compatible with Crouton, enter the command: sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r list

To install a different distribution, enter the command: rsudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r insert distribution name

XFCE is a barebones Linux install designed to run on low-level system components like those found in a Chromebook.

To get back to Chrome OS once in the Linux environment, you can either log out of the Linux desktop or, for side-by-side functionality, press Ctrl+Alt+Arrow Right to swap between the Chrome OS and Linux instances.

More Power to You

Depending on the installation chosen, it could be fairly basic. That doesn’t mean you can’t modify it to get the system you want. Below are some Terminal commands that may come in handy:

  • Install Python software dependencies (makes installing apps easier): sudo apt-get install python-software-properties
  • Install Ubuntu’s Software Center:  sudo apt-get install software-center
  • Install GIMP Image Editor: sudo apt-get install gimp
  • Install Handbrake Video Transcoder: sudo apt-get install handbrake
  • Install (base) KDE desktop environment: sudo apt-get install plasma-desktop
  • Install (base) Gnome desktop environment: sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Back to Factory Settings

If you need to return your Chromebook to factory settings for any reason, you can use the recovery USB you created earlier. Reboot the computer and you will be greeted with the screen displaying Chrome OS is damaged or missing. 

Insert the recovery USB and follow the directions to reformat and reinstall Chrome OS.

If you need to restore Chrome OS, just reboot, insert your USB recovery drive, and follow the directions.

New Shade of Chrome

Chromebooks are quite capable devices for the price. Considering the web-focused direction that many industries are taking, a Chromebook can be a perfect fit.

With this tutorial, you now have value-added capabilities for it in the event that you need a desktop-based application or just want to try something new.

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