Chrome OS Alternative(s)


Chrome OS is awesome, I really do think that is true. Minimal browser, check. Simpleness of Android apps, check. Need (almost) full-blown Linux, check. But what about hardware you already have lying around? There is Chrome OS Flex for many things. Which is also great! (No android, sadly.) I have it on a few laptops, a desktop, and my 85 year old Mom uses it!

But if you've looked around this site, you may have figured out I like to get the most out of old hardware. And who wants to do things the easy way? :-) Not entirely true, but I try to have fun with these projects.

So. What are situations where Chome OS Flex isn't the right fit? But you still need something like it? Mostly this project is exploring how to use those discontinued Chromebooks. Trying to figure out an internet browsing solution for devices where Chrome OS Flex is not happy.

No Chrome OS Flex?

Oddly, Chrome OS Flex always seems to have sound issues if you use it on discontinued Chromebooks. Well, not oddly from Google's perspective I guess. But, these same Chromebooks have working sound on most Linux distro's I've tried.

One of the main internet browsing places to go is YouTube. And no sound means no go.

How About A Distro?

With many distros, the old Chromebooks are not responsive enough. I've tried many. The TL;DR is that only Bunsen Labs has been able to play YouTube videos without buffering, in Google Chrome, while logged in for syncing. With other distros, most any website works as long as it isn't multimedia heavy. You can get some added throughput using Firefox too. But with any I've tried besides Bunsen Labs, after about 10 minutes of YouTube, buffering problems galore. With Chrome or Firefox.

There were a few caveats with Bunsen Labs. They may or may not be deal breakers; for me they were not.

  1. Installation did not detect the track pad, but was fine upon reboot. This was only for an Acer C731, not other others I've tried.

  2. After updates, EFI was broken. Doing update-grub fixed it. You will need to look up how to use the EFI shell to choose the right partition/file to boot.

The other distros I tried and some comments:

  • elementary OS: It works quite well with local apps and looks really good.

  • Kubuntu: My goto distro, and I'm am very surprised it works as well as it did.

  • Lubuntu: This actually was a really good experience. It'd be fine if the buffering on YouTube didn't happen.

Where & Why To Next?

I'm super glad Bunsen Labs worked. In fact, I am using Bunsen Labs on a Acer C731 as a secondary computer when my primary is doing something. But I want to eek out a bit more performance, and am crazy enough to enjoy the low-level stuff in Linux.

So, what to try next? I wanted a reliable, stable, and well-maintained distro. For the most part, this is Ubuntu. And a flavor that won't have a lot of bloat is Ubuntu Server. So let's start there and see what a minimal "desktop" is needed to use Google Chrome. Can I get even less than Bunsen Labs for something only needing to run Google Chrome? Now that's an adventure! :-P

Right now, I'm working on a script to add the extra stuff to Ubuntu Server. Once I've figured that out, and any steps that are manual, I'll post some more.