ChrUbuntu – Ubuntu on ARM Chromebook
Today my 32GB Transcend Class 10 SDHD card arrived, so I set to work installing ChrUbuntu – Ubuntu 12.04 packaged up for the Chromebook. Like some others I hit an issue with the download of the 11th archive file (ubuntu-1204-arm.binak.bz2), and I needed to repartition the SD card using parted. Once I got past that issue it took a while to install due to my slowish broadband, but it was all very straightforward.
When I startup my Chromebook I can now choose between booting ChromeOS (in dev mode) by hitting Ctrl-D or Ubuntu by hitting Ctrl-U. Both start up really quickly (around 10s), so there’s no massive penalty to be paid when switching between one and another.
I’m not a great fan of Unity, and I’ve not invested the time yet to find my way around it well, but all of the basic stuff I need is there. My main reason for wanting Ubuntu is to get a full featured set of tools, and I can get that with a terminal window. Having FireFox a click away if I need to look stuff up is also very handy (and it’s working fine now for writing this blog post).
Subjectively things feel fast – particularly on the command line – my comparison point being various VMs and VPSes (and of course my Raspberry Pis). Ubuntu feels a little clunky compared to ChromeOS, but it doesn’t feel slower.
There are still issues with trackpad support and keyboard maps (which may not be helped by the fact I have a UK keyboard), but nothing yet that’s turned into a major trip hazard.
It’s slightly annoying that the SD card pokes out of the machine so far. Hopefully somebody will make a Micro SD to RS-MMC size adaptor (something like the Adafruit Low-profile microSD card adapter for Raspberry Pi, but without the Micro SD bit poking out of the top).
ChromeOS Dev mode
It would be remiss of me not to mention ChromeOS Dev mode, as this is needed for the ChrUbuntu install process.
Firstly going into dev mode wipes locally stored files (such as the SSH keys I’d installed), which is a perfectly sensible security precaution. I’d known this when I got the Chromebook, and considered going straight into dev mode to avoid any wasted effort, but in the end I left things be in order to get a feel for the vanilla experience.
Now that I’ve enabled dev mode I’ll probably not go back, as it provides a much more capable crosh, which has proper shell capabilities. In fact many of the things that I thought I wanted Ubuntu for may turn out to be possible from dev mode.
It was cheap and straightforward to add Ubuntu capabilities to my Chromebook, and I’m sure it’s going to come in handy. Ubuntu works well on the machine, and I probably need to spend more time getting familiar with Unity. Hopefully the hardware support will improve with time (or better still Canonical might do something official). I’m also impressed with the enhanced abilities of crosh when in dev mode.
1. Be careful to install the ARM version (34v87) rather than the x86 version (tnyga)
2. I had a go first at just reformatting it on a Windows machine, but that didn’t help
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Tags: ARM, Chromebook, ChromeOS, Chrubuntu, crosh, dev mode, Linux, parted, SD card, SSH, Ubuntu