Running Ubuntu apps on the HP Chromebook 11 (video)

Have your eye on the $280 HP Chromebook 11, but aren’t entirely sold on the idea of a laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS software? No problem. You can enter developer mode and load another operating system on there.

In fact, you don’t even have to remove Chrome OS. There’s a way to run Ubuntu and Chrome OS side-by-side, letting you install desktop apps such as GIMP or LibreOffice, while also getting the full Chrome OS experience when you want it.

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The easiest way to run Ubuntu on a Chromebook is to use the Crouton script which downloads and prepares Ubuntu so you can run it in a chroot environment.

In a nutshell, that means Ubuntu and Chrome OS are running side-by-side and using the same kernel. You can flip from Chrome OS to Ubuntu and back with a couple taps on the keyboard.

It took me less than a half hour to turn the HP Chromebook 11 into a full-fledged PC using Crouton, and just for kicks, I installed the Firefox web browser, among other apps. It works just like you’d expect.

There are a few quirks — the volume and brightness keys don’t work out of the box, but you can fix that pretty easily. And some Ubuntu apps might not work with the Chromebook 11′s ARM-based processor. But adding Ubuntu to the HP Chromebook 11 makes this 2.3 laptop a bit more versatile.

You should check out the Crouton page at GitHub for detailed instructions, but here are the basic steps (make sure not to type the quotation marks, they’re just there to show you which lines are commands:

1. Enter developer mode on your chromebook.

2. Open a browser tab and download the latest version of the Crouton script from this link: http://goo.gl/fd3zc.

3. Press Ctrl + Alt + T on your chromebook to open a terminal window.

4. Type “shell” and hit enter.

5a. Type “sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton” to see a list of options, or

5b. Type “sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t xfce” to just go ahead and install Ubuntu LTE with the xfce desktop environment.

5c. If you’d prefer to use GNOME, KDE, LXDE, Unity, or another desktop environment, use the appropriate name instead of xfce in the command above.

6. Create a username and password when you’re prompted.

That’s literally all there is to it. The script will download all the necessary files, prepare your storage space, and set up Ubuntu.

If you’re not familiar with Ubuntu, one of the first things you might want to do is open a terminal window (by tapping the little icon that looks like a command prompt) and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic.”

synaptic

Enter your password when prompted, and then your machine will download and install the Synaptic Package Manager, which is sort of like an app store for Ubuntu — it makes it easy to find and install third party apps such as Firefox or LibreOffice. You can even install Chromium, the open source version of Chrome… although you could also just flip over to the Chrome OS environment to surf the web.

Here are a few things you should know:

  • Advanced users can also choose the version of Ubuntu to install, add encryption, install a command line-only version of Ubuntu, or customize the installation in other ways.
  • You can start the Ubuntu environment at any time by opening a shell again and typing “sudo startxfce4.”
  • Once Ubuntu is up and running, hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + forward or back to switch from Ubuntu to Chrome OS or vice versa.
  • You can exit Ubuntu by logging out to end the chroot session.
  • Remember the brightness keys that don’t work? In Xfce, just open up the Keyboard settings, go to “Application Shortcuts,” add a new shortcut, type “brightness up” in the box, hit OK, and then hit the brightness up button on the keyboard. Repeat with “brightness down” and the other key. Now you should be able to adjust screen brightness.

Crouton works with most Chromebooks, so these instructions aren’t unique to the HP Chromebook 11. They should also work on the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, Acer C7 Chromebook, Google Chromebook Pixel, and most other devices running Chrome OS.

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  • Zackery Ward

    Sounds like too much work for an ARM processor.

    • ojdon

      What year are you living in? The only issues ARM processors thesedays is open source drivers for 3D hardware acceleration. Using it for Libreoffice, Firefox, etc and these processors fly! No heat, no noisy fans and hours of battery out of tiny batteries.

      • Zackery Ward

        “And some Ubuntu apps might not work with the Chromebook 11′s ARM-based processor.”

      • ojdon

        Simply because some developers don’t package their applications for armhf or require x86/x86_64 dependencies. Nothing to do with CPU performance…

      • CyberGusa

        Though, CPU performance could still be a issue for anyone requiring to run anything that requires anything much more significant than the performance of netbook to run well.
        ARM SoCs like the Exynos 5250 used in this product only just rival the older ATOM processors for barely above netbook range performance.

        So don’t expect to be able to run things as well as you could with a more powerful Core i3 or better processor.

        Things like video editing, gaming, any significant productivity app, etc. could all be issues.. but that said, most everything else you’d run on a Linux distro should run just fine.

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        It’s not because the chip isn’t powerful enough… it’s because not all apps aren’t compiled for ARM. I’ve had a hard time finding apps that aren’t available though.

      • Heh

        Adobe Flash?

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        The gnash plugin for Firefox works.

      • freechelmi

        You can at least copy the flashplugin to work in chromium which is a good start. nothing official for firefox

      • CyberGusa

        Don’t count on the battery life, since a good portion of it requires advance power sipping state support that isn’t normally given when running a desktop OS!

        Lack of support for things like Always Connected Standby mode means the system can’t properly power down to low mw states and thus will use more power constantly!

  • Kassius

    ARM devices like this one should be perfect as (very) thin client stations. I don’t think CPU is an issue here, storage is more likely to cause problems. Given the usual Android partitioning scheme, you’re left with 10-12G of usable space, maybe less. I’d rather see this run a Linux flavor off a USB drive.

    • Kassius

      I may have got things wrong up there, partitioning scheme may not be the same as in Android. Still, 16G sounds slim.

  • Ris

    How about the battery while using ubuntu? How long does it work?

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    What would really be great is triple booting ChromeOS/Linux/Android.
    Not sure there would be much storage space left though.

    • http://drgeorge.org/ ricegf

      It would be a bit cramped. If you want to explore a lot of different operating systems, or manipulate a lot of data locally, you might prefer (say) the Acer C7 Chromebook that includes a 320 GB disk. My son (Computer Science major) is quite fond of his, using Chrome OS for web apps and Crouton for development and games.

  • tfosorcim

    I specifically DON’T want t run Ubuntu. No soapbox…promise.

    How about an article on how to run ANY OTHER (popular) Linux distro? Even ‘Puppy’ would be outstanding.

    (OK, maybe a little soap: I think you ejournalists just don’t get the fact that most real Linux users won’t

    go ANYWHERE NEAR Ubuntu. Any reference to it is NOT AN AUTOMATIC DRAWING CARD.)

    • fauxLinuxuser

      I’ve gotten used to not being a ‘real American’ because I’m not conservative. I didn’t realize I wasn’t a “real Linux user” despite using some flavor of Ubuntu exclusively for the past 5 years. Learning stuff all the time. Is it that real Linux users never leave the command line?

      • tfosorcim

        Now you realize it.

    • nic2109

      Assuming that it’s possible to change the boot sequence to use a USB memory-stick then my recipe would be to install Puppy on a flash drive and boot from there. No issues with storage as it’s all on the drive (which can be as big as you want/need) and all the benefits of running EVERYTHING in memory. And you get to play around as root so it satisfies the ego-needs of the die-hards!

  • Jason Kaminski

    I’ll never understand the need to put ubuntu on these things. I got this: http://www.amazon.com/ASUS-1015E-DS03-10-1-Inch-Laptop-Black/dp/B00COQK8QY/ref=pd_sim_pc_2 for $180 on sale brand new. No developer mode needed. They had an 11.6 version too for another $100 or so.

    • freechelmi

      Samsung Arm chromebook is way better than think. Closer to the Ultrabook quality instead of netbooks. and fanless.

  • oldman_60

    Firefox is performing atleast 30% slower on Ubuntu compared to Chrome. It should be much slower if runing side by side with ChromeOS. However Firefox 24 is as fast as Chrome 30 on Android 4.3. Quickoffice and google Docs could replace Openoffice for most people. Eventhough I am using Ubuntu I don’t see why people need to put Ubuntu on Chromebook 11 which is already quite compared to the new ACER C7200. This said I love my Acer C7 Chromebook.

    • freechelmi

      We need ubunt on chromebooks Because apart from browsing web and using hangout chromeos is useless

      • oldman_60

        There are more and more packaged applications that run native on Chromebook. I can watch film, listen to music, edit photos with Pixlr Touch up or Google photos, work on documents with Google docs and Quickoffice and occasionally I can browse and hangout. Nitrous.IO, a Chromeos package application for cloud based development platform, can be used for complex development. I can use Remote Desktop to access remotely Windows applications. To be honest, the only application I would love to have on my Chromebook is Google Web designer but it only runs on MAC and Windows.

        I have installed Ubuntu on my Chromebook and noticed that I rarely needed it that ‘s why I have removed it. This said, I run Ubuntu server on a desktop and it is enough.

      • freechelmi

        I know some packaged offline apps can do the job. But when you’ve been using GNU/Linux apps for 10 years , you expect to be able to install them when you buy a notebook so crouton has really help me decide if I would buy my chromebook

  • tfosorcim

    As the saying (almost) goes–

    “A person needs a Chtomebook like a fish needs a bicycle”.

  • MrMiketheripper

    Might I add you can install the Ubuntu Software centre with “sudo apt-get install software-center” which may be a little more user friendly than Synaptic ;)

  • Sam Goldwater

    guys, I screwed up. I didn’t realise the password characters intentionally don’t appear when creating a user for Ubuntu – now I’ve got a functioning install but no functioning admin password for installing Synaptic or anything else. Do I need to reformat the whole chromebook and start over or is there a way to reinstall Ubuntu so I can generate a new username properly?

    • Cameron Crow

      Sam, I did the same thing! Did you figure out how to fix this? I’m not sure how to proceed…

      • Sam Goldwater

        Hey, if you haven’t sorted yet I did a hard reset, went through the entire install again – that sorted it! :)

  • tippytoppy

    managed to install everything, come to use it a second time and getting “enter -chromeroot must be run as root”

  • Lungs

    Thanks for posting this info, it has been very helpful. However, whenever I’m prompted to type a password, I am unable to type anything. Any thoughts/suggestions on how to work around this?

  • Steeler Bunyion

    Apparently i have a Chromebook Hp Pavilion 14 and everytime i type the command in to install ubuntu it says illegal -3

  • Patrice

    I tried to install VLC but i can’t watch movies in ubuntu mode. Is it normal?

  • Don Letterman

    Can I install Compiz

  • logan

    does this work on the HP Cromebook

    • Willis Coleman

      Using it on the HP Chromebook 14 right now to post this comment

  • thegrouchlives

    Did you get VLC working?

    • http://www.fourios.com Four: The Space Fight

      mplayer works out of the box, just use that instead

  • Brandon

    I have a problem, every time i try to install xcfe it works but when it gets to the part after the create a username, (the part that asks to create a password) the keyboard doesnt respond to what I type. So then I press enter a few times and it works then it finishes the install and takes me to the part where you type the “sudo startxfce4″ command and goes like normal into the linux version. My problem is when i type the “sudo apt-get install synaptic.” command, it asks for a password and i cant type again, so I try pressing enter like before then it says sudo:3 incorrect password attempts and it doesnt work then it goes back to a normal terminal waiting for me to type a command…. someone help!!!

    • CR

      When you type in your password the system is actually typing. It just doesn’t show it so as not to reveal what your password is, and it’s not set up to show those little stars they use on most websites.
      Type the password you want when you’re installing, then enter it when prompted after installing Synaptic, and that should work.