I've used this system as a gateway to my home network, but I don't do that very much anymore. It also hosts a backup of my big file sets, but I have a Synology DiskStation to do that (excellent device). I also have a one pixel gif on all my web site pages that pulls from this server. So everytime anyone brings up a page from my web site, my home server goes "ding." I love hearing that sound.
I want to start a MediaWiki for notes about making things (see www.shrimpware.com). I tried to install MediaWiki at my ISP, but the installation didn't like the restrictions they put on MySQL databases and I could get up the energy to fight with it/them. So, I *could* run the wiki on my home server! That old XP system? I don't think so. It's time to shut this bad boy down.
I've wanted to replace it with a Linux box, but which one? Last week I saw an article about the Chromebox and found one on Amazon for just $170. Two Prime days later it was in my hands. This is the story of what I had to do to get it to run Linux. I hope this helps you avoid my pitfalls, and helps me remember what I did in case I have to do it another time. Enjoy.
0. Who to trust
I tried it several different ways, based on a couple of different web sites. Nothing worked right. Each time I was done and would reboot the box only to have the screen go black and a thin line of blue pixels across the screen about 25% of the way down. Crap, crap, crap.
Then I came across the Kodi.tv site. Their instructions are for installing a Kodi media server, but they also had the keys that unlocked this puzzle.
1. Dual boot or not?
I did eventually get my Chromebox in a state to boot both ChromeOS and Ubuntu. It meant splitting the 16GB disk into two partitions and when I was done the Ubuntu had only 2GB free. I decided to make this a single Ubuntu box.
2. Remove the write protect on the firmware
Lots of sites tell you how to do this. It looks to me like they are all stealing the same photos from somewhere. Anyway, you have to do this. The Kodi.tv site had the instructions that finally worked for me, so I'll give them the referral for this process: http://kodi.wiki/view/Chromebox
Note the the guts stay in the top and the bottom panel comes away with some long standoffs. It took me a minute to figure out how it came apart, then I felt like a dope for not seeing it right off.
3. Dev Mode
The Chromebox wants to always boot a verified version of ChromeOS. You must defeat this. Many sites have instructions: Power off your box. Find the reset hole and put a paperclip in it. Power on the box. Remove the paperclip.
The box will now boot and you have to follow the instructions. Note: NEVER re-enable OS verification. If you do you will wipe out all your hard work and have to start over.
Once you are in dev mode then everytime you boot it will take you to the "Verification OFF" screen. From here you can type Control-D and boot into ChromeOS. You never have to go beyond the ChromeOS logon screen for this process.
When at the ChromeOS logon screen a Control-Alt-F2 will take you to the shell. You log on with the user chronos, no password needed. To keep it in development mode, you type this:
(Thanks to http://rogerstringer.com/2014/09/21/upgrade-asus-chromebox-ram-bigger-ssd-ubuntu for this tip.)
4. Firmware Update
I didn't want to do this - bricks are easy to make - but I had to. It turned out to be easy. Although now I realize that I have erased the backup of the old firmware that I made. Oh well, no going back now. Once you update the firmware you cannot boot ChromeOS anymore.
I found the best instructions and tools through the Kodi.tv site. I didn't install Kodi, but they really helped with everything else. The script to do the firmware update is by Mat Devillier. He asks for a donation and I sent him $10. It was his script that said, "must update the firmware... updating the firmware... update done." I realized that with the write protect screw in place it could not have written the firmware; that turned out to be the problem. Thanks Mat.
For the single boot process you download and run Mat's script. Choose the option to update the firmware. It will run for a bit and then give you the option to save the existing firmware. That is a good idea. Here's the script:
curl -L -O http://goo.gl/3Tfu5W
sudo bash 3Tfu5W
The script is pretty well documented: http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=194362
5. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on a USB stick
On another system go to http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop and download the Ubuntu 14.04 distribution .ISO. This is about 1GB.
When you have that .ISO then find a way to put that image on a USB stick. On my Mac book I used these instructions: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-mac-osx
It takes a while. But it works.
6. Boot Ubuntu!
Put the USB stick in the Chromebox. Now reboot the box. When it comes up it will ask if you want to boot from the harddisk or from the USB. Pick the USB. From then on you will be in Ubuntu land! Follow the install instructions like any other system: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/install-ubuntu-desktop
7. I'm done
Now I have a Chromebox running Ubuntu in a 16GB partition. I've installed LAMP and Wikimedia. Things seems to be going pretty well.
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)