Turning an old laptop into a Chromebook

Laptop with Windows 10
The guinea pig for this experiment

Having previously converted an old Windows laptop to Linux, I’m now going to turn my hand to another OS. Again, I’m using a spare laptop, this time one that’s about 10 years old and is creaking under the weight of trying to run Windows 10. And so, I’m going to have a go at turning it into a Chromebook. Neverware, the people who have made this experiment possible, have a checker where you can see if your the laptop is supported (click here) Happily, my laptop has made the cut so on to the next stage.

What you’ll need

  • A compatible laptop (obviously). Before you start, check to see if it’s a 32 or 64 bit machine.
  • USB memory stick with a capacity of at least 8GB.
  • A copy of CloudReady USB Maker. The Home version is free.
  • An internet connection and your Wi-Fi password.

7-001

We’re good to go

  • Insert the empty USB stick into any computer or laptop. (I learned that this stage of the process moves along more quickly when you use a faster computer)
  • Run the CloudReady USB Maker program and select which type of operating system you want.
  • Wait while the installer automatically downloads, extracts and creates the CloudReady USB Installer. This can take a while.
  • When it’s done, insert the USB drive into the “guinea pig” computer.
  • Reboot the computer, making sure that when it comes back up it shall be booting from the USB drive. This is usually done by pressing F9 or F12, depending on the computer manufacturer.
  • CloudReady’s version of Chrome OS will soon load up. It’ll ask you for your WiFi password and Google ID. The latter isn’t compulsory – you can look around without one At this point, you haven’t installed anything so if you think Chrome OS is the spawn of Satan you can still back out
  • If on the other hand you’d like to install Chrome OS, click on the clock/wi-fi symbol in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

Screenshot 2019-06-05 at 17.00.21

First impressions

IMG_20190607_003722

  • Chrome OS has definitely made this old laptop run more smoothly. Web pages are loading up more quickly.
  • It looks like playing audio CDs and DVDs could be tricky – neither play “out of the box”. This probably won’t matter any more because most new laptops don’t come with disk drives anyway.
  • Chrome OS would be ideal for someone who only wants to use a laptop for the internet, online video and other light use. Or indeed, someone who isn’t comfortable using Windows and just wants a simple operating system.
  • It’s primarily designed to be an online machine, though some apps are designed to also work offline

Here is a slideshow of the process, should you still be interested…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Taking baby steps with Linux

Dell Inspiron 1545
Dell Inspiron 1545

I am in the lucky position of having a spare laptop to play around with. It cost me 0c so I can’t quibble with the price. But I might as well give out about it anyway. Nothing screams “I will struggle to run Windows” like a laptop from 2010 (under)powered by a Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM. Having briefly dabbled with a version of Ubuntu running off a DVD a few years ago, I was curious to find out how it’d work installed properly on a computer. So I got downloading.

Which Version?

My Desktop
My desktop

This is where the fun starts. There seems to be an endless selection of Linux distributions (distros) out there. I don’t think I have enough years left on this planet to try them all so I tested a handful of the more popular ones. Even though all the Linux distros are quite alike, they have their own quirks. In the end I settled on Linux Mint. It runs very nicely on my creaking old laptop and has almost fooled me into thinking it’s a half decent machine. Also, because it is such a popular distro, there is plenty of help online for users. More on this later…

The Good

Linux Mint desktop
My Linux Mint desktop

On a superficial level, Linux Mint operates a lot like Windows. There’s still a Start button, menus, windows and plenty of familiar software. Skype, VLC Player, Firefox, Libre Office, Dropbox,  Steam and Spotify are just a few. It also comes with quite a lot of open source and paid software written especially for the platform.  There is also the option of installing and running some Windows programs using Wine . It works very successfully with some programs but can be problematic with others.

The enigmatically named Synaptic Package manager is Linux’s equivalent of the App Store familiar to smartphone users. It’s the simplest, most straightforward way of installing software.

The Bad

Sad Penguin
Just when everything seemed to be going so well.

Installing Linux Mint was painless but I ran into problems straight away because of the wireless card in the laptop. Of all the laptops in all the world, I had to own the model that had a card Linux doesn’t recognise 😦 It worked fine when connected to the router by an ethernet cable but who wants that when you have a laptop? To cut a long story short, I bought an inexpensive little USB Wi-Fi adaptor made by Plugable. I went with Plugable because they make devices which are compatible with Linux. Not all devices are. Once the adapter arrived, it plugged and played like a regular device.

The Ugly

The Terminal
The Terminal

I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning The Terminal. When I need to open this up, I know there is a chance my braincells will start to hurt. I’m still sorry I tried to install the Tunnelbear VPN on this. Basically, if you want to keep your sanity and enjoy using your perfectly nice, functioning new operating system, don’t try anything out of the ordinary. The Linux people on internet forums speak geek and it will melt your brain cells.

I mentioned at the top of this piece that I’d plumped for Linux Mint because it’s so popular. It’s easier to find answers to questions tailored to this operating system.

From my limited experimenting with it so far, peripherals such as printers and scanners may be troublesome. I shall update this post should I try to install any of these.

The conclusion….so far

I’ve no regrets about installing it on this laptop. If you have an old computer or laptop which isn’t being used, then, by all means, give it a go. Many distros of Linux, including Mint, come with the option of trying it without installing. I like Linux but I don’t love it. 20+ years of Windows has done the damage.

And finally

I stumbled across this very useful web page not long after I installed Linux Mint and followed the instructions.