How to run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu on a Chromebook

Google's low-cost computers are capable of doing more than you think. Here's how you can transform a Chromebook into a full-blown Linux laptop.

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You've probably heard a lot about Chromebooks. These affordable computers are manufactured by companies like HP, Acer, Toshiba, and Samsung, among others, and run Google's cloud-based operating system known as Chrome OS, which relies on an Internet connection to run most apps.

The big appeal for these computers are their price tags, with most models retailing for under $400 and some even dipping as low as $179. Many people aren't aware, however, that Chromebooks are capable of doing more than just running Web apps. In fact, you can run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu, a popular Linux operating system, on a Chromebook. Here's what you need to know.

Choosing the right model

Any Chromebook is capable of installing Ubuntu, however I recommend using a model that is equipped with an Intel processor. Chromebooks that include an ARM processor will not be compatible with a majority of Linux programs. You will have a more enjoyable experience if you use a newer model with better internal hardware.

It will also help to use some sort of external storage such as a flash drive or an SD card for more space to install any additional programs.

The process

The first thing you must do is enable the Chromebook's Developer Mode, but be aware that this will erase anything you may have saved to the device's internal storage. Press and hold the Esc and Refresh keys, and then press the power button. The Chromebook will reboot into Recovery Mode.

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A yellow exclamation point will appear on the screen with a warning message, press the Ctrl and D keys simultaneously to continue to the next screen. Press the keyboard's Enter key to turn OS verification off and confirm the decision to turn on the Chromebook's Developer Mode. A red exclamation point and a warning that OS verification has been turned off will be displayed on the screen, followed by two loud beeps, this is normal.

Sit back and wait as this process could take up to 10 minutes to complete. Don't panic if you see a red exclamation point after Developer Mode has been enabled, the system will reboot back into Chrome OS shortly.

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You will be required to input your network credentials and login information after the Chromebooks reboots. After doing so, you must download a tool known as Crouton, which will allow Ubuntu to run on top of Chrome OS. Save the file to your download folder and then open the Chromebook's terminal by pressing the Ctrl, ALT, and T keys together.

Type "shell" in the command line and hit the Enter key. Next, type "sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t unity" and wait for Crouton to install. If your Chromebook has a touch screen use the command "sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t touch,unity" instead.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

You will be asked to enter a username and password once the installation process is complete. This is separate from your Chrome OS login and will be used inside of the Ubuntu operating system. To enter Ubuntu type the command "sudo startunity" into the terminal.

Click on the first icon on the left-hand side of the screen and search for the terminal. Once inside of it, type "sudo apt-get update" in the command line to update the operating system. When that's complete, type "sudo apt-get install software-center," this will allow you to easily install a wide variety of Linux programs. You can open the software center and search for the specific program you want, or you can download programs from the Web and install them through the software center.

Tips

To get back to Chrome OS from Ubuntu, press the Ctrl, Alt, and Back keys together. Moving from Chrome OS to Ubuntu can be done by pressing Ctrl, Alt, Forward, followed by Ctrl, Alt, and Refresh. On a model with an ARM processor, use Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Back, and Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Forward to move back and forth between both operating systems.

You can also open the Chrome OS terminal and type "shell" in the command line, followed by "sudo startunity," either method works. One thing you will notice is that it now takes longer for the Chromebook to power on. When you see the yellow exclamation point, simply press the Ctrl and D keys to speed up this process.

Uninstalling Ubuntu

The best part about this how-to is that it's completely worry-free. Whether you are unhappy with Ubuntu, running out of space, or want to return your Chromebook back to its original factory state, it takes only a couple of seconds to undo the entire process.

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Restart the computer and press the spacebar when you see the red exclamation point. Press the Enter key to turn OS verification back on; this will once again erase anything stored on the device's internal storage. The system will reboot back into Chrome OS; enter your network credentials and log in to your Google account to begin using your Chromebook again.

 

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