Since their launch in 2011, Chromebooks have been intriguing devices to myself and others who have been looking for a slim, light and portable machine with a decent battery life capable of running applications, code editors and source control on the go, the only problem being that they come bundled with ChromeOS. It’s well documented online that Chromebooks can run Ubuntu and other Linux distros which get the job done however at a cost of either taking up scarce hard drive space, potential hits to performance and/or reduced battery life which is why I held off for a while until I discovered the GalliumOS project.
GalliumOs is a fast, lightweight Linux distribution built on top of Xubuntu that has been specifically developed and optimized for ChromeOS devices. This offers a native Linux experience including optimized, working drivers for ChromeOS devices out of the box and it only takes up around 4GB space on the SSD (I was left with 11.5 GB on a 16GB SSD).
There are many Chromebooks available on the market however I chose to go with the Dell Chromebook 3120 (4GB version) as it has the best build quality according to reviews and you can get them with 4GB RAM which is now scarce with 11″ Chromebook models. I managed to pick one up for £169 + VAT on special offer from Dell in their sale.
Installing GalliumOS should be straight forward using the installation guide however some Chromebooks (Dell 3120 included) may require the removal of a “write-protection” screw on the motherboard before being able to modify the operating system on the device. In order to do this I have to open up my Chromebook by removing the screws on the back, opening the back cover, disconnecting the battery and removing the screw labelled “WP” which can be seen here. Once Write protection is enabled, the Chrombook needs to be put into “Developer Mode” and the firmware needs flashing using the johnlewis.ie scripts, there are full instructions for this procedure here for each processor type (the Dell 3120 uses the Bay Trail processor).
Following a successful firmware updated, the device is ready for GalliumOS to be installed, look here for instructions on how to create a bootable SD card/USB to install from. Those of you who are looking to dual boot from an external device, I’d strongly recommend using a 90mb/s SD Card like this one for the best experience however the SD card does stick out about an inch when in use.
With GalliumOS installed you’re now able to install any applications/packages compatible with Ubuntu which should include all of your favorite development tools. For those of you less experienced with Linux, in part 2 we’re going to look at getting a development environment up and running in GalliumOS with Node, Git and Visual Studio Code.