Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Review of GalliumOS v1.0

When Google first released the Chromebook, my interest was piqued, because here was a laptop designed from the ground up, hardware and all, with Linux in mind, albeit Google's stripped-down, mutilated monster, rather than the full-fledged penguin we know and love. Still and all, the hardware is good, good with Linux, which is the real pull, and cheap, too. Ever priced Acer's refurbs on E-bay? Do so today. You might be in for an eye-opener. Google gives Chromebooks away, but makes bank in their ChromeOS, because the business user has to pay to play. The App Store is what the Chromebook is all about. Understand the business model? Even so, Google left a little backdoor open for all the poor hackers of the world.

I have nothing to do with GalliumOS's developers and, indeed, have no idea who they are. I found GalliumOS through Googling for a fix for my Chromebook. My Chromebook is a cute little web kiosk, but what if I want to FTP, RDP, run LibreOffice, and do all of the other nifty things that Linux can do? I don't like being prevented from doing things. I despise ChromeOS. It's wonderful if you don't understand computers. It protects the user from himself. But if you need to actually get things done, then ChromeOS is terribly limiting. Goodbye, ChromeOS. Enter GalliumOS.

As always, I highly recommend torrenting the .iso for GalliumOS, because by doing so, you are assured an error-free copy, besides saving the developers bandwidth. I did so and then followed very carefully and very slowly--the only way to ride on a new pony--the instructions for installing. Yes, the instructions are a wee bit more involved than a veteran Linux user might be accustomed to, but that is not the fault of GalliumOS developers. Whose fault is it? Why, the manufacturer, Google, of course. Google does not necessarily want you to be ridding yourself of their ever-loving, money-making ChromeOS. For my part, I could not wait to be shod of the thing, and my feelings were, if I brick my computer, then so be it. As a matter of fact, you must feel this way in order to install GalliumOS. You will be required to type a similar phrase in order to install. Otherwise, GalliumOS will not install. There is a risk. You could make a typo or something else could happen. Be at peace with your decision before proceeding.

All went well for me, and I had GalliumOS installed in less than half an hour. Not much sorcery is required and little in the way of prayers. Fear not. If you read the instructions very carefully, and then go back and read them again, and don't rush off in an all-fired hurry, then you should be okay. Just slow down, sip your coffee, rub your beard, ponder the situation, and get things done. Trust me, it's easy. I can't really improve upon the wiki's installation instructions. The GalliumOS wiki is your friend, and you should read everything there that might assist you.

The wiki has instructions for making a backup of your ChromeOS, in case you suffer a knock on the head and decide to go back to ChromeOS just because it's easier. I went ahead and backed up my ChromeOS to a flash drive, but I will probably delete the backup, because I'd rather have the flash drive for other purposes. You can optionally create a multi-boot system with both ChromeOS and GalliumOS or even something more exotic. I went the nuclear route. Out with ChromeOS, in with GalliumOS. Whole disk, baby! I don't ever want to see ChromeOS again, seriously.

The Chromebook is "prepared" by running a special script that wipes out ChromeOS and hacks the BIOS to allow the booting of a nonstandard operating system. This is a script made by John Lewis, and it worked flawlessly on my Acer ChromeBook running an Intel Broadwell cpu.

In the end, I am presented with the following screen when I boot my Chromebook. GalliumOS calls this the "scary screen," but I guess I don't scare easily. I just think it's an ugly BIOS-type screen with some misinformation thrown in by Google.

At this screen, we must press Alt-L. If we neglect to press Alt-L, eventually our Chromebook will play the nanny and suggest reinstalling the ChromeOS, which we don't really want to do. Unfortunately, a hack has not appeared to bypass this screen. It is merely a minor annoyance, courtesy of Google, again to protect the clueless business suit from himself. Remember, the suits have more money than we do, and almost everything is designed for them, not us. But that's okay, because we can fix the Chromebook to do what we want it to do, and I'm at least grateful for that.

After Alt-L, we enter hackland:

All we do here is press Esc, followed by 1 to boot the system, and that's it. We enter the familiar territory of good old Linux.

You will notice I encrypted my entire disk. I think this option is a no-brainer. A laptop can get stolen, duh. I chose a very difficult password and wrote it down in a secret place. I then configured the system to log in automatically, because there's not much of a case for requiring a log in, if the encryption itself requires a password. I really don't understand why everyone does not use full-disk encryption. It is like they are not living in 2016, with all the identity theft, password theft, fraud, hacking, and so on.

GalliumOS is based upon Xubuntu, which I am familiar with, but lacks Xubuntu's Software Manager. Instead, it has Synaptic Package Manager. Otherwise, it's pretty similar to Xubuntu, with additional optimizations to ensure a smooth experience on the Chromebook. My hardware, consisting of the Chromebook itself, a USB drive and a USB-connected Ethernet cable, all worked OK. I installed Qbittorent, Remmina (an RDP client), Filezilla, Firefox as my default browser, and Gcolor, and now feel like my Chromebook is actually worth something to me.

The desktop comes with a picture of a high-rise building as seen from the ground. I suppose that is an allusion to the idea that they intend to be moving up, going places, improving, since they are on version one right now. I replaced it with solid black, as I always do.

Other than the missing Software Manager, I did not see much difference between GalliumOS and Xubuntu, which is intended. This OS boots fast, is responsive, and I feel like I can actually get things done, as opposed to ChromeOS, which was great as long as all I wanted to do was surf the web.

The one thing that bothers me about GalliumOS has nothing to do with the technical side. I want to know who the hell they are. Just a name, a location, a picture, and a little bio, you know? In fact, post a life story, with twenty-nine chapters, a thousand pages. Knock yourself out. That may seem hypocritical coming from me, mystery man that I am, but then again, I'm installing their code on my machine. I am giving them root access. It would be nice to learn that the developers aren't actually the Russian mafia, the NSA, the Chinese Red Army, Iran, or North Korea. Just post a dozen or so pictures of the developers strolling through a garden sipping tea, holding hands and singing or dancing or vaporizing. That would be nice. Seriously. It might also jumpstart the donations, so the public knows the money isn't going to ISIS or something. I don't get why there are no names at all on the GalliumOS web site. It's not like they are discussing anything controversial. Perhaps they are in fear of getting sued by Google. Is that even possible? I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. Is it legal and okay to hack a device that one owns? I think it is. But again, I'm not a lawyer.

The next version of GalliumOS will be based upon the next LTS of Xubuntu and should be coming out this year, 2016. I'm looking forward to it.

Step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow, a distribution that just works right out of the box, and a distribution optimized and customized specifically for my machine. I'm gushing with gratitude for the perceived added value to my Chromebook. I award GalliumOS a 10 out of 10. It converted my Chromebook from a fairly useless hunk of junk to something I actually will use. I feel like Distrowatch should definitely add this to their list of distributions, because it is extremely useful to owners of Chromebooks.


Colton DRG said...

Hi. I'm one of the developers of GalliumOS. I read through your post and it made me chuckle a few times. As for us, we don't hide in the shadows, you just have to know where to find us. We hang out in our IRC room (#galliumos@freenode, https://galliumos.org/irc) all the time, and we communicate with users through the GitHub issue tracker frequently too. Feel free to swing by some time if you want to talk to us.

Baparnoud2 said...


Nice review! I like your style of writing. You can bypass the 'scary screen' by setting some boot flags or by installing coolstar's bios (I recommend the latter). Good luck!

igor said...

@Colton DRG. I submitted this review to Distrowatch last week. Sadly, they passed, as observed by the latest update (4/11/2016). No reason given, but I speculate it is either because GalliumOS has not been added yet by Distrowatch (and they ain't going to be hurried by the likes of me) or else because I didn't include snapshots of the desktop. Distrowatch is a real stickler for snapshots, and the only reviews of mine they have ever published have had more pictures than needed.

ButtonzUndone said...

I know this is old, but I have to comment. I loved this article! I have been reading a lot about Linux in Chromebooks and Gallium in particular. My CB is still a virgin and has not even been booted into developer mode yet, but I think I'm ready to make the plunge today and am super excited.. Especially with MrChromebox scripts, installation is very user-friendly and basically, you can install Gallium on all Intel-based CB's it seems.. as well, pretty much 0 chance of bricking your device.

I am going for the dual-boot option, as I do really love ChromeOS, and I have 32gigs so I figure I'll give each OS a partition of half and I should do ok.

This article and reading the comments really helped me make my decision of Gallium vs Chrooting Crouton.

Good luck and I wonder what system you are using these some years later 👍🏻

igor said...

I still am running GalliumOS, albeit the latest version, on my Chromebook. GalliumOS is fine, no complaints. I don't really dig the App Store model in ChromeOS, but it probably is better for most people, because it protects them from malware.

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