I’ve been on the Linux bandwagon for several years, ever since I bought a netbook with a stripped-down distribution called “Linpus” installed. This was on a single-core Acer Aspire One with 1.5G of memory, and when the solid state drive went bad after a few months, I started looking to see what I could run on this marvelous if modest writer’s dream.
I had another Acer running a preinstalled, striped-down netbook edition of Windows 7, but I’d already had it long enough to see the slow deterioration that every Windows machine has suffered all the way back to Windows 3.0 on MS-DOS. I tried a “normal” install of Windows 7 home edition for which I had the media, and found it’s performance laughable in the tiny memory space available. No surprise there. Microsoft’s whole business strategy has always been based on planned, or at least gleefully anticipated, obsolescence and replacement.
Unlike Windows, Linux is maintained by the user community, and it didn’t take long to find a number of lightweight distributions tailored for lightweight hardware. By this time, Ubuntu was already emerging as a popular favorite, but the full build was too slow and memory hogging for the Acer. Lubuntu and Kubuntu were both good, but for various reasons, I settled on Xubuntu, a well-supported distribution that has continued to give reliable, efficient service through numerous releases and upgrades. I even run Xubuntu on my desktop where I don’t have any resource contraints, just for the sake of consistency.
Then, my wife bought a Chromebook, an Acer C710. She didn’t know the kids had already rejected their school-provided chromebooks as hopelessly impractical–what’s the point of having an ultraportable computer that is 100% useless without a wifi connection? But hey, the C710 is a sweet little machine for $200, with an 11” LED screen, memory expandable to 4G, more and faster storage and a faster, dual-core ARM processor? What’s not to like? Well, there is one thing. She also didn’t know that most older chromebooks have no BIOS, that is, they run Chrome OS at the hardware level and there is no way around it.
Except there is. You just have to roll up your sleeves, put on your anti-static wrist band, and put some faith in YouTube and the Internets. In a couple of hours, with a USB stick, a jeweler’s screwdriver, and a bit of rolled up aluminum foil, I had flashed the chromebook into a real, functioning netbook with an open source BIOS called SeaBIOS, and Xubuntu.
And for the first time, Xubuntu failed me. Ubuntu’s kernel, running on SeaBIOS, has spotty support for the C7’s trackpad and no support for its suspend and hibernate functionality. There are workarounds for the trackpad, but after a few weeks of playing around, I decided to give Debian, and then Fedora a try. Debian didn’t solve the problem, and is obviously build for and by geeks who enjoy playing around with the techno-innards of their operating systems more than getting actual work done. Fedora, however, shows promise.
Fedora is not as polished as Xubuntu (and is totally outclassed by the full Ubuntu), but so far it’s light and stable and, best of all, the trackpad works “out of the box.” In addition, Firefox doesn’t crash every couple of minutes like it did in Ubuntu on this machine. Now if the good people supporting coreboot, the hardware layer on which SeaBIOS runs, can fix the suspend issue, I’ll have the perfect writer’s engine to replace my stash of aging netbooks.
And all for less than the cost of a good Fedora.