Repurposing Old Hardware via Chrome OS (aka Chromium OS)

A recent post on Google+ asked:

Has Google ever thought of releasing the Chrome OS as a stand alone product for purchase? I know Google would like us to buy Chromebooks, but for many schools, we have to use existing hardware until it dies, and who knows if and or when we may get $$$ for new.

I would love to be able to convert my existing netbooks to Chromebooks, and then when they die, be able to show my board and principal a proof of concept for purchasing only Chromebooks in the future.

Here’s the answer:

  • Google has kind of released ChromeOS, as the Chromium OS. This is an open-source implementation of ChromeOS that includes core functionality but lacks a) drivers for most types of hardware, b) flash, c) pdf, and d) Google Talk. It’s hasn’t released it in a way you can install on your computer.
  • You can install Chromium OS on your computer via programs created by third-party (read: random, but talented) individuals. These are called “builds” and THE guys is hexxeh, who was at one point a 17-year-old UK programmer who just took it on as a hobby. He has taken the raw code (“source code”) of Chromium and turned it into a package you can install on some – but not all – computers.
  • If you get it installed, functionality may be missing for some components, or it may be reduced in future builds – Google tries to keep ChromeOS as streamlined as possible, which makes it fast but also makes it compatible with only a narrow range of hardware.

If you want to try it out, though, you do the following:

  1. Download a build of Chromium from
  2. Follow the instructions for Win, Mac, or Linux from that page to get the build copied to a USB stick.
  3. Boot your laptop from the drive (F12 at startup – choose the USB stick)

At this point, your laptop will either load Chromium or not – if it doesn’t, you probably have hardware compatibility issues. For example, Chromium loads up just fine on my Toshiba, but the trackpad isn’t recognized, so I have to plug in a USB mouse.

If you’re able to log in, you’ll want to copy it to your hard drive so you don’t need to leave the USB stick plugged in all the time:

  1. Log in to the Chromebook with your Google Account.
  2. Ctrl – Alt- F2 to bring up a command line
  3. Log in with chronos / facepunch
  4. chrosh + enter brings you to the ChromeOS developer shell
  5. type “install” (this will format your hard drive)
  6. Reboot when the process is done and remove the USB stick.

That’s it. Once again, if these instructions don’t work, your hardware is probably incompatible. If you get this far, though, you probably want to add Flash, PDF, and mp3/mp4 support. There are sites out there that purport to get them working, but they don’t seem to work on all builds. This means that you’ll have to go without the ability to use sites like Prezi or WeVideo, read PDFs, and listen to music. Not terribly useful.

If you’re wanting to repurpose old hardware, then you should go with Xubuntu Linux for your OS and install Chrome as the default browser. It won’t have the streamlined (simple) interface and lightning performance of ChromeOS, but there will be much better hardware and software support.


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