Full Linux Distro On A Nook Color

We should have included a footnote in the title. You can say that [Thomas Polasek] installed a full version of Arch Linux on his Nook Color, but there’s one caveat. It’s running on top of the Android kernel and his proof-of-concept uses a second computer to get it up and running. But there’s potential for that to change moving forward.

Unlike previous attempts to run a Linux distro on Android, this does away with using a VNC to show the desktop. [Thomas] is commandeering Android’s frame buffer so that it can be used by the X desktop without needing to set up display drivers. To start off he installed a ROM based on CM7. A couple of Android apps give him the functionality needed to get the Arch Linux distro running from the SD card. This is accomplished by tunneling into the tablet via SSH, and using the ‘chroot’ command to make it active. The hope is that this can somehow be automated by a script.

A female to female USB coupler was used to connect the keyboard and mouse to the Nook. It looks like LXDE would be useless without them; touch control is not yet implemented. Those shortcomings aside, everything seems to be running pretty fast in the video after the break.

20 thoughts on “Full Linux Distro On A Nook Color

    1. Yeah you’re right. It’s super easy to run Linux on android tablets. You just plug in an SD card and boot it live like anything else… Oh…that’s right. It’s not that easy.

      1. It’s that easy if you own a Windows Mobile phone. HaRET is widely distributed in the XDA-Developers community along with some custom filesystem-in-a-file files.

        I’m still rockin’ an HTC HD2 and Ubuntu runs reasonably well on it with driver support for just about everything except audio and the camera. You can even text message people and place calls, but you can’t hear anything (the other party can hear me fine, though…).

        I normally run Android 4 from the microSD (using HaRET) after first booting into WinMo, but when I feel like using a real OS, I reboot from ICS and back into WinMo and about 30 seconds later, I’m in Ubuntu. From using ICS to Ubuntu, I’d say it takes about 2 minutes. Run a slightly modded OTG cable (no power out from phone’s USB) to your peripherals and you’re in business.

        Just because I can, I’ve used it for some “in-the-field” programming with some AVR projects I have deployed around the house. It’s great fun to show off with it from time to time. It’s basically a full install of Ubuntu with some custom drivers pre-installed, so the possibilities are endless.

    2. I love the sarcasm ;-p

      Its not the first time its been done but, its definitely the one of first conceptual videos for the nook. There are a following of hackers for nooks.

      A more detailed video explaining general functionality would be nice(wireless drivers? system benchmark?). It was awesome to see that this does away with VNC, and that you are allowed to use external HID devices(potential vulneraility) but, amazing potential functionality.

      Try to stick Backtrack-5 on it, boot off external or SD, or network.


  1. some Motorola devices including my Atrix have something called Webtop.
    Essentially ubuntu with almost everything stripped out and locked down. You can view the device screen, use Firefox, and browse files.
    XDA members have unlocked full functionality, and I used what they made to get a fully-working desktop on my device.
    Right now, all I have to do is plug in an hdmi cable, and I have a screen, and I can optionally plug in a keyboard and mouse.

    It’s actually pretty damn awesome.

  2. This isn’t really new, plenty of other ARM tablets have full custom kernels and non-Android installs. I’ve been compiling a kernel to improve Ubuntu 11.10 on my HP TouchPad, in particular I’m trying to get the Freedreno open-source GPU drivers working. The main thing keeping native Linux away from ARM tablets is the bootloader and the graphics, which are usually very much geared towards Android.

  3. Wake me up when someone will be able to *replace* Android with a native Linux installation. There would be an HUGE gain in performance plus complete control of the hardware.

    1. Yes! This is the main problem with all that nice but useless android gadgets – how to *REPLACE* android with Linux and get all HW working right way.

      Ufortunately, google is full of garbage about “installing linux on XYZ tablet” which is really a dumb hoax with VNC, so finding info about real things is problematic.

  4. This seems a little odd. Last time I was working with custom ROMs on my Nook Color (before it was stolen), I recall there were native Linux builds available. That was already over a year ago.

    jstylen made a joke above about putting Linux on an SD card and booting the Nook up to it wasn’t how it worked…but yeah, that actually is exactly how it works. The Nook Color is fairly unique among Android devices because it will happily boot an OS from the SD card before the internal storage. That’s why you can have a Nook Color multiboot between Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Linux, just by switching out the SD cards.

    1. Wow. My apologies then. The tablets I have worked with have been pretty locked down. Booting from SD should be an option on all tablets in my opinion. It gives users power to use hardware the way they want too use it. Pretty tired of how manufacturers has been locking things down so much… I can’t help but think the Nook’s ability to boot SD is a wonderful mistake.

  5. I find it annoying that people are so proud that Andriod is build on Linux. It offers the user no Linux tools by default. It is consumer trash. I’d kill for a GNU Linux tablet. I often want to just write code, and maybe have multiple users ssh in. We have a thin client Debian file server with 256 MB of ram and it handles multiple users at once quite easily. I want a general use GNU tablet. Not something that is ashamed to be Linux and a one trick social media pony. People are buying the Raspberry Pi like crazy. I’m sure there is great demand for a real Linux tablet. I need a tablet computer that I can plug a small keyboard into and code anyplace.

    1. Installing SSHDroid has plenty of the standard linux tools compiled into it so when you ssh to your android device you can use all kinds of useful stuff. (it’s in the home/bin folder that you start up in)

      If you really want a tablet like that, then just use your tablet and leave a machine running that you can remote desktop to. it’s quite fast, all you’d be getting is touch capability anyways. The only thing that make it tricky when making a regular linux distro is things like the funny yaffs2 file systems, booting of flash chips vs standard drives. Other than that drivers are mostly open source except gfx, but you do get pre-compiled binaries that can be useful to an extent. It’s only a matter of time before they merge the little changes like wakelocks etc… back to the main kernel. They’ve already merged a lot of it, then balance will be restored.

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