Netbooks: The Next Generation — Chromebooks

Netbooks are dead, long live the Chromebook. Lewin Day wrote up a proper trip down Netbook Nostalgia Lane earlier this month. That’s required reading, go check it out and come back. You’re back? Good. Today I’m making the case that the Chromebook is the rightful heir to the netbook crown, and to realize its potential I’ll show you how to wring every bit of Linuxy goodness out of your Chromebook.

I too was a netbook connoisseur, starting with an Asus Eee 901 way back in 2009. Since then, I’ve also been the proud owner of an Eee PC 1215B, which still sees occasional use. Only recently did I finally bite the bullet and replace it with an AMD based Dell laptop for work.

For the longest time, I’ve been intrigued by a good friend who went the Chromebook route. He uses a Samsung Chromebook Plus, and is constantly using it to SSH into his development machines. After reading Lewin’s article, I got the netbook bug again, and decided to see if a Chromebook would fill the niche. I ended up with the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, codename Scarlet. The price was right, and the tablet form factor is perfect for referencing PDFs.

Two Asus Netbooks and a ChromeOS tablet.
Behold, my netbook credentials.

The default ChromeOS experience isn’t terrible. You have the functionality of desktop Chrome, as well as the ability to run virtually any Android app. It’s a good start, but hardly the hacker’s playground that a Linux netbook once was. But we can still get our Linux on with this hardware. There are three separate approaches to making a Chromebook your own virtual hackspace: Crostini, Crouton, and full OS replacement.

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Dual-boot Your Arduino

There was a time, not so long ago, when all the cool kids were dual-booting their computers: one side running Linux for hacking and another running Windows for gaming. We know, we were there. But why the heck would you ever want to dual-boot an Arduino? We’re still scratching our heads about the application, but we know a cool hack when we see one; [Vinod] soldered the tiny surface-mount EEPROM on top of the already small AVR chip! (Check the video below.)

aAside from tiny-soldering skills, [Vinod] wrote his own custom bootloader for the AVR-based Arduino. With just enough memory to back up the AVR’s flash, the bootloader can shuffle the existing program out to the EEPROM while flashing the new program in. For more details, read the source.

While you might think that writing a bootloader is deep juju (it can be), [Vinod]’s simple bootloader application is written in C, using a style that should be familiar to anyone who has done work with an Arduino. It could certainly be optimized for size, but probably not for readability (and tweakability).

Why would you ever want to dual boot an Arduino? Maybe to be able to run testing and stable code on the same device? You could do the same thing over WiFi with an ESP8266. But maybe you don’t have WiFi available? Whatever, we like the hack and ‘because you can’ is a good enough excuse for us. If you do have a use in mind, post up in the comments!

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Flip Your Desktop Over To Boot Linux

[Andy France] built his computer into a Windows XP box. (Yes, this is from the past.) He needed to run windows most of the time, but it was nice to boot into Linux every now and then. That’s where the problem lay. If he was running Linux on his Windows XP case mod, he’d get made fun of. The only solution was to make a Linux sleeve for his computer. He would slide the sleeve over the case whenever he ran Linux, and hide his shame from wandering eyes. Once his plan was fully formed, he went an extra step and modified the computer so that if the sleeve was on, it would automatically boot Linux, and if it was off it would boot Windows.

The Linux sleeve could only slide on if the computer was flipped upside down. So he needed to detect when it was in this state. To do this he wired a switch into one of the com ports of his computer, and attached it to the top of the case mod. He modified the assembly code in the MBR to read the state of the switch. When the Linux sleeve is on (and therefore the computer is flipped over) it boots Linux. When the sleeve is off, Windows. Neat. It would be cool to put a small computer in a cube and have it boot different operating systems with this trick. Or maybe a computer that boots into guest mode in one orientation, and the full system in another.

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Hackaday Links: Leap Day, 2012

The Earth orbits the Sun every 365.256 days. Because this number isn’t a whole number, an extra day is tacked onto February every four years, unless the year is evenly divisible by 100, except in cases where the year is divisible by 400, or something like that. To commemorate this calendar hack, here’s some stuff that has rolled in over the last week or so.

Marble sequencer

[Brian] sent in this marble-based sequencer that sounds like someone is running MIDI into an Atari 2600. There are photoresistors in there somewhere, and it really reminds us of those thingamagoop robots.

YouTube CLI

[Mike] uses YouTube as his music library. While this is a perfectly acceptable way to listen to music, the user interface is terrible. To solve this problem, [Mike] is downloading videos from the command line, automagically converting them to MP3, and playing them over speakers. It works well with SSH, so we’ll call this a win.

Key card lock

[valenitn] just joined the MIT Media Lab, but something was terribly wrong with his keys – an ID card was required to get into the building, but a key was necessary to get into his office. He doesn’t need the key anymore, at least since he modded his office door. Check out the video.

Pop Tart Cat is everywhere

[skywodd] saw our writeup on the Maximite Basic computer and figured he could send in a project he’s been working on. He programmed his Maximite to sing the nyan cat song and then created a BASIC music player. Nice job, [skywodd].

Not sure if brilliant or insane

[Vikash] ran across a forum post where a user named [I Shooter] describes his setup to dual-boot Windows and Linux: [I Shooter] connected data cables to a pair of SATA hard drives, one loaded up with Windows, the other with Linux. The power cables are switched using relays so only one drive is powered at a time. [I Shooter] gets a ton of points for creativity, but there’s a reason this brute force hardware dual-boot setup isn’t more common. We wish there were pictures of this one.

Gitbrew Brings OtherOS Back To The PS3


Instead of simply watching the days pass by while the PSN network continues to be unavailable, why not do something useful with your PS3 console? [MS3FGX] wrote in to share some news regarding efforts to bring the OtherOS option back to the PS3.

The team at have been diligently working to bring Linux back to the console for a little while now, and have released a dual-boot firmware they are calling OtherOS++. This firmware has two huge benefits over Sony’s original attempt at Linux support for the console. It can be run on the original “fat” PS3s as well as the newer “slim” models – something that was not possible until now. Additionally, it gives the Linux install full access to the PS3’s hardware rather than running the OS inside a virtual machine.

The project is relatively new, so the installation procedures and associated documentation are not suitable for the less experienced individuals out there, so consider yourself warned.

We love that there are people doing all they can to bring this awesome feature back to the PS3 – it’s a huge step in the right direction.

[Image via gitbrew]