Installing/New To Linux
Tutorial: Newbie's Guide to GalliumOS on a Chromebook
This Tutorial is aimed at people with limited or zero computer programming experience who wish to install Linux GalliumOS on their Chromebook. It is a step-by-step recipe that requires no knowledge in computer programming. Its scope is limited in that it doesn't intend to show you how to install any Linux distribution but only GalliumOS. Furthermore, the user should not attempt to install GalliumOS on a Chromebook that IS NOT on the GalliumOS Hardware Compatibility List. (See below in "Things to check first").
GalliumOS is one of the numerous Linux "distributions". A Linux distribution is a set of software packages with an installation program that allows the user not only to access his or her computer with Linux Operating System (OS) but also to complete most of the tasks that an average user is expected to do with computers (word, presentation and spreadsheet processing, audio and video playing and editing, Internet browsing, e-mailing, etc.). In that respect, it differs from "commercial" operating systems that don't provide much besides access to the computer system. Linux is the most advanced operating system in the world: as of November 2015, 494 or 98.8% of the 500 world's fastest supercomputers use the Linux kernel. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOP500)
GalliumOS is different from other Linux distributions in that it is designed for Chromebooks. But then, why would you want Linux on your Chromebook?
Reasons To Install Linux on a Chromebook
Chromebooks are lean and mean computing machines that are designed to work in conjunction with the Internet. A Chromebook "keeps" hardly any software on its internal drive; what the user needs to complete a task is downloaded from Internet - often for a price - and is not kept inside the computer when the task is done. This is why most Chromebooks are equipped with a very small solid-state drive (SSD), typically 16 or 32 gigabits (Gb). Often, this SSD is not upgradable and most of time, the random-acess memory (RAM) is not either: Chromebooks' SSD and RAM are frequently hard-wired to the motherboard. With Linux installed on a Chromebook, applications stay inside the computer and can be accessed any time, with or without Internet.
The often talked about constraint about installing Linux on a Chromebook is the SSD size. This SHOULD NOT be a deterrent when installing Linux. 16GB is plenty to install GalliumOS; all your music, photos, videos and other paraphernalia that don’t fit on the static drive can go to an external drive. On all Chromebooks, you have the luxury of at least three ports: two USB and one SD. Without spending much, you could have at any given time 768 Gb of memory on your Chromebook with three 256 Gb external drives! Even a Thunderbird mail profile, for instance, can sit on an external drive without any significant speed penalty. All your Linux OS and programs can sit nicely on the 16 Gb internal drive with room to spare.
Furthermore, quite a few Chromebooks now can be upgraded with a larger capacity static drive. For a little investment, you could end up with a powerful laptop for a fraction of the price that you would normally pay for something other than a Chromebook.
Things to check first
You probably don’t want to venture into uncharted territory, so you need to do a few checks before you start converting your Chromebook computer to a GalliumOS Linux machine. There are many benefits with using Linux, notably the ability to run thousands of excellent applications without ever accessing the Net, but you have to be reasonably certain that your Chromebook will allow you to do that. The first place to find out whether your Chromebook is supported for a GalliumOS install is: https://wiki.galliumos.org/Hardware_Compatibility
Here are a few explanations about this table:
Model: The basic idea is that it is not advisable to attempt a GalliumOS install unless your Chromebook Model is listed in this table.
Hardware ID: The Hardware ID is something that you will read in your Chromebook when you create a Recovery Media for your specific model (see below); this is valuable information.
Processor Name: The Processor name (Sandy/Ivy Bridge, Bay Trail, Haswell, Broadwell, etc.) is something else you will need when you select the GalliumOS version you have to download. See: https://galliumos.org/download.html
Firmware: That is one of the crucial change that may, or may not, be required to make your Chromebook a GalliumOS Linux machine. The firmware modification requirement is indicated in the column titled “…with custom firmware?”. Fortunately, this firmware change is a fairly straightforward operation thanks to the work of John Lewis. Basically, it boils down to opening a terminal page in Chrome on your Chromebook (we will get to that) and writing, or copying and pasting, a short script.
(NOTE: Although there is still the possibility to dual-boot (GalliumOS and ChromeOS), this is not discussed here as it is assumed that the user has a limited, small static drive on which space doesn’t really allow two Operating Systems. In this tutorial, we will dedicate the entire drive space to Linux.)
I strongly suggest that you note all the data regarding the Model name, Hardware ID, Processor Name and Firmware modification requirement specific to your Chromebook. You will need it later.
Now that you have determined that you can give yourself the go-ahead for a GalliumOS installation on your Chromebook, let’s do first a little bit of house-cleaning and preparation.
You may have a few files on your Chromebook drive that you wish to keep. You may transfer all those files on an USB flash drive or an SD drive. Remember that everything on your drive is going to be wiped out when you install GalliumOS Linux.