How to install Ubuntu Linux on an HP TouchPad

HP TouchPad with Ubuntu Linux and VNC

The HP TouchPad is a tablet with a 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 pixel display, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and webOS 3.0 operating system. But with HP discontinuing the TouchPad and all webOS smartphones, the future of the operating system remains uncertain. Fortunately you may not be stuck with webOS… or at least not only with webOS.

Projects are already underway to port Google Android to run on the TouchPad. The open source operating system already supports devices with similar hardware, but it could be a while before we see fully usable versions that work with HP’s camera, WiFi, and other hardware.

Update: It’s now possible to install Android on the HP TouchPad, thanks to the folks behind the popular CyanogenMod Android software. 

In the meantime, hackers have already figured out how to run Ubuntu Linux on the TouchPad. The process is a bit complicated, and what you actually end up doing is partitioning the storage space on the tablet, installing Ubuntu alongside webOS, and then choosing which to run.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to do that:

1. Install Preware 

PreWare is a repository system (or app store) for homebrew apps and utilities that aren’t available from the webOS App Catalog. It’s a great resource even if you don’t plan on installing Ubuntu on your TouchPad.

More information about Preware is available in the Preware Homebrew Documentation app for webOS, and you can find several sets of instructions for installing Preware at the WebOS Internals Wiki.

You can do this using the official HP software developer kit, using the webOS Quick Install tool, or by using a standalone installer.

2. Set up Meta-Doctor on your TouchPad

3. UbuntuChroot

  • In PreWare, make sure the WebOS Internals Testing Feeds are enabled.
  • Install Xecutah, XServer, and Ubuntu 11.04 CHroot.
  • Run XServer.
  • Return to Xecutah and tap Ubuntu 11.04 Chroot.

These steps will get you to a command-line version of Ubuntu Linux. From here you can use apt-get install to install Ubuntu packages. For instance, you can install icewm, Xfce or LXDE to give yourself a graphical user interface. Theoretically you could also use GNOME, KDE, or Unity but they require more system resources.

Not all Ubuntu Linux apps will work on the TouchPad, since the tablet has an ARM-based processor and many Ubuntu apps haven’t yet been compiled for ARM.

Users have reported that Firefox, Chromium, and the Flash plugin for those web browsers appear to work though. Other apps reported to work include the LibreOffice office suite, Transmission bittorrent client, and even VNC software for logging into a remote computer.

You should also be able to use the webOS on-screen keyboard to type when using Ubuntu. In fact, right now even if you’re using a Bluetooth keyboard the on-screen keyboard shows up, but developers are working on a fix for that.

Thanks to the folks at the PreCentral forums for much of the info!

If you’re looking for an easy way to install Ubuntu or virtually any other Linux distribution on a PC, check out our guide for installing Linux using a USB flash drive

  • aftermath

    This is a “how” begging for a “why”.The downside of hacks like this will always be the hardware.

    Today’s “smart”phones and “tablets” almost exclusively look to ARM platforms which derive their significance from the world of embedded computing.  The fact of the matter is that the natural setting for this hardware, and indeed where it flourishes, is vertical integration.  With vertical systems:
    * You’re not SUPPOSED to be able to update your operating system or software when and how you want to.
    * You’re not SUPPOSED to be able to upgrade your operating system or software when and how you want to.
    * You’re not SUPPOSED to be able to install the operating system or software of your choosing when and how you want to.

    It is intended to be a curated experience through the vendor, or the whole, delicate ecosystem breaks.  The vendor has integrated your device as part of a larger ecosystem (and “ecosystem” doesn’t refer to the stupid collection of crAPPS that you can download through a crAPP Store).  It is setup this way for the convenience of your vendor, and in actual vertically integrated systems this makes a lot of sense.  For example, I don’t think anybody wins if some UPS courier decides to “hack” her digital signature tablet or handheld code scanner to put a different operating system of different software on it.  Those devices are just a small part of the overall ecosystem of package tracking and delivery for the company, and the courier’s devices are just one of many.  

    For some reason, people think that their “tablets” are personal computers because they’re theirs.  That’s a nice application of grammar.  They are “personal” computers.  However, they are not “Personal Computers” because they’re built on hardware and with software and operating systems that REQUIRE vendor and operator intervention for them to achieve and maintain their perpetual usefulness.

    In reality, hardware intended for vertical integrations is, has been, and always will be a pretty lousy fit for consumers.  Whereas it makes a lot of sense for UPS to demand that devices are EOL’d and replaced on their command (cause you can’t work efficiently if you have to inter-operate and support multiple generations and species of devices), it’s pretty dumb for vendors to be able to do that consumers, which is essentially what happens when the newest software won’t be brought to your “outdated” hardware.  So, a hack likes this will work as long as it works, and then it simply won’t work anymore.

    If it’s really important for you to be able to run Ubuntu, you might want to either buy a supported device or pressure hardware vendors to open up their drivers.  As is, this hack doesn’t really solve any problems, it just makes it easier for the problems to persist without anybody really caring.

    If NOBODY bought hardware that was ONLY supported by proprietary drivers then NOBODY would try to sell them.  It’s hard to blame companies for wanting to install such leverage points against consumers when consumers are dumb enough to fall for it, and I’ve made a lot of money thanks to that exploitation of your stupidity.  Still, I’d be a poor man living amongst the wise than a rich man living amongst idiots.  I’m not sure if money can buy happiness, but it certainly doesn’t quell frustrations over absolute, reckless, uncaring ignorance.

    • Jb82

      geeks will be geeks though

    • Shaun Abels

      Hope you feel better now that you got that off your chest. 

    • Anonymous

      That’s cool I guess. I still want to see if I can do it.

    • http://muddypa.ws nportelli

      You’re kidding right?  We are not supposed to upgrade things?  Where would the work be if it were not for tinkerers and hackers?  Probably the stone age still.  

    • http://twitter.com/MrSeaPig Chris Denniston

      Cool story.

    • Guest

      TL;DR

    • RA

      LOOOOOOSEEEEEEER!!!

    • vasya brick

      and no for the rebuttal, directly below, from the Yahoo Answers crowd.

  • Michael Peterson

    When I am using a device for my job it has a specific job to do. When I buy something for personal use that’s what it should be for, me, I want to do what ever I want with it. And by the way “If NOBODY bought hardware that was ONLY supported by proprietary drivers then NOBODY would try to sell them” please tell me where I can get good devices that fall in this category.

  • Yáng Qin

    This is so cool. I can have a laptop doubles as a tablet, I can write LaTeX on it, it just what I have been dreaming of. How is the battery life when using Ubuntu please?

  • TJ-ultrabook

    Re: aftermath

    Your opinion on ‘vertically integrated systems’ is interesting and understandable, but becomes ironic when you concluded that “[us] consumers are dumb enough to fall for it” 

    We’re NOT! 

    Do you even realize why HP made this move? They’re taking a $100 million loss because consumers WEREN’T that dumb! 
    There was so little interest that they Gave UP!
    Do their PC’s sell? Yes. PC OSes are horizontally integrated. 
    Mobile OSes.. not so much. (But Apple can sell anything). 

    Android is the exception. 

    …(And the iOS jailbreak/Cydia community too). 
    THAT is why there is a bounty on Andriod for Touchpad.
    Consumers WANT horizontally integrated (aka open) device ecosystems. 
    But at $99 it may as well be a “Nook Color or Kindle/Netflix viewer).
    Yet in 7 weeks Ubuntu is running on it, and android will likely be stable (& easy to install) in the next 7 or 8. It will be a repeat of what happened with the Nook Color and iPhone 1st gen. 
    Think about this:

    iPad 1st gen (10 inch)
             $500 / 512 ram
    = fast enough, but expensive

    Nook Color (7 inch)
             $250 / 512 ram 
    = small battery & screen, but cheap

    HP Touchpad (10 inch) 
             $99 / 1GB RAM 
    = FIRE-SALE!

    • Garry Smith31

      ipad 1st generation had 256 ram. ipad 2 has 512.

  • Billy

    ‘aftermath’ is a complete fool – absolutely no doubt about it….

    • oddbubble

      he’s just pissed because he cant follow the instructions and bricked his devise lol

  • Anon

    At least they are giving it a try, which is more than HP did.

  • Rich3800

     Just wait a while and you may be able to get one of those devices cheap.

    • Anonymous

      In fact, free, or at scrap price. Best Buy has to get rid of them. So I wait, wait for the jailbreaking to improve a bit. Should be an interesting project.

  • Ss

    RAGE!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001058325379 TheTotal Creation

      D:< RAGEFACE TIME D:< 

  • Harry Tucker

    my school network uses PEAP MS-CHAPv2 for it’s wireless network. with Ubuntu I’ll finally be abel to use it!

  • Philmaddox59

    for 99 bucks the hard ware alone is a steal for this device. Whether you want to risk bricking it with hacks is your choice. The benefits of solutions provided by the hacking community are too many to mention as well as the ongoing development. If you want a good device that just works then go buy an overpriced piece of fruit . Your choice 
    If you want to spend hours downloading hacks and updates again your choice ( it does force you into gaining an insight into your machine which it turn teaches you how to deal with the shortfalls).
    I think aftermath has been drinking at the apple fountain too much :-) Slowly transforming into a fruit Zombie :-)

  • nooblet

    aftermath : who cares buddy? you just wasted 3.2 minutes of your life on a post that belongs with other trolls under a bridge. your intelligence is questionable when you comment on a site entertained by geeks/hackers and tech enthusiasts and than proceed to use terms like “consumers”, “vertical integration”, “supported device” and “ecosystem”. if there’s a consumer related product that i want to break down to its core, possibly reverse engineer, install wtf i want on it and use it how i like than who are you to guide our thoughts into what devices are “supposed” to be used as?

    I just bought one. I installed Ubuntu on it. And it ROCKS my world!

    peace troll, the force is strong in you and your “rich” life

    • ATX

      I’m sure this dude spent way longer than 3.2 minutes preparing his little chest thump. His time is obviously not very valuable.

  • Roslimsh

    Well, apparently EVE worked.

  • Tik B Lang

    Coming from slow malware magnet XP, This HP tablet is a nice welcome. Boots instantly and very cheap.  Cannot wait to run a decent linux distro like ubuntu so I can put linux based RDP app and Cisco “NON” mobile anyconnect client.

    Always carrying a laptop (16 hours/day) and I only get very few calls per month! That means the network is humming.

  • BAPratt

    Personally I just want to know how they got the WebOS Keyboard to work in Ubuntu. I’m happy they did, I’m just curious as to how

  • Orfeo34

    Can i found an hacked webos doctor directly on the web? Thanks

    • Tony Cole

      The WebOS image is copywritten material, and as such can not be legally distributed through any other channel. Creating a WebOS Meta-Doctor is not a hard process now that WebOS Internals has condensed the process to a simple script.

  • Guest

    yeah yeah yeah ubuntu… how did he get Eve Online running on it?!?! 

  • http://twitter.com/CALLIDUSTECH Callidus Technology

    anyone know if you can get this to dual boot and boot straight into Bantu? I have it running in chroot…..

  • Darkavenger2222

    I’m gonna try, surehope it works, my ppl tell me I’m 2 young fr this kind of stuff, I think that’s bull