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3 alternatives to Chrome OS on Google’s Chromebook Pixel

The more I use Google’s new Chromebook Pixel, the more I consider buying one; I have to return the loaner laptop next week. To many, that sounds insane: “Pay $1,299 for a browser?” is the common comment theme I’m seeing. And it’s a fair point if you do more than just work on the web. Even me, a Chromebook owner since last June, occasionally strays outside the Internet for some activity. Can that actually be done on a Chromebook Pixel? Actually, yes it can, because because you can use other operating systems on this hardware.

After researching over the weekend and asking some Googlers(s goog) themselves, I found out that unlike prior Chromebooks, there is a BIOS option that is writable: meaning the Pixel’s startup software isn’t locked down as much as prior Chrome OS devices. Google included a copy of SeaBIOS with the Pixel, currently allowing for the installation of Linux distributions. Here’s an instruction page on how to do this and the following explanation from Bill Richardson, who works at Google:

“Chrome OS firmware normally consists of three distinct BIOS images. First, there is the read-only BIOS, which is (duh) read-only. It can’t be modified without disassembly. Then there are two read-write BIOS images, called RW A and RW B. The read-only BIOS is what runs when the machine is first powered on. It checks the two read-write BIOSes (A, then B), looking for one that is correctly signed by Google. If it finds one, it jumps to that image, which then looks for a valid kernel, and so forth. If there is no valid RW firmware (or some other fault has occurred), the execution stays in the RO BIOS and enters Recovery mode.

With the Pixel, we’d added an extra (unverified) BIOS slot. It only works in developer mode, and you have to explicitly enable it, but we’ve put a copy of Seabios in the Pixel firmware.”


The second option for running an alternative platform on the Pixel is a tool created by David Schneider, another Googler. Called crouton — standing for ChRomium Os UbunTu chrOot enviroNment — the downloadable tool supports running Ubuntu in a virtual instance within Chrome OS.

This means you can run the standard Chrome OS environment and a fully usable Ubuntu build at the same time. To toggle between the two environments, you simply press Ctrl-Alt-Refresh (F3) for Ubuntu or press Ctrl-Alt-Back (F1) for Chrome OS according to Richardson, who shared this picture of the end result.

Ubuntu on Pixel

Of course, if you want to run Mac OS X(s aapl) or Microsoft Windows(s msft), you’re out of luck on a Chromebook Pixel, but as a Googler reminded me in this thread, you can always use Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to another system. Bensen Leung, a Linux Kernel engineer on the Chrome OS team, told me he uses that method — in addition to the above Linux approaches — to connect to desktops on other platforms.

Are these ideal solutions for a laptop that costs $1,299 or more? Probably not for most folks, but they do provide options outside of just using a web browser.

23 Responses to “3 alternatives to Chrome OS on Google’s Chromebook Pixel”

  1. KwadGuy

    To make this a fill service platform, Google needs to enable processor virtualization in the BIOS. If they did, then Crouton could run VMware or another virtualization program, and you could install Windows there.

    Give me that, and you have a solution that could, in fact, get me to entirely leave my Windows laptop at home, even on some business trips.

  2. manuel tondeur

    I get your perspective but I know I can install Linux…
    It’s the freaking HARDWARE that’s way overpriced, the only good thing is the 230ppi display which is only 35% better than a System76 875$ Laptop that ALREADY has Ubuntu and supports it… let alone the pure specs that demolish this one: an i7 ivy bridge vs a dual core? Or every I/O you can imagine vs lacking and outdated I/O? There is just no way this hardware is worth it, no matter how you look at it… Even a Mac is less overpriced, that is no small feature.

  3. There are other options for Chromebook users that need to work with Windows applications like Microsoft Office. For example, Ericom AccessNow is an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Server or VDI virtual desktops, and run any Windows application (not just MS Office) or even full desktops in a Chrome browser tab. And there’s nothing to install on the Chromebook, so it’s easy to deploy.

    Click here for more information:

    Please note that I work for Ericom

  4. Sam Kindle

    Wow, Crouton looks very cool for being instantly switchable and having built in support for the hardware. Any chance you’d put a video up demonstrating what it’s like in practice?

  5. Ashwin Datye

    Kevin, I can understand why you feel so tempted to buy this one.
    I am as well because:
    1. My use of a PC is primarily to get to the internet
    2. I love great hardware designs. makes me feel like a Arab sheikh for a while.
    3. 3:2 screen size is so rare these days and its perfect for web pages. Hate the wide screen laptops; they never made sense to me. Miss those 4:3 older ones.
    4. And now, an unlocked bootloader, super!

  6. Windows > Mac = Linux > Chrome

    1 step up is better than nothing! Still, it’s not worth it. A cool-looking laptop running inferior OSes (usefulness-wise) just isn’t worth it, when you can get a not-as-great-looking laptop running Windows for 600.

  7. So… I can buy a 1,299 Chromebook pixel and can never run anything but a web browser or an Ubuntu image on it, or I can buy a “real” laptop computer for 1,299 or less and install any operating system I want on it that will run on PC hardware (or Mac hardware if you prefer). And still have the ability to run native applications. And I can still do anything with that laptop that I can do with the pixel anyway since all the application services are cloud based. Maybe for a $200 tablet price this would make sense. But buying a glorified tablet or smartphone at “real” laptop prices? This seems like a joke from Google more than anything else. I’m going to stick with my Dell, even if I want to go nowhere today…

    • Are you a power cloud user? No? Then shut it, and keep you Dell laptop with you. Google said that this laptop is only for power cloud user and it is not for user like you.

    • It is may be a joke for you but it is must buy device for every business looking to reduce cost and improve real-time sharing and collaboration experience.

      On Box ( or other Cloud storage provider) It should be mention that 100 GB cost $100/year. Cloud storage is accessible from any device, anywhere and anytime presuming if you have internet access.
      There are more and offline more applications ( Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendars,Quick Office) and games . You have a Cloud application for most ( if not all) your daily needs ( Photos editing, Graphing, Charting, etc..).

      Moreover you can remotely access desktop and servers applications ( RDP, secure SSH, mainframe, etc.)

      With your 1 TB free for 3 years, you can create 10 folders and transfer their ownership to other accounts, you will already save a lot of money.

      Google Drive is more than Cloud storage. Its features allowed you collaborate real time on Google Docs. Now ,with QuickOffice integrated. you can in real-time collaborate on MS office documents.

      Conclusion: If you go to the Cloud ( vs. nowhere), you will get this device for free, some discounted cloud storage ( that you can share or resell), and things you can´t do should be very limited.

    • I used to have a REAL Windows laptop like the one you are talking about which I got for about a $100 more than the Samsung series 3 Chromebook. The problem was it booted REAL slow (3 minutes+), ran REAL slow, was a REAL pain in the butt to maintain, and had REAL problems with viruses and malware.

    • Evan Rowley

      Actually, Windows 8, 7, and XP have all been run on the Chromebook Pixel using KVM and they’ve functioned great. Theoretically OS X is possible as well since KVM supports it, but I don’t know of anyone who has tried it yet. Ron Minnich, also a Google dev, is the one who first (to my knowledge) built a custom kernel that supports KVM to virtualize MS Windows.

  8. anonymous

    Do they have an Android version of Crouton (meaning Android in the virtual layer, not crouton running on top of the Android OS). I might be somewhat interested in a Chrome device if:
    1) it was an 11″ convertible tablet (the twist-screen tablets) with multi-touch screen

    2) it can run virtual Ubuntu and Android layers (an idea I had had for a while, but crouton sounds like exactly what I’m looking for on the ubuntu side)

    3) it costs under $1000

    4) bonus points: built-in 4G network card

    5) bonus points: pixel-xi like screen (hybrid e-ink and lcd, so I can use e-reader software with e-ink, and more dynamic/interactive/color software with lcd)

  9. Kevin: What effect does Crouton have on memory usage? Specifically, if you set the memory monitor flag, then start Crouton, then switch back to Chrome OS, how much free memory does it display?

  10. Jack N Fran Farrell

    Why no team players commenting on how a team, small business, or agile large business might use a Pixel in conjunction with other devices using Chrome Browsers. For example, if five members of my small staff were productive enough to have 200G of product each on their hard drives, I might buy Google Apps, a Chrome Pixel with 3Tb-years of Google cloud storage and allocate 200G to each. If a problem arose with a task or a product, I could video conference, access tools and product an staff on whatever device that they carried as long as they had a Chrome Browser.

    • Fully agree with you. This device is not only free for businesses using Google Apps, you actually get Gdrive storage discounted. 1 TB of Gdrive cost $1068 hen $600/years afterwards and not $600/year. You can create folders and transfer their ownership to other accounts. On Box, 100 GB storage cost $100/year, thus $2000/year for 20 accounts. or $6000 for 3 years.

      Moreover, QuickOffice is integrated which means you collaborate in real time on Office documents with your teams. No more MS Office license fees.

      This is a must buy for every business using and Google Apps looking for Gdrive storage and real time collaboration on MS office objects ( documents, Excel Sheets, etc.)