My Chromebook series follows my experiment using a Chromebook as a Linux based software development and retro gaming laptop. This article walks through setting up the Linux development environment on Chromebook.

First of all though, why?

There are a number of reasons that I wanted to do this project.

First of all, not being on Windows is not one of those reasons. I have to use Windows based environments most of the time when working for my employers, but otherwise have barely touched Windows in a decade. I became so tired of maintaining ever sluggish machines and keeping malware at bay that not only did I remove it from my own hardware, I took the Wombles on a Linux Mint journey too.

That worked really well for the Wombles for about a decade, running Linux Mint on an old tower PC unit. No viruses, no slowdown, no need to clean up and defragment their HDD every time we went to see them in Spain. Until last year when the hardware finally failed. Wanting them to stay on a low maintenance low risk setup, I’d been planning to transition them onto a Chromebook for a while, which increasingly made sense given their Android adoption in the intervening period.

The main problem was, that I needed to be able to train them to use a Chromebook, and given that my own technology stack for most of the last decade had revolved around all things Apple, I’d never used them. So we bought a wee Chromebook for the wombles to use - their use case revolves entirely around Chrome anyway, and another for ourselves so that we could train them on how to set it up from afar in Burnley, in the UK. Thankfully, most Chromebooks are as cheap as chips - the technology requirements for a computer that in many ways is based upon mobile and tablet architecture are not too taxing.

I was quite impressed with my little Lenovo Ideapad. It was not a high spec, and though that showed it has been fantastic for doing all things browser based whether in the lounge or sat on a train. I particularly enjoyed the quiet that came with not being on my M1 MacBook Air, which though excellent, is very well connected to the world. So I saw the virtue in using a Chromebook to work online in a more offline manner. I’d also used the Linux developer mode to set up a basic development environment. It worked, but I could not install everything that I wanted to - in part due to power and memory, and in part because I had chosen a model with an ARM chip structure rather than x86 (Intel).

Finally, my MacBook Air died last week after just 15 months. Though it has been subsequently rejuvenated through a screen replacement (for a third of the cost at the genius bar), I had decided that I would not replace, and would instead experiment with a higher specification Chromebook, primarily using the Debian based Linux development environment.

Which Chromebook?

So I opted for an Acer Chromebook 515. It has a 256GB SSD drive, 8GB RAM generous 16" screen and an 11th generation Intel i5 chip - positively overkill for a Chromebook. Not everything I try to do will necessarily work, but this series of articles will walk through my attempts to setup my development environment, and more ambitiously to use it up as a retro-gaming machine. Between gift cards and promo vouchers, this machine actually only set me back about £300/€350/$400.

If you are following along, and read the rest of the articles in the Chromebook category to make sure that I succeeded, you probably want to buy a Chromebook with a modern i or m series chip of a recent generation for the best chance of success.

Step by Step setup

So without further ado, lets begin.

First of all open the settings application on the Chromebook. Scroll down to the ‘< > Developers’ section towards the bottom of the left hand menu. Once there, if you have a recent Chromebook compatible with the Linux Development Environment, you shouild see an option to turn this on.

Click ‘Next to proceed’:

Having turned on the development environment, choose your username for the Linux environment and the size of the disk that you will allocate to it. You can change this up and down later, but here I’m leaving 64GB for the Chromebook, and giving the remainder to the Linux environment - that is predominantly what I am intending to use most on this machine.

Finally, open up the Linux ‘Terminal’ application. That will open up the Penguin Command Line Interface that you will use to control the linux environment.

run a quick ‘python –version’ in Penguin, and you will see the version of Python installed on the machine.

I’ll leave it there for this article, but check out the articles that follow in the Chromebook to see how I got on!