Running Linux on your Chromebook with GalliumOS

A look at how to use GalliumOS to "penguinize" a Chromebook.
659 readers like this.
How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros

Internet Archive Book Images. Modified by CC BY-SA 4.0

As a longtime user of Chromebooks, I know how useful and convenient those devices can be. They're light, the hardware is solid, and Chromebooks are excellent devices to carry while traveling or working on the go.

The main drawback of Chromebooks, though, is how tightly they're tied to Google's services. Over the last little while, I've been steadily de-Googlizing my life. One of the last big obstacles to doing that has been my Chromebook.

You can see my problem. On one hand, I had a device that I didn't want to part with. On the other hand, I wanted to decouple myself from the corporate behemoth behind that device. What was a poor Chromebook user to do? Install Linux, of course!

After doing quite a bit of research and quizzing a few people whose opinion on these matters I respect, I turned to GalliumOS. Here's a look at how to use GalliumOS to "penguinize" a Chromebook.

Preparing to install

You can't just jump in and install GalliumOS on a Chromebook without preparation. The following is an overview of the steps you need to follow. I've linked to the detailed instructions on the GalliumOS website.

First, download the GalliumOS installation image. There are different images for different models of Chromebook, so you'll need to choose the right one for your device.

Once you have the installation image, create a bootable USB drive with the image. You can find instructions for creating a bootable USB drive on the GalliumOS website.

Next, create a recovery image for your Chromebook. The recovery image is a backup of ChromeOS (the Chromebook's operating system). You'll need the recovery image if something goes wrong or if you decide that you want to go back to using ChromeOS.

If you have any files on your Chromebook, move them elsewhere. The next pre-installation step resets Chromebook to its factory defaults and you'll lose everything. Back up those files now before it's too late.

After that, boot your Chromebook into developer mode. Booting into developer mode both enables you to install another operating system on the device. It takes several minutes to boot into developer mode, so be patient.

Once you're in developer mode, you'll need to enable what's called "legacy boot mode," and this lets you install GalliumOS. To do that, crack open a terminal window by pressing CTRL+ALT+T. In the terminal, type shell and then type sudo crossystem dev_boot_legacy=1.

Installing GalliumOS

Now you're ready to install GalliumOS. Shut down your Chromebook, plug in the USB drive containing the bootable installation image, and restart.

Once it starts up, GalliumOS looks and acts like any other Linux distribution. You can test drive it using the USB drive to make sure everything works properly. When you're ready to install, double click the Install GalliumOS icon on the desktop.

Like most Linux distributions, GalliumOS uses a graphical installer that walks you through the process. It's simple and painless and requires very little interaction from you.

Installing GalliumOS on my Acer C720 Chromebook took about 10 minutes. It could take less or more time depending on which model of Chromebook you own.

Using GalliumOS

GalliumOS is based on Xubuntu, which uses a lightweight desktop environment called Xfce. I've used Xubuntu extensively over the years, so Xfce is nothing new to me. If you've never used Xfce, don't worry. It looks very familiar.

The GalliumOS desktop

Out of the box, GalliumOS comes with a very basic set of software, including a simple text editor, an image viewer, the Chromium web browser, and the DeaDBeeF music player. Obviously, this software (and the other stock software) isn't enough to do much serious work.

If you need more software (and you probably will), you can install it using the Synaptic Package Manager, or you can download and install Debian packages or AppImage-based apps.

I installed various pieces of software that I use to do my work, including:

  • Geany, along with a few plugins (for heavy-duty text editing)
  • Pandoc (for converting between markup languages)
  • PyRoom (for times when I need to write without distractions)
  • TiddlyWiki and TiddlyDesktop (for organizing information)
  • Nextcloud desktop client (for syncing files with my other laptop)

Some of the applications I use with GalliumOS

Using GalliumOS on a Chromebook reminds me of working with the netbooks I used from 2007 to 2010. The operating system is light and focused, so it's quite fast. On top of that, I'm getting between five and a half to six hours of battery life.

It's been two months since I installed GalliumOS on my Chromebook and it hasn't let me down. While I doubt I could use it for processor-intensive tasks like editing video, my Chromebook mated with GalliumOS does a great job of letting me get on with the bulk of my work.

That idiot Scott Nesbitt ...
I'm a long-time user of free/open source software, and write various things for both fun and profit. I don't take myself all that seriously and I do all of my own stunts.


Great article Scott! Too bad my own Chromebook isn't on the supported hardware list, I might have tried installing it myself then.

So when booting into Gallium do you have to still be in developer mode? Or does Gallium completely replace ChromeOS?

In reply to by ScottNesbitt

I have no interest in dual booting, I also have no interest in any need to use key combinations to facilitate the booting process. If the machine doesn't boot into the new Linux install, in the same way any other computer does, it is useless as far as i am concerned.

That said I will now read the article linked to.

In reply to by ScottNesbitt

Because pressing CTRL+L is so much work. Yeah, that makes a computer useless!

In reply to by tracyanne (not verified)

Hey Scott, GalliumOS dev here. We don't recommend people use Unetbootin to create boot drives, as it does some weird bootloader stuff. We recommend using something simple like dd, cat, cp, Etcher, or Rufus in dd mode. See more info here Other than that, thanks for the article! And as always, up to date installation instructions can be found on our Wiki, thanks for linking to that!

David, thanks for the comment. I updated that paragraph to point to the information on the GalliumOS wiki.

In reply to by David Muckle (not verified)

But is it like a dual boot? Or you lose the abilite to use Chrome OS?

I use GalliumOS on a daily basis for work and play. I found the installation process to painless. MrChromebook's firmware seems to work perfectly, even when restoring stock firmware, or going " all scorched earth." It works so well, one may be tempted to try other distros. But I've found the stability and keyboard support in GalliumOS too good to pass up. Recommended.

P.S. I do wish we had fresh mesa.

Think I will try this on my sister's ChromeBook that she's left in the closet collecting dust. (I knew these wouldn't come to much!....people might appreciate web-based apps?....but they don't want their entire digital life to "live" there!) If it performs well and plays nicely with peripherals...maybe I'll re-introduce her to it!...LoL! the Gallium Crew?...AWESOME JOB!!!!
To the author of this article? THANKS FOR THE INFO!!!!

ChrUbuntu lets you dual boot Ubuntu.Crouton is better, it uses chroot and supports Ubuntu with Unity,KDE,Xfce ect,Debian and Kali and lets you switch between ChromeOS and Ubuntu ect and back again by a keyboard shortcut without needing to reboot.ChromeOS is actually based on gentoo linux,so both ChromeOS and Ubuntu ect can run at the same time using the same linux kernel.You can install the Crouton Integration Extension from the Chrome Web Store in the Chrome Web Browser, so you can have Ubuntu ect running in a window or full screen in the Chrome Browser,and switch between them easily without the keyboard shortcut,you can even use split screen mode.

By way of answering the query, "What is "ect"?
Electroconvulsive therapy,
also known to be a leet abbreviation for etcetera.

In reply to by larrybradley

What about internal storage space? I suppose you are okay if you keep using Google Drive, Play, etc. in the cloud, but you don't say anything about the fact that all Chromebooks have relatively little storage space because of the very fact that most everything resides on Google's servers.

If you're using web apps with your Chromebook (whether running ChromeOS or a lightweight Linux distro), then obviously your files will reside on whatever server they reside on. Unless you're working with large audio and video files (something a Chromebook really isn't meant for), then the amount of local storage should be enough for most purposes.

My Chromebook, for example, has a 32 GB SSD. At the moment, I have around 23 or 24 GB free. If your Chromebook has a smaller SSD (even if it doesn't), you need to be mindful of the amount and size of the software you install on it, and the number of files that you keep on the device.

In reply to by larrybradley

Hey Scott good article, I prefer to use the method though, I have it on two or three high end chromebooks most notably a Dell 13" with an i3, 256GB SSD, and touchscreen and it's the fastest of all of my linux installs including Mint on an i7 Thinkpad. I like to do that in case I have a need for Chrome at some point, but with smaller (16GB) drives I do not recommend it at all, you won't have room for a good install and my experience has been that it slows both installs down, at least it did on my Toshiba 2. I'm curious about Crouton I messed around with it a little and didn't like it all that much but I have to admit I didn't spend all that much time with it, I'm not sure GalliumOS is supported and that would take away the point wouldn't it? I've run Mint, Ubuntu, Elementary (poorly), and a few other flavors on my chromebook conversions and absolutely nothing comes close to the seamless integration of GalliumOS and it's stupendously fast, so fast you can't help but say. . . hey this crap is fast, really fast. I've read a few of your other articles too, keep up the good work sir.

GalliumOS is mentioned in Wired magazine's June issue; I've been intrigued by Linux for some time now but know very little about it. The wife and I share a Toshiba Chromebook 2. I'd like to get my feet wet in Linux but still keep the wife happy with the Chrome OS, the "dual boot" option sounds appealing. Can someone point me in the right direction? Many thanks!

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.