Use Linux On Your Chromebook

We were very excited to launch a special promotion this past month, including free Chromebooks with the purchase of one of our training courses. There's still some time to take advantage of the offer.

By default, the Chromebooks ship with Google's Linux-based Chrome OS. It's a great environment for browsing, watching videos, and using common web-based productivity tools like Google Mail, Evernote, Google Calendar, and Google Apps. But the reason we think our Chromebook offer is particularly valuable is because it gives you a chance to explore Linux in a forgiving environment with just a little work.

Running Linux on Your Chromebook

Chrome OS is Linux underneath, but out of the box the average Chromebook is pretty locked down. It's designed to provide a simple, guided environment, not the open-ended operating system a sysadmin or developer might expect.

Thanks to an open source project named Crouton, installing a complete Linux environment on a Chromebook is quite simple. When you're done with the process, Chrome OS is still there, but you can also run Linux and learn all about how to run a Linux server or build a portable developer workstation. has already published a tutorial that explains exactly how to install Crouton on a Chromebook. If you follow that guide, you'll install a full Linux desktop environment on your Chromebook running Ubuntu 14.04.3 LTS (Trusty Tahr).

If you're planning to take the LFCS exam, you don't really need a full GUI desktop: A simpler, smaller command line setup will be fine, and it will recreate the sort of environment in which you'll take the LFCS.

Rather than recreating that tutorial, though, you can just go follow it right up until step 4, then come back here to learn how to tailor your Crouton install.

One thing you'll find useful when you step through that tutorial: The Chromebook model we're giving away is the Dell Chromebook 11 3120. When you make the recovery tool for the tutorial, just start typing "CANDY" when you get to the prompt for your model, and it'll select the correct choice for you.

Installing a CLI Linux Environment

Since we're concerned with having an environment that's similar to the command-line environment you'll face to complete the LFCS exam, we can skip the desktop and install a more minimal command line environment that saves a little hard drive space and processing power.

Crouton provides two "targets" that provide nothing but a command line environment: "core" and "cli-extra." We recommend using the cli-extra environment, since it includes a few things you'll probably want to install anyhow.

Where the tutorial shows installing either KDE or XFCE, instead use this Crouton command to get the more minimal CLI:

sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t core,cli-extra

Installation will take a few minutes. At the end, you'll be presented with a prompt asking for your Linux username and password. Once you've entered those, Crouton will be ready to go. There's a prompt at the end of the installation that encourages you to type sudo startcli to enter your new Linux environment. If you use that command, you'll get an error message. The correct command on your Dell Chromebook is this:

sudo enter-chroot

Finding Stuff to Do

Once you've entered your new Linux environment, you can start exploring:

Mixing It Up With Crouton

Crouton supports installs from Debian, Ubuntu, and Kali Linux. The latter is a specialized distribution for security professionals who want to run a portable penetration testing rig. To explore your options, first make sure you've followed the tutorial to get to the point where your Chromebook is in developer mode, then open a shell:

  1. From a blank Chrome tab, press the ctrl and alt keys, then press t.
  2. At the crosh> prompt, type shell and press enter.

At this point, you'll be in a very minimal Linux environment. It's fine for installing Crouton or doing some very basic things, but it isn't as complete a Linux experience as you'll have with Crouton.

Choosing a Different Linux Distribution

If you don't know which Linux distribution ("distro") you plan to use to take the LFCS, or if you're interested in using Crouton to explore Linux on your Chromebook before trying it out on another computer, Crouton's default choice --- Ubuntu 14.04.3 LTS (Trusty Tahr) --- is both supported by Crouton out of the box, and by Ubuntu for the next four years.

You can choose from several other Ubuntu, Debian, or Kali releases. We'd recommend sticking with Crouton's default, but you can see a list of available distros and releases by running this command from the shell on your Chromebook:

sh ~/Downloads/crouton -r list

You'll see a list of releases Crouton can install. If a release is marked with an asterisk, it's not supported by Crouton but may work anyhow. We tried Ubuntu 15.10 (Wily Werewolf), and it worked for a minimal shell environment, but we didn't test it extensively.

Choosing a Different Linux Environment

You can also choose between different Linux GUIs. You can list Crouton's provided options for Linux desktops with this command:

sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t list

Among your choices are e17, GNOME, KDE, Unity, LXDE and XFCE. You'll also see a few of these with -desktop appended to the name, which cause Crouton to throw in a few desktop apps (and swell your environment to over a GB of disk space.)

Managing Linux Environments With Crouton

The nice thing about Crouton is that you can install as many Linux environments as your device has disk space for, so if you find there's a problem with an unsupported release, you can delete the environment and reinstall with other options.

By default, Crouton names the environments it installs for their release names. Using the default installation, for instance, the environment will be named precise.

To list all the environments you have installed, type this command:

sudo edit-chroot -a

To delete an environment, type sudo delete-chroot followed by the name of the environment.

Learn More

  • If this whetted your appetite for more Linux learning, you can sign up for our free Linux tutorial series. You'll get a bite-sized lesson Linux administration straight to your inbox every week.
  • We also offer free training videos and webinars for everything from embedded Linux to high-availability clusters.
  • September isn't over yet, if you came here to see what the Chromebook fuss was about, enroll for training now and get your free Chromebook.



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