Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Try Chrome OS Canary Without Risking Your Chromebook's Stability

There's been some buzz recently about Kenny Strawn's discovery of Chrome OS Canary (nice work Kenny!). If you're not aware, Canary is a version of Chrome OS that is even more up to date with code changes and new features than dev channel. So it goes stable --> beta --> dev --> canary with stable being the most stable, reliable and least often updated version and canary being the least stable and least reliable but most often updated. A Canary version of the Chrome browser has been available and can be run in parallel with other Chrome channels on Windows and Mac for some time but there's been no publicly known equivalent for Chrome OS until Kenny's discovery and normally, your Chromebook is only on one channel of Chrome OS, switching between channels meant a USB recovery or powerwash.

So Canary is going to give you the latest and greatest Chrome OS features weeks or months before stable channel gets them but you sacrifice the stability of your Chromebook because Canary isn't tested nearly as heavily as stable channel is. What if we could run stable channel on our Chromebook and only boot into Canary channel when we wanted to test something or check out a new feature? Wouldn't that be handy? Well, here are instructions:
  1. To get started, make sure your Chromebook is in developer mode. Model-specific instructions can be found here.
  2. Turn your Chromebook off then turn it back on but do not login. Make sure you have a WiFi or Ethernet connection configured at this point. 3G/4G is not recommended. Press CTRL+ALT+=> (=> is the forward arrow where the F2 key would be on a PC). Do not use the normal CTRL+ALT+T method to get a shell. Use the CTRL+ALT+=> method while no one is logged in.
  3. Login as user chronos, no password is needed.
  4. Run the command:

    sudo crossystem dev_boot_usb=1

    this tells your Chromebook to allow booting from USB / SD Card. Note that not all Chromebooks can boot from all USB or SD Card ports. For example, the Acer C710 can't boot from an SD Card and the Samsung Chromebook can't boot from the blue USB 3.0 port. You'll need to use a port on your device that supports booting. When in doubt, start with one of the black USB ports and go from there.
  5. Stick a USB or SD Card of at least 8gb size in your Chromebook and run the command:

    rootdev -s -d
    you'll get output like:


    or it might say /dev/mmcblk0. Whichever it is, that is the device for your Chromebooks primary drive.
  6. Now run:

    sudo fdisk -l | grep Disk

    this will list out all drives your Chromebook sees. Your Chromebook's main drive will be listed and you'll see some devices we don't care about like /dev/mapper/blahblahblah. We're looking for the USB or SD Card you inserted (compare sizes). On an Intel Chromebook with a USB drive it's likely to show as /dev/sdb, with an SD Card it's likely to be /dev/mmcblk0. On a ARM-based Chromebook, a USB drive is likely to be /dev/sda and a SD Card, /dev/mmcblk0. Make sure you've got the right device and remember what it is for the next step.
  7. Now we can run:

    sudo chromeos-install --skip_src_removable --skip_dst_removable --skip_vblock --dst <insert /dev/whatever from above step>

    chromeos-install is a script to copy Chrome OS to another drive. Normally the script is meant to copy from a removable device to a SSD or hard drive but we're going in the reverse direction, thus we need the --skip_src_removable and --skip_dst_removable options to turn off those checks. The --skip_vblock option is needed to prevent an error message that should not matter anyway. The --dst option allows you to specify the destination device you determined in the previous 2 steps. So on my Intel-based Pixel Chromebook and using a USB drive I would run exactly:

    sudo chromeos-install --skip_src_removable --skip_dst_removable --skip_vblock --dst /dev/sdb

    this command will output some details about the install process and may spit out errors if there's trouble copying to your drive (USB drives and SD Cards fail after awhile, get a new one if you need it).
  8. When the process completes, your Chromebook will reboot. Now with the USB/SD Card still inserted, if you press CTRL+U on the keyboard at the ugly computer screen you'll boot from your new installation on the external card instead of the internal drive. You'll probably notice it's slower, USB 2.0 is very slow compared to SSDs. On first boot, the Chrome OS installation on the external drive will want to repair itself by wiping out the stateful partition (note that this is the stateful partition on your external drive, not the one on your internal drive which should remain untouched). Eventually, after a reboot, you should see Chrome OS boot to the setup process.
  9. Lets confirm we're booted off of the external device by running:

    rootdev -s -d

    this time, we should see the USB/SD Card's device listed instead of the internal SSDs so we know we're running off the external device.
  10. Now we've got a separate Chrome OS install that we can boot into at will with CTRL+U instead of CTRL+D but we need to switch it to Canary channel. That's easy enough to do by running:

    sudo update_engine_client --channel canary-channel
    sudo update_engine_client --update
    this will install the latest Canary channel update for us on the external device, again leaving the internal device untouched. Now we're up and running! Canary channel without the risk.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ChrUbuntu for New Chromebooks: Now with more Ubuntu

Since I started ChrUbuntu back in December of 2010, it's always been necessary to utilize the Chrome OS Linux kernel with Ubuntu in order to solve some compatibility issues with the Chromebook architecture. That's changed with the Chromebook Pixel and the newer Haswell-based Chromebooks like the Acer C720 and HP Chromebook 14. Each of these models supports booting from a more traditional PC BIOS mode which makes it simple to use stock Ubuntu kernels on them.

This ChrUbuntu release is a preview that will only support x86-based Chromebooks, Pixel and newer (read: the ARM-based HP Chromebook 11 is not supported, nor are the older Acer C7, Samsung 550, etc. Use the old s9ryd script for these devices). I hope to eventually wrap this script back in to the main sr9yd ChrUbuntu install script but for now, I recommend this script on these newer devices over the old one.

Note: The trackpad is only supported with 13.10 and higher. I'm working to backport the trackpad drivers to 12.04. For now stick with 13.10 or use a USB mouse.

Here are the steps to install ChrUbuntu on a Pixel or Haswell-based Chromebook:
  1. To get started, make sure your Chromebook is in developer mode. Model-specific instructions can be found here.
  2. Start with your Chrome device turned off. Turn it on but do not login. Make sure you have a WiFi or Ethernet connection configured at this point. 3G/4G is not recommended. Press CTRL+ALT+=> (=> is the forward arrow where the F2 key would be on a PC). Do not use the normal CTRL+ALT+T method to get a shell. Use the CTRL+ALT+=> method while no one is logged in.
  3. Login as user chronos, no password is needed.
  4. As the chronos user and without having changed directories or run other commands, run:

    curl -L -O http://goo.gl/9sgchs; sudo bash 9sgchs

    Make sure you have the command exactly right. The -O and -L after curl are both capital letters. 9sgchs is all lowercase letters and numbers and would sound like "nine ess gee see aich ess" if you said it out loud. If you get a "not found" error, make sure you have Internet connectivity and you're typing the command correctly.
  5. You'll be prompted with some information about your Chromebook and the version of ChrUbuntu to be installed. Press Enter to continue.
  6. The Chrome OS stateful partition where your data and settings are stored is just short of 11gb by default (except for the Pixel which has a 32 or 64gb SSD), the script shrinks the stateful partition to make room for ChrUbuntu. You can choose to give ChrUbuntu from 5gb up to 10gb in 1gb increments (Note: If you've installed a larger SSD in your Chrome device, your max number and recommended max will be larger). I recommend not going higher than 9 as 10 leaves Chrome OS with very little free space (less than 1gb).
  7. Once you've entered a number, your hard drive will be repartitioned. After awhile it will reboot and re-initialize the stateful partition. This process takes 2-15 minutes and then the Chromebook reboots again and shows you the Welcome screen you got when you first turned on your Chromebook out of the cardboard box.

    Pro Tip: don't like Ubuntu or any of it's variants? You can stop now and plug a ready to go Linux USB Boot disk for Fedora, Debian, Mint or pretty much any other distro in the drive. Then hit CTRL+L to initiate the legacy boot. Format and install the OS to the /dev/sda7 partition and make sure GRUB is installed to /dev/sda and you should be good to go!
  8. Go through the Chrome OS setup process again until you get to the Google login page. You'll need to have a WiFi or Ethernet connection again at this point. Now follow steps 2 through 5 again. This time the script will see that you've already made room for Ubuntu and start downloading ChrUbuntu.

    Pro Tip: Here's where you can install other versions of Ubuntu! To see what options you have run:

    curl -L -O http://goo.gl/9sgchs; sudo bash 9sgchs -h

    An example custom installation would be:

    curl -L -O http://goo.gl/9sgchs; sudo bash 9sgchs -m xubuntu-desktop -u lts -a i386

    which would install the 32-bit version of Xubuntu and the latest LTS release (12.04.3 as of writing) rather than a 64-bit 13.10 Unity desktop (which is the default). Some possible flavor alternatives to Unity (-m option) are:

    default  -- ubuntu-desktop
    ubuntu-standard  -- no GUI installed

    some possible versions (-u option) are:

    lts -- latest LTS Ubuntu release, 12.04.3 as of this writing
    latest -- latest official release, currently 13.10
    dev -- unstable development Ubuntu release. Experts only! If this breaks, don't be surprised.
    12.10 -- Ubuntu 12.10 release

    the possible architectures (-a option) are:

    amd64  -- default

    the -t target desk option is completely untested right now!
  9. During the installation (within the first 5-15 minutes). You'll see a few prompts to select your encoding, locale and language. For most people, the defaults should be fine, just press Enter but change them if you'd like. Later on, you'll be prompted to decide where GRUB should be installed. YOU MUST CHECK THE BOX NEXT TO /dev/sda in order for boot to work!
  10. After all of the Ubuntu files have been downloaded, installed and configured, the script will make a few more updates and then prompt you to reboot.
  11. At the scary developer mode screen, hit CTRL+L instead of CTRL+D. You'll see ChrUbuntu start up! The username is "user" and the password is "user".
That's it! Now you can just press CTRL+L to boot ChrUbuntu (L as in Legacy, traditional OS) or CTRL+D to boot Chrome OS (D as in Default OS on Disk).

Last but least, I want to give a big thank you to +Bill Richardson, +Ron Minnich, +Stefan Reinauer and other Googlers who work on the low-level Chrome OS hardware/software and have made a truly incredible, powerful and open Chrome OS platform! Great work guys!