GalliumOS – Linux Designed for your Chromebook

There are a couple different ways to get Linux apps running on your Chromebook. For most recent models and, as far as I know, all new models; you can simply enable Linux app support and install your favorites directly into Chrome OS. These apps then run in a container and integrate directly with Chrome OS. However, if you are like me, you have an older Chromebook which does not now, nor will it ever, support Linux apps natively

.I have an Acer c720. In fact, I’m writing this post on it right now. Older Chromebooks can utilize a free utility called ‘crouton’ (https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton) to run Linux applications or even a full linux desktop within or along side Chrome OS. I have used crouton in the past on this C720 and it works great. However, I quickly got tired of switching back and forth between Chrome OS and Linux.

This particular laptop was shipped with SeaBIOS installed. SeaBIOS behaves like a typical x86 bios, allowing you to select your boot device at boot time. By enabling developer mode and setting a few firmware flags, I was presented with a boot menu at startup. I plugged a USB 3 flash drive (64g) into the USB 3 port on the C720 and a xubuntu (http://www.xubuntu.org) install usb stick in the other port and installed a full version of xubuntu to the flash drive. With this configuration, I could essentially dual-boot. I could select the internal boot drive to load Chrome OS or select the flash drive to boot xubuntu Linux. I used this set up for a long time and it worked well. I had a “best of both worlds” scenario. I would boot Linux to work and Chrome OS for media consumption (netflix, youtube, etc) or to quickly browse the web and check email.

As time went on, however, I became frustrated with the speed running off of the usb drive. I also found that I was booting to Linux 90% of the time and using my tablet or phone for the odd email or youtube video. I decided to sacrifice Chrome OS and use linux only. I cracked open the laptop case, removed the write-protect screw, and installed Linux directly to the internal drive. It went perfectly and worked great. The C720 ships with a 16gb MVNE drive and I quickly filled it up. I replaced it with a 120g drive and solved that problem. The only issues were some hardware related things that result from the specialized Chromebook hardware. It wasn’t impossible, but there were some rough edges. The main pain point was the fact that the media keys (volume/brightness/etc) that make up the top row of the keyboard were not functional as intended. I tried to do some creative key mapping in xfce to work around this, but it was kludgy. I started looking for something new.

I tried several different distros with varying degrees of success until I finally came upon Gallium OS (https://galliumos.org/). Gallium is a specialized distro (based on my beloved xubuntu) that is tweaked to run on Chromebooks/Chromeboxes. I installed it a few weeks ago and I have been using it almost every day.

All in all, GalliumOS has been everything I want it to be. My only small kludge is a tiny, one line .Xmodmap script to set the Chromebook’s “Search” key to a CapsLock. (keycode 133 = Caps_Lock). I highly recommend using Gallium on your Chromebook. It has restored usefulness to my C720. Go give it a try.

Peace,
Matt McGraw
@NorCalGeekDad – twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *