My latest at ProfHacker: More Chromebook Fun: Fully Replacing ChromeOS with Linux

Inside an Acer ChromebookLast November, I wrote about running Ubuntu on a Chromebook using ChrUbuntu. In that post, I noted some of the advantages of running ChrUbuntu: I really liked having a full-blown desktop environment to work in, and ChrUbuntu worked much better for me than Crouton.

There were still some issues, though. I couldn’t choose the operating system at startup; switching back to ChromeOS required issuing a terminal command and rebooting the machine. If I wanted to boot back into Ubuntu, I had to issue a slightly different terminal command in ChromeOS, and reboot again. Granted, part of the point of installing ChrUbuntu in the first place was to be able to use Ubuntu as my primary operating system on my little Acer; I hardly ever booted back into ChromeOS. But if that was going to be the case, I thought, why should ChromeOS even be occupying space on my hard drive?

I encountered the second issue when I tried to upgrade the machine’s RAM (to be fair, I encountered the same issue in ChromeOS). Adding memory to the machine (which shipped with only 2GB of RAM) broke the suspend function. When I shut the lid, the computer would appear to suspend, but opening the lid again simply shut the machine down rather than waking it up. On some occasions, the computer would continue to run even while supposedly suspended, resulting in its being very hot when I took it back out of my messenger bag. Both behaviors were problematic.

So, after a couple of months of working with the way ChrUbuntu was behaving on my particular machine, I decided to take a risk and completely remove ChromeOS. That meant replacing the firmware, which was the scary part. (There is a genuine risk of bricking your machine when replacing the firmware, so please don’t try this on a machine that’s essential to your daily work!)

Here’s what I needed to do:

  1. Disable write-protect by enabling the appropriate jumper on the Chromebook (I found that a small piece of tinfoil worked fine).
  2. Create a backup copy of the original firmware.
  3. Download and flash an appropriate non-Google firmware from John Lewis’s site.
  4. Re-enable write-protect.
  5. Download a 32-bit Linux distribution and use it to create a live USB (UNetbootin is an easy-to-use tool for creating one).
  6. Boot the machine from the live USB (yes, once I’d replaced the firmware, the Acer booted from a USB drive just fine, as long as I was using a 32-bit Linux distribution), and install Linux as one usually would. (One nice perk of replacing the firmware was that, though I’d never before been able to boot from USB, I was able to do so just fine as long as I was using a 32-bit live USB.)
  7. Enable the touchpad by adding a few lines to /etc/modules.

I already knew how to create a live Linux USB drive. To gain a better understanding of the process of replacing the firmware, I read documentation at John Lewis’s site (linked above) and watched Johnny Phung’s “Natively Running Windows 7 on Acer C7 Chromebook.” (I simply installed a different operating system than he did at the end of the process.) I found the lines I needed to add to /etc/modules under the “Method 3″ heading on this page.

The process was a little scary — believe me, I held my breath when flashing the new firmware — but it wasn’t particularly difficult. If you’ve ever successfully jailbroken your iPhone or rooted an Android device, such as a Nook Color or similar, you’re almost certainly capable of doing this.

What have I gained?

  • I now have a fast, lighteight device that runs a full version of Linux (I’m using Ubuntu 14.04 at the moment, but I’ve also tried Linux Mint 16 and it works fine) with no issues.
  • Linux is free to use the entire hard drive; I don’t need to reserve space for an OS that I never use.
  • All of my RAM is recognized, all the time (I had occasional issues with that on the original firmware).
  • Suspend works correctly!
  • The process of replacing the firmware helped me learn a bit more about the inner workings of my computer (in a way that simply dual-booting Linux on an inexpensive Windows machine wouldn’t have, though I realize that’s the easiest way to get a fully-functioning Linux laptop).

What about you? Have you tried fully replacing ChromeOS? Have you ever replaced the firmware on any of your devices to open up more use possibilities than the manufacturer intended? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

[Photo by Flickr user Sam Harrelson]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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