How to Install Ubuntu on a Chromebook Pixel

So you’re considering getting a Chromebook Pixel, but you don’t know if you can do entirely without your usual collection of native apps. Maybe you’ve already bought the Pixel and are now discovering that Chrome OS really isn’t the right match for you. If either of these describe your situation, you may be happy to know that it’s both possible and easy to install Ubuntu on a Chromebook Pixel.

Chrome OS may seem very locked down, but it’s actually running on top of Linux. The Chromebook Pixel is a high-end device intended, in part, to be adopted by developers who want to create software for Google’s cloud-centric operating system or Linux in general. For these tinkerers, a Google employee developed crouton, a tool that enables you to run Ubuntu inside of a virtual instance within Chrome OS. Once installed, you can simultaneously run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu on a Chromebook Pixel without having to dual-boot or otherwise restart to switch between them.

You will first need to enable developer mode. To do this, hold down the ESC and Refresh keys at the same time and then briefly press down the Power button. Your computer will restart and send you to a recovery screen displaying the following text:

Chrome OS is missing or damaged.
Please insert a recovery USB stick or SD card.
(note: the blue USB port will NOT work for recovery)

On this screen, press Ctrl + D followed by Enter to boot into developer mode. Your computer will then proceed to erase all of your local data as it transitions. The process can take over ten minutes, so don’t panic if it takes awhile.

Once the transition is complete, you will be greeted by a warning screen with the following message:

OS verification is OFF
Press SPACE to re-enable

This screen will display every time you boot up your computer in developer mode. It’s a message to warn you that as long as OS verification is disabled, your computer will be less secure than it was before. This is a given. In the end, you will be running Ubuntu alongside Chrome OS, and were your computer to fall into the wrong hands, they could also run software in the background without you knowing. This is a risk most users have lived with since computers first hit the market, so there’s no reason to be alarmed. Press Ctrl + D or wait thirty seconds for the screen to go away.

First, download Crouton, then open a terminal inside Chrome OS by pressing Ctrl + Alt + T.

Crouton Install Crosh

Inside the terminal, type “shell” and press Enter to switch to a Linux terminal. From here you have two options. You can install Ubuntu with either Unity or Xfce. If you want to install Ubuntu with the default Unity interface, type in the following command:

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t unity

This command will begin the actual installation process. It may take some time as the files are downloaded and installed onto your Pixel.

Crouton Install Terminal

Once it’s done, enter these commands to enter your new Unity session:

sudo enter-chroot startunity
sudo startunity

You will be then find yourself looking at the familiar Unity interface. After downloading a new default wallpaper, here is how mine looked.

Crouton Ubuntu Unity

Given the Chromebook Pixel’s high resolution of 2560 x 1700 pixels, everything looks obscenely small. You can tweak this somewhat by increasing font sizes, but for the time being you’ll have to accept that windows and websites won’t scale naturally when you’re not using Chrome OS.

Crouton Ubuntu Xfce

If Unity’s not your thing, you can try running Xfce. It’s a desktop environment that is lighter on resources and more customize-able. Depending on your computing background, this interface might look more familiar. Install Xfce with this command:

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t xfce

Switching back to Chrome OS is instantaneous. Hold down Ctrl + Alt + Back. If you want to return to Ubuntu, hold down Ctrl + Alt + Forward plus Ctrl + Alt + Refresh. If you log out of Ubuntu, you can return to it by again opening up a terminal and retyping either:

sudo startunity

or

sudo startxfce4

If you grow tired of running Ubuntu on your Pixel or want the peace of mind that comes from running your device with verified boot enabled, turning off developer mode is even easier than turning it on. Simply restart your computer. At the warning screen that pops up, press Space followed by Enter. Your computer will wipe itself again. Once it’s done, your computer will be as good as new.

Installing Ubuntu on a Chromebook Pixel is very useful if you still need to use Skype or compile code. Perhaps you’re curious to see if a Chromebook Pixel can handle Steam, which it can. Maybe you just want to experience what 2560 by 1700 is really like. Regardless of your motivation, installing Ubuntu on a Chromebook Pixel is now as easy, if not easier, than installing Ubuntu on any other PC. Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, bought a Chromebook and installed Linux on it. That’s quite the endorsement. If you try it, check back in here in the comments and let us know about your experience.