Thomas Boutell

Just some guy who made a thing.

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I wanted a cheap, super-portable, lightweight Linux computer good enough for occasionally working at home. Something that would also be small enough to open easily in the most cramped of airline seats.

Many people have found that adding some extra storage to a Chromebook and installing a full Linux distribution it is a good way to get that cheap Linux "light development" machine. And GalliumOS is the flavor of Linux tailor-made for that.

So I tried installing GalliumOS Linux on the Samsung Chromebook 3.

TL;DR: this was not a good idea. There is a major issue that wasn't mentioned on the wiki page. It wasn't very well known or consistently diagnosed until I started beating the drum and other users came out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, still not fixed.

I'm not angry about this. GalliumOS is a volunteer project, the issue is tricky, and nobody owes me an open source rose garden. If I wanted a sure thing, I should not have bought a new model. Linux tends to run best on slightly older computers people have simply had more time with.

So this time around, I posted to the GalliumOS Reddit and asked for personal accounts of 100% happy GalliumOS experiences. And lo, there were many. But the machine that really sounded spiffy was the Dell Chromebook 7310. It is strongly recommended by "Mr. Chromebook," the guy who writes custom firmware to let you boot these machines directly to Linux, without weird startup prompts and a risk of a family member quite inadvertently reverting the whole thing to ChromeOS... arhgh!

Only thing is: it's not available new anymore. And because it's as nice as it is - for instance, you can upgrade the SSD, and it contains a proper SSD, not soldered-in eMMC storage - and is available with several different processors and an excellent screen, it costs a little more.

I decided to leverage the first to address the second. In other words, I bought a used unit on eBay, with an i3 processor. And I am super-very happy with it.

So far everything just works. And it's fast - the experience so far feels zippier than my i7 Mac at work, because GalliumOS deliberately goes light on flashy stuff that slows computers down... but also because an i3 is still a whole lot better than a Celeron. Don't get a Celeron. Just don't.

At 13" it's a little bigger than I initially wanted. But I work from home far more often than I fly. 

Here, I hope, endeth the saga. Except for the bit where I'll be flipping the two (!) Samsung Chromebooks I bought, in my zeal to prove it was a real issue and not just the hack job I did removing the write-protect screw from the first one. Sigh. I think I might donate them to a school. On the whole, I'd prefer getting back 100% of the karma over getting back 30% of the money.

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5/26 '18 1 Comment
Happy to hear you've got a solution!
 

Have finally given up on waiting/helping to fix Linux on the Samsung Chromebook 3 (which, to be fair, was never sold as a machine for Linux, so no blame). Plus it's very underpowered with that Celeron. I just can't get behind waiting to see what I'm typing in Facebook and Google Docs. I'm going to flip them on eBay... yes, I had two. I had initially accepted blame for somehow messing up the first. Uh-uh. It's a compatibility issue.

So I splurged just a little on a used Dell Chromebook 7310 with an i3 processor (specifically). Oh man, is this an improvement. And the screen is IPS, which is nerdese for "really nice."

I've been using it for like 15 minutes, but so far I'd recommend finding a Dell 7310 on eBay rather than buying an underpowered new Chromebook.

Plus, it'll take a replacement SSD drive (m.2, 44mm size). So I have a much phatter one on the way. I'll be waiting until that arrives to rebuild it on GalliumOS, the Linux distribution for Chromebooks.

How did I choose this machine? The custom firmware to run Linux tidily on a Chromebook is made by a guy called mrchromebox. He has this machine, and he likes it. 😂

Still... it's bigger. 13" screen, not 11". The joke will be on me if the next time I fly out to visit my son in Vancouver, I can't open my laptop in Basic Economy.

Guess what my original motivation was to get a separate home machine...

Google did recently acknowledge there will be official support for Linux apps on Chromebooks, which is cool. But it doesn't sound like something every Chromebook will support, just as the "Android apps on your Chromebook convertible tablet" thing isn't for every Chromebook model. My goal has always been Real Linux On A Good Cheap Laptop.

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5/14 '18
 

Found one of these in the outgoing thrift pile and said whoa there, that's an optical zoom. Sure it's not a great camera, but nobody in the house has anything with an optical zoom, much less 27X. This thing's a keeper.

And it has a cute little USB cable tucked into its wrist strap. Score!

Except, when you plug it into your Linux box, Mac or Chromebook, it displays a message inviting you to install Windows-only software. Uh, thanks.

So what to do? I did some spelunking. Here's how to make it work.

It will show up like a thumbdrive would (it took a minute to show up on mine). Then you want to browse into it and go to:

PRIVATE -> AVCHD -> BDMV -> STREAM

There you will see filenames like 00000.mts. I'd never heard of an mts file either, but it's the same format used for Blu-Ray.

On a Chromebook you probably can't play it directly, but you can upload it to google photos via the website, and google photos knows what to do. Victory!

This works on Linux too, but a Linux machine can also play them with VLC Player or convert them to MP4 format with ffmpeg:

ffmpeg whatever.mts whatever.mp4

Or something to that effect. For me, playable video on Google Photos was sufficient proof of concept.

Speaking of Chromebooks, I have at last given up on the Samsung Chromebook 3 as a workable Linux machine. Nothing wrong with them running the OS they are made to run, I just haven't been able to beg, buy, borrow or absorb the skills to figure out why the keyboard starts duplicating keystrokes and the trackpad freezes after a while on Linux. So instead I've purchased a Dell Chromebook 7310... the model recommended by "mrchromebox," who writes the custom firmware for booting directly to Linux without a fuss on these. And I bought it with an i3 processor, not a Celeron, because come on, sometimes I have to get work done. Looks like I can also upgrade the SSD on that model.

I'll be flipping the two Samsungs on eBay. Yes, I had bought a second to see if I was responsible for the problems with the first. Since I have to disclose that the cases were opened, I might do better to donate them to a school. That way I get both karma and a tax writeoff. But it sounds like those writeoffs will be less important under the Trump tax code. I hate that this might influence my life choices in any way.

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5/12 '18 5 Comments
According to this episode ( https://twit.tv/shows/this-week-in-google/episodes/456?autostart=false ) of TWIG, they're working on a setup where you can run Linux inside Chrome OS. It sounds like they might be a bit far from where you want them to be, but I thought you might want to know that it's on the horizon somewhere...
Check @ about 4:20 if you're curious.
Sounds like an adventure, but it had to feel good once you got it to work!

(ffmpeg! such an unfriendly but amazing software. I think my message to their mailing list received a response akin to "well, if you read the source code it will become obvious that....")
Chris Herdt 5/13 '18
Yes. ffmpeg is the quintessential "screw you if you don't get it" software.
Thomas Boutell 5/13 '18