August 10, 2014 in Computer Science, Development, Learning, Linux, Soapbox | Tags: Chromebook, Codestarter.org, Linux, Ubuntu
I came across Tom Preston-Werner’s blog post about installing Ubuntu on a Chromebook the other day while reading Hacker News and since I happen to have an Acer C720
and some kids who might enjoy it, I took the plunge and used Codestarter‘s installation scripts to install Ubuntu on my Chromebook.
I had thought of installing linux on the chromebook before reading Preseton-Werner’s blog post, but I didn’t take the plunge before because…
the Linux kernel does not support the trackpad.
The thought of compiling a customer kernel with the trackpad driver’s didn’t sound like very much fun. The Arch Linux Wiki I read suggested some instructions to patch the kernel. Anyway, I never really got to the point where I wanted to do all that to get Linux running on the chromebook.
Looking at the codestarter.org script I wondered how many hours they must have spent trying to get it exactly right. Despite the relative brevity of the scripts, it looks like a lot of time went into them.
The first step
involved making a backup of ChromeOS because there is a non-zero chance that this sort of hacking around in the internals of the c720 will result in a device that will no longer boot. I’ve mostly stopped using removable media in the past few years so after considerable searching I found an SD card that could function as the backup media. After making the backup image I read the next instruction which said to download the installation script to some other removable media. :/
I found an old USB stick that would work and loaded the installer onto the USB drive. Following the instructions provided, I activated Developer Mode on the c720.
Next I plugged in the thumb drive, and executed the command
sudo bash main.sh kicked off the installation process.
The installer did somethings, which I think included formatting the hard drive and then rebooted the c720. The same
sudo bash main.sh is run again and this time it installs Ubuntu in the space it formatted.
Overall I think the installation process is very smooth, but there are a few areas where it might have been made more clear. I’ve modified the instructions to reflect this:
I kept thinking this is too easy
while installing Ubuntu. Then My c720 froze the first time I attempted to boot into linux. Given how long some of the other steps took, I thought this too was just taking a long time.
Eventually I ran out of patience, and rebooted to try again. Here we go, I thought. Now it will take hours to get it working again.
This time it booted right up into Ubuntu. After settings my timezones I was presented with the desktop.
I’m still more than a little shocked it was that easy. I was certain that it would take longer, and be crazy difficult to get this working. The script from Codestarter.org make a huge difference and in the end it was pretty easy to get Ubuntu installed on the chromebook.
How does it all fit together?
Now that the little chromebook is running Ubunutu, I’ll right the rest of this post using the chromebook itself.
It is not a fast computer. My primary computer is a quad-core MacBook Pro, so to say I’m a little spoiled is an understatement, but opening the Chrome browser for the first time under Ubuntu was certainly an exercise in patience. I think it’s safe to say that the c720 isn’t any sort of speed demon, but that isn’t what Codestarter.org was aiming for.
They were aiming for a developer laptop.
There are other things that are important to developers, like a good keyboard which the c720 certainly has. The keys have a decent amount of travel, and are spaced widely enough that I didn’t find myself hitting the wrong key very much.
Additionally, SublimeText works well. It started up quickly and stayed responsive.
Solarized, the one true color scheme.
Over all the c720 with Linux is a heck of a deal. I only paid $200 for this little computer and it feels like I could use it in largely the same way I used my MacBook Pro. That’s high praise.
I think some kids are going to have the time of their lives learning to build with these chromebooks! I would have loved a computer like this when I was young.