Oct 122023

One more post, October 11, 2023:

Linux on Chromebook Conversion,

This is another story of Gnu/Linux installation for successful life extension for a compact computer. I cannot take a lot of credit, I made a good enough choice of hardware and found the technique on the web. I am always glad to prevent the waste of hardware and glad for the extended support of strangers from the web. I do not repeat the instructions here, only give my story. Please refer to the two websites noted or any other website with similar instructions, but read and understand the steps before you start.

Part One, Hardware
I ordered a used Asus C202 Chromebook on the web. It arrived in working order and had parameters I thought appropriate to my uses: small and lightweight, less than three pounds and closer to two pounds; Intel dual core 64 bit processor, 4Gb ram. Comments on this unit were that tear down was relatively easy for repairs. I was happy to have the “ruggedized” case, too. I was learning about the ChromeOS in order to be able to help seniors with their questions. More are using tablets or Chromebooks as these are less costly and simpler to use, albeit with caveats. These operate on user capture rather than user freedom; tracking and limits are established by Google and Android by design. There is a limited lifetime of support, typically four years. Not long enough, and my purchase, a 2016 model, repeatedly reminded me that the last planned update had already been applied. I considered waiting for 2024 and the promise of ten years support, but went ahead with the conversion to Gnu/Linux now.

Part Two, Research
Proprietary hardware and software can be a real limitation. Could I make progress toward freedom? I began to research on the Web. Both Itsfoss.com and MrChromebox.tech had information for me on investigating the “Developer Mode” in the of the Chromebook. One important clue to success is to boot into Developer Mode and read the screen before continuing. At the bottom is the Motherboard name. This name is needed for comparison to the Supported Devices page under Mrcrhomebox. Mine is TERRA.
I found I could not do the dual boot. My name, TERRA, listed EOL for the RW_Legacy boot modification. So, not maintained any longer, but the nice green check mark indicated I could use a script to over write the Coreboot with a more functional EFI compatible one. I found the Mrchromebox website helpful and sufficient to get the job done. I could not do the dual boot and keep Chromeos, and it was not difficult to follow directions to get the script to modify the firmware. The script functions as a web link and took about two minutes to work. I was not sorry to leave the Chromeos behind.

Part Three, Doing the Steps
One, try Developer Mode, noting the board name, which is key to checking the MrChromebox list. Two, fiddle with Developer Mode and realize it is no advantage and the chrosh and shell do not have full access to the Linux tools I expect on a functioning system. Once I decided to proceed I removed the physical screw that is the write-protect feature of this Chromebook. Write protect must be cleared in order to make changes. Three, copy and paste the command on Mrchromebox to rewrite the BIOS. Four, try out the new boot operations and see how to boot a live/install usb. I could not use the SD slot as a boot option, but my usbA ports both worked to boot media. Xubuntu and Debian both booted. A bit tricky was that I needed to explore the Boot Manager to see how to identify ports and media, then add a boot option. The emmc(16 Gb) no longer booted. Four, boot the install of choice, Xubuntu, run it live as a test, then install. Install took some time, as this was a dual core CPU and 4 Gb ram. I tried install to the SD, but still could not boot from there. So, next, installed to the emmc, using the “minimal” option for the Xubuntu. So far tests are good: wifi, screen, keyboard all work. Sound is good. I can read and use the SD, once logged in and I mount the card. The install is 72% of the 16 Gb, so I will be careful what demands I make. But man pages are there, I have access to all the programs in the Ubuntu repository. I feel the limits are off as the terminal is a terminal, not a limited environment. I can see what I want to see.

This is a return to my hobbyist days of providing useful life extension for needlessly orphaned hardware. And it is fun to have a small portable, really portable laptop, reminding me of the Asus EEE I owned twelve years ago. I chose to abandon and recycle that because of the 32 bit Atom processor. The demands of the web today are such that 64 bit processing is required for general use and basic graphical browsing. So far the fully installed Linux is working well and I am tweaking things to my taste and on both the GUI and in the terminal.

Read the directions, twice. Three times if you are not really clear. Decide your level of trust, I accepted the risks of using the remote script to rewrite the BIOS. It worked for me. Don’t count on the SD slot, it may work for you or a newer motherboard, but research that before you decide it is your desired place for the OS.

I did have repeated tries at the install, with the hazard of the SD not a bootable location. I also lost or over wrote the boot partition of my media and had to learn how to fix that. I can only give myself a “C-” on that. I think I used the chroot and related steps and mounts pretty well, but didn’t umount something before returning to the live environment. In fact if I have to do that again I won’t just use Ctl+D, then reboot as in the Debian wiki. I will exit the chroot, umount the second system and establish just which environment I am in before reboot or shutdown.