Free Software compatible laptop?

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ssdclickofdeath
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I am looking for a free software compatible laptop with a Core 2 Duo (or AMD equiv.) processor, that is good quality: an aluminum shell, or at least metal hinges.

I looked on h-node.org, but couldn't find any. (h-node doesn't seem to state the processor in the compatibility database) Does anyone have any suggestions of which brand and model to buy?

mYself
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Yes. The best currently available free software compatible laptop (BIOS, WiFi, GPU, etc.) is the Chromebook Pixel as released by Google. Here are the instructions on how to install GNU/Linux on it:

http://vger.kernel.org/~davem/chromebook_pixel%5flinux.txt

It has also an all-aluminium encasing as required by you. A nice video presenting this device can be found here.

ssdclickofdeath
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I want a laptop that is +/- $350, probably used, if this is even possible.

mYself
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If you want a cheaper one, then I suggest you to go for the Acer C7 (C710) Chromebook. Here you can find the instructions on how to install ChrUbuntu 12.04 on it:

http://chromeos-cr48.blogspot.com/2012/04/chrubuntu-1204-now-with-double-bits.html

After that, you should try to migrate from Ubuntu to Trisquel by using the following instructions:

https://trisquel.info/en/wiki/migrate-ubuntu-trisquel-without-reinstalling

ssdclickofdeath
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I would prefer a 14+ inch screen.
So I don't waste your (or anyone else's) time, I will post the minimum specs. Just tell me if such a laptop doesn't exist :)

Intel Core 2 Duo
4 GB RAM limit
Video card with 256 MB video RAM
Hard Drive size doesn't matter, as long as it's user replaceable.
14" screen

mYself
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There you'll go ;-)
https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/chromebooks.html#hp-pav

The reason why I suggest you to buy a Chromebook is because they're the only laptop PCs today available with stock free software BIOS (Coreboot).

As for additional space, I suggest you to buy an external USB hard drive because the Chromebooks generally tends to use a small SSD card, that's very expensive to replace with a higher capacity one (this doesn't apply to the previously mentioned Acer C7 model which uses a HDD).

ssdclickofdeath
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I am sick of throwaway electronics, that is partially why I am moving away from Apple products. (I'm typing this on an iBook G4 running OS X, but I am transitioning to free software.)
The MacBook Pro with retina display has non-upgradable RAM, that bothered me even before I cared about free software.

I would swap out the SSD for a larger hard drive, if that is possible.

The computer contains 2 GB of RAM, if it is the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook. http://www.digitaltrends.com/laptop-reviews/hp-pavilion-14-chromebook-review/

mYself
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> The MacBook Pro with retina display has non-upgradable RAM, that bothered me even before I cared about free software.

Yeah, that's also the case of the "Pixel", which has 4GB RAM onboard. It's because the latest trend of integrating as much as possible into one piece to save production costs and in this case space, so the device remain small/thin.

> I would swap out the SSD for a larger hard drive, if that is possible.

Yes, but it does not contain the classic 2.5" HDD sized SSD's, but a mSATA card, like this:

http://www.theinquirer.net/IMG/705/224705/adata-msata-540x334.jpg?1340105535

> The computer contains 2 GB of RAM, if it is the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook.

You said "4 GB RAM limit" but does not specified which (upper or bottom).

ssdclickofdeath
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It almost seems like a choice between free software or free (to upgrade) hardware. :(
I hope not.

mYself
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There is no perfect hardware. That's why I recommended the Acer C7 Chromebook, which is upgrade friendly.

ssdclickofdeath
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The only problem with the C7 is the small screen, so I guess I'll have to think about it...

mYself
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Yeah, you should :-P

It also have practically identical hardware, same CPU/RAM/GPU/resolution, 320GB HDD (versus the 16GB mini-SATA SSD), and a much better price $200 (versus the $330 = the need of paying for the brand).

ssdclickofdeath
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I didn't know that HP was much of a brand. I thought Apple = Brand.
I really don't care about brands, just quality.

mYself
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The best brand in the price vs. quality/hardware is generally ASUS (there appears some products from time-to-time from other manufacturers, like the above-mentioned "Pixel" for which this doesn't apply). It is because ASUS produce its products itself. Look at this link for explanation:

http://www.coreboot.org/Laptop#Who_really%5Fmakes%5Fyour%5Flaptop.3F

mYself
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Hey, according to this picture of the internals it looks like the SSD is full-sized, not mSATA:

https://sites.google.com/a/chromium.org/dev/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/hp-pavilion-14-chromebook/butterfly-top-guts.jpg

The 2GB RAM is possibly integrated.

Chris

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There are lots of potential problems you can run into and some are hard or
impossible to avoid. Here are a few of the most common.

Here are a few:

1. wifi

The only laptops with compatible wireless are those with an atheros chipset. Minor correction. There is a Broadcom chipset that will work although even the developer discourages it.

2. DRM on wifi slot

Some companies place digit restrictions on the Mini PCIe card slot so that
users can't replace the card except with another like card from the same
manufacturer. This is in practice so that companies can profit from
after-warranty sales of replacements parts which are generally due to
parts dying.

3. Graphics

The only free software friendly 3D accelerated graphics are from Intel. AMD doesn't cooperate with the free software community. What they have done for
political reasons is released a driver that is partially free. This then
loads a non-free component. NVIDIA doesn't cooperate at all either.
Neither sufficient specs nor sources have ever been released. What support
exists is due to reverse engineering and you won't find support for years
to come. Most likely any support you get will only be available after
you've replaced the laptop. Five year old graphics cards are only now
sufficiently supported and even that is a stretch.

4. Trusted Execution Technology

This and the AMD equivalent gives third parties control over your machine.
They can prevent you from recording videos, etc. It adds a form of
digital restrictions. You can read up on the CPU on Intel's web site.
Avoid any CPUs that include Trusted Execution Technology.

5. vPro / AMT

This technology is a potential security and privacy nightmare. It makes it
possible for third parties to spy on you without your knowledge. Depending
on the system it may even be possible to spy on you when your not
"connected" to the Internet through a GSM module. For the time being you
can avoid the CPUs with vPro by checking Intel's documentation on its CPUs.

mYself
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To ssdclickofdeath:

1. A replacement FLOSS compatible wifi module can be bought from 3-5 bucks on eBay. I recommend the Atheros AR5B95 card.
2. This is mainly a behaviour of the IBM/Lenovo's ThinkPad line of portable computers. Just search for other people experiences in replacing the internal wifi card for the particuar laptop model on the Internet.
3. In short, go for the Intel HD Graphics.
4. You should simply avoid buying an AMD processor. Go for the Intel one.
5. Just check out the the processor model number and search for it on the Intel website.

Chris

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It isn't just IBM/Lenovo with the digital restrictions on the mini pcie card slot that prevents the replacement of the wifi card with a free software compatible one. HP, IBM, Dell, and Toshiba do it as well. This makes up a huge percentage of the market.

There are lots of other issues which crop up with your random notebook that likely will never be fixed from suspend to ram not working to wifi on/off switch issues.

mYself
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I never said that it's just IBM (now Lenovo) who's inserting these blocking features to BIOS (remember that Chromebooks are using Coreboot, and the source code is available for download, study and ever recompilation). I never had any "unexpected" issues with GNU/Linux on any of my or other peoples laptop computer where I previously installed Trisquel. Sure, incompatibility can happen, but it will also happen on any other operating systems like MS Windows. But on GNU/Linux people can (if nothing else) fix those issues itself (source code is available for study), or ask on forums for help, but most commonly just by Googling/Ducking (DuckDuckGo.com :) for it, because it is highly possible that there was another people who already fixed that. If we look at this from the right angle, isn't GNU about hacking (fixing/modifying stuff, to fit our needs)?

For the hardware I recommended, they weren't randomly selected. I read about them before and looked for what hardware they have, so I can recommend it to others. I cannot garantee that the laptops will work out-of-the-box (they will probably not), but I can guarantee that all its hardware (CPU, GPU, WiFi, etc.) are free software compatible, and from that findings they should just logically work (unless he buy a defective model, which I cannot affect).

Anyway, I wanna thank you for the wireless USB key you sent me a while back and I'm using it right now. The only "real" problem I have with it is that's randomly disconnecting from network from time-to-time (this doesn't happen when I'm using the internal wireless chip), like the RTL8187 chip on my siblings' notebook I mentioned to you in some previous thread.

jxself
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> remember that Chromebooks are using Coreboot, and the source code is > available for download, study and ever recompilation).

Ha!

Good luck finding one of these machines without binary blobs needed at some point in the process after pressing the power button.

For example:

Sandybridge requires (besides the MRC binary) a MEI binary, for the embedded controller in the chipset.

Without a proper MEI firmware, the CPU won't even start executing x86 opcodes. The MEI firmware is signed (with some private Intel key). You (or someone) might be able to reimplement the raminit part. Good luck cracking the key to MEI firmware signatures.

http://www.coreboot.org/pipermail/coreboot/2012-April/069598.html

mYself
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ChrUbuntu is already proved to be working, and switching to Trisquel is just about changing the repositories, and purging out some non-free stuff.

You wanna tell me that using a proprietary BIOS is better than using Coreboot? Sure, it has some bottlenecks but you should agree that using a completely-free (even by Mr.Stallman's standards) computer with some trouble is better than buying a laptop, where you cannot get rid of the non-free BIOS no matter what.

jxself
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> You wanna tell me that using a proprietary BIOS is better than using
> Coreboot?

That's not what I'm saying. Sure, maybe there's less proprietary
software with Coreboot installed but since Coreboot has adopted
proprietary software to support these, proprietary software's still
there either way. Making an argument that it's "better" than 100%
proprietary isn't much of an a argument, I think, because the goal
should be to find something that can be used without any proprietary
software *anywhere.* 100% freedom, not 95% freedom or even 99.9% freedom.

> Sure, it has some bottlenecks but you should agree that using a
> completely-free (even by Mr.Stallman's merits) computer with some
trouble is
> better than buying a laptop, where you cannot get rid of the
non-free BIOS no
> matter what.

Except that the Chromebooks don't fall into this category of being
completely free: Coreboot has adopted binary blobs. Perhaps the free
software
community needs a Coreboot-libre, where someone saying that "it runs
Coreboot-libre" would be a way to know that the device can be used in
freedom.
With the adoption of binary blobs, saying "it runs Coreboot" doesn't mean
anything anymore.

In addition, cryptographic signatures are in place to verify that these
blobs are never modified. The addition of a crypto system makes things
far more difficult so, if anything, such crypto signatures take us
even further away from having freedom than a machine that doesn't use
such a thing and has only binary blobs.

I'm not saying binary blobs are any better - Either way you don't have
freedom - but what I am trying to say is that this huge task of
working to get freedom becomes even bigger, perhaps impossible, when
strong crypto is added to the mix.

> so I can recommend it to others

If you're going to recommend something, it should be something that is
actually possible to use in complete freedom in practive. While no
means the only
example, my ThinkPad X60s with Coreboot would be one example. In this
case no binary blobs from Coreboot are needed.

ssdclickofdeath
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Something like your Thinkpad was what I was thinking about, though I was scared away from the Thinkpads because of the 'Trusted' Computing chips inside them. Do they actually do anything while Trisquel is running instead of Windows?

jxself
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> Do they actually do anything while Trisquel is running instead of
Windows?

I understand that it can be used from within GNU/Linux for good too,
like full disk encryption for example, although I have not done this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trusted_Platform_Module#Uses

jxself
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It could even be used to make your own version of Secure Boot.

At this point it begins acting as an agent *for* you, rather than
*against* you, so there's no need to fear it.

ssdclickofdeath
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Not that I'm going to use Windows, I meant are there restrictions, such as DRM while using GNU/Linux?

lembas
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Not in free software. Should there be, somebody would yank it out pretty quick.

ssdclickofdeath
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From what I understand, 'Trusted' Computing is built into the hardware, and would override any Operating Systems installed. Is this incorrect?

mYself
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I doesn't knew Coreboot isn't fully-free (e.g. contain binary-blobs). Wikipedia states that it's released under under the GNU GPL and doesn't specify additional licenses. It's a shame, that Coreboot went the same way like Linux/Android did.

Nevertheless, if I'm stated in a position to make a decision btw. a 90% free software, or a 100% pure proprietary BIOS, I'll rather choose the prior (some freedom is better than none, although not satisfactory). This fact doesn't change my mind because it's easier to reverse-engineer some code, rather than the whole, and possibly there will be someone who can make it and do it himself, although that cryptographic thing bothers me the most, because it prevents reverse-engineering of the blob, and make the whole process that is itself very hard to do, even harder.

> If you're going to recommend something, it should be something that is actually possible to use in complete freedom in practive.

If you know about a better portable computer (w. free BIOS) that meets ssdclickondeath's criteria, then then go ahead and tell us.

Anyway, thanks for the clarification .

P.S.: Isn't this Phoronix article I read a long time ago the same thing you're talking about? Can you also confirm/refute that "Pixel" is the only Chromebook model containing SeaBIOS?

Many thanks.

jxself
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> Nevertheless, if I'm stated in a position to make a decision btw. a
90% free
> software, or a 100% pure proprietary BIOS, I'll rather choose the
prior.

Of course that's better but this doesn't mean settling for that. What
we should be going for is 100% free, and that can be achieved by using
and recommending different computers (not the Chromebooks.)

ssdclickofdeath
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Do you know of any COMPLETELY FREE computers?

mYself
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There are some other completely free laptops outside the Chromebooks that have a heavily outdated/low performance/incompetitive hardware, are very expensive, an many of them are incompatible with the x86 architecture.

Also, many of these devices has a proprietary BIOS that needs to be reflashed with Coreboot, which is a non-trivial task to do even for an experienced hacker, and can easily brick your device (there are recovery methods, but they requires expensive tools and professional knowledge*).

I can post you here the list of these devices if you're interested, but since most of these devices doesn't fulfill people's basic requirements (web browsing - usually small/low resolution screen, videocalling - lack of hardware accelerated encoding of video, 3d gaming - non-existent or very basic 3d acceleration), these are only just toys to play with and not a device you can rely on a business trip.

* http://libreplanet.org/wiki/LibrePlanet:Conference/2013/Program/Coreboot_Install_Party

jxself
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What you raise a technical issues, and some of it seems to be a
distraction: 3D acceleration, for example, is generally problematic no
matter where you look, although that's improving, but really that's an
orthogonal issue to the BIOS.

The free software movement's not about technical things, and is not
trying to make the argument that we can make things technically better
by being free.

Some people look for freedom. Others look for convenience and only use
free things when they are convenient.

Your response helps to clarify positions there: We're looking for
different things.

I'm reminded of this little blurb: http://aws.bluehome.net/better.oga

I selected the ThinkPad X60s because it's supported by Coreboot and I
was actually present at the Coreboot Install Party at the FSF's
LibrePlanet conference. That's when Coreboot was installed on my laptop.

stefano
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On Sat, 25 May 2013 20:42:54 +0200 (CEST), you wrote:
>I doesn't knew Coreboot isn't fully-free (e.g. contain binary-blobs).
>Wikipedia states that it's released under under the GNU GPL and doesn't
>specify additional licenses. It's a shame, that Coreboot went the same way
>like Linux did.

For those interested, you can read the coreboot mailing list thread about the
topic (found on DDG):

http://www.coreboot.org/pipermail/coreboot/2012-April/069564.html

--
Stefano

Fortune of the day: "Tonight's the night: Sleep in a eucalyptus tree."

lembas
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Thanks, but what a sad read.

quiliro@congresolibre.org
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El 23/05/13 19:00, name at domain escribió:
> To ssdclickofdeath:
>
> 1. A replacement FLOSS compatible wifi module can be bought from 3-5
> bucks on eBay. I recommend the Atheros AR5B95 card.

Would you please report it on h-node.com

--
Saludos libres,

Quiliro Ordóñez
Presidente (en conjunto con el resto de socios)
Asociación de Software Libre del Ecuador - ASLE
Av de la Prensa N58-219 y Cristóbal Vaca de Castro
Quito, Ecuador
(02)-600 8579
IRC: http://webchat.freenode.net?channels=asle&uio=OT10cnVlJjEwPXRydWU3a

Todo correo que reciba será tratado como información pública, de libre copia y modificación, sin importar cualquier nota de confidencialidad.

ssdclickofdeath
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The site is h-node.org.

ssdclickofdeath
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The Pavilion seems to be close to a Core 2 Duo.
Seems like a good computer.

Core 2 Duo with similar specs: http://browser.primatelabs.com/geekbench2/1981380

HP Pavilion Chromebook: Called 'GOOGLE Parrot,' seems the same: http://browser.primatelabs.com/geekbench2/1975587

If the site contains proprietary javascript, here are the scores (higher is better): HP Pavilion: 2532
HP Elitebook (Core 2 Duo Machine): 2878

mYself
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No, HP Pavilion Chromebook's codename is called "Butterfly":

http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices

Beware, that if you choose to buy a Chromebook (except the "Pixel"), you cannot install an operating system as usual because it uses a free BIOS (Coreboot) and ommit SeaBIOS, which is required to simulate the classic BIOS behaviour.

UPDATE: It is possible that the Pavilion Chromebook has SeaBIOS, like "Pixel" because of the same-month release, but there is none info about this topic on the Internet, so it's just an idea. Also, I does not found any instructions on how to install GNU/Linux on it, so the usability is questionable. I recommend you rather not to buy the HP Pavilion Chromebook until there will be more information on this topic.

ssdclickofdeath
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To mYself: I should have happened to look in your signature before starting this thread, I may have known which laptop to buy, assuming you didn't recently change it because of this thread :)

mYself
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Nah, that profile information is a little bit outdated (because I was away from the forums for a long time) but still valid. It should provide some basic information on what hardware to choose from, but just really basic.

Chris

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I believe on at least one of these Chromebooks that are being suggested there is a switch and warning that come up every time. It says something about being in developer mode should you install GNU/Linux. You can get around it with some trickery. I think it is a key combination if I recall. I think to get it in this developer mode also requires some hacking. I believe it requires you to open up the notebook and flip a switch. I don't believe the wifi card is free software friendly either. I think it can be replaced though. Maybe somebody who has one can confirm the details.

mYself
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1. You doesn't need to disassemble the whole laptop to switch to developer mode. There is just a switch on the side of the Chromebook. Newer models uses a software switch. The instructions on how to do this can be easily found on the Internet if not directly in the link I provided. The developer mode is a cost for a free software BIOS. Even laptops from ThinkPenguin are using a proprietary BIOS.

2. The WiFi card (Atheros) IS free software friendly, that's why I suggested it. I can post here the precise chip model numbers if you're interested.

Chris

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I meant that it takes a bit of work to install GNU/Linux and then I believe it alerts you to it every time you boot GNU/Linux in the developer mode. No ThinkPenguin machines come with coreboot. x86 is a difficult platform to work with. Either you take AMD solutions and end up with a non-free graphics component alongside a free BIOS or you take Intel and end up with a non-free BIOS. Intel's not been cooperative in regards to coreboot whereas AMD has been. The advantage of going with Intel's solution is they do release the source code under a free software compatible license so 3d acceleration works.

I don't believe that they are shipping only atheros cards. I had the chance to touch one at Libre planet and the wireless did not work with GNU/Linux or it did not work with a free software GNU/Linux. It might be they ship with different cards though so some systems had/have atheros cards and some don't. You can probably swap whatever it has for an atheros card in either case. It is one more piece that needs to be hacked on to get it to a working state.

mYself
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> 1st paragraph.

Agreed. It's not as easy as with a classic proprietary BIOS but it still can be done (very easily on "Pixel"). The Intel vs. AMD situation on the Coreboot side is a practical (Intel) vs. ethical (AMD) choice. On the desktop side, I would probably go for AMD (Coreboot) and buy a Nouveau supported nVidia card, while on the laptop side I'll get the Intel.

> 2nd paragraph.

I doesn't searched through all the Chromebook models so the older generation might contain non-Atheros cards, but those what I recommended do not, and are supported by the ath9k driver (no idea about bluetooth support, which is integrated on these cards, but I can search for this if you were interested).

ssdclickofdeath
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'open source' loving Google seems to find a way to screw up free software almost every time.

mYself
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No, at least not this time. The reason why Google has chosen to go this way is because he wanted to have chromebooks with the quickest boot times, fool-free (if the system is screwed up, the BIOS detects it and can automatically fix it even if you replaced the internal storage with a new one, by restoring the system from a previously created system recovery USB key).

Chromebooks was not designed to be used with any other operating system other than Google Chrome OS, but Google does not prevent users from doing that. Conversely, he supports of doing that. In the latest model of Chromebook (the "Pixel") the developers figured out how to make possible to boot from an image file so that alternative operating systems (like GNU/Linux) can be installed. Unfortunatelly, this can be done only on the "Pixel" the moment (and possibly all the later models after the "Pixel" was released), and on previous models only by installing ChrUbuntu or hacking the computer yourself.

ssdclickofdeath
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I found the Acer C7 upgrade instructions - http://acer.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/19264/~/how-do-i-replace-the-ram-on-my-acer-aspire-one-756%3F

So, with this computer, do you install ChrUbuntu, then use a package that converts it into Trisquel?

mYself
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Hello again.

> I found the Acer C7 upgrade instructions

The Acer C7 is a hacker-friendly laptop. Both storage and memory is replacable/upgradable. The maximum supported RAM is 16GB. You can also replace the HDD with SSD, or with a higher capacity HDD, but there is a slight difference in the thickness of the drive accepted by the laptop (7mm vs 8mm, as one of my HDDs), and you cannot install a classic-sized 2.5". The following video shows a hack about how can you install a classic-sized 2.5" SSD into it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0gNi4sNLiQ

> So, with this computer, do you install ChrUbuntu, then use a package that converts it into Trisquel?

This is pretty much the basic idea on how should this be easily accomplished by a general user. This older model lacks SeaBIOS and ChrUbuntu is a community hack to make a workaround for this problem. On "Pixel", you can install Trisquel directly from ISO.

Either you choose to buy "C7" or "Pixel", you get the best what money can buy today (even if you're not a free software enthusiast). Also, did you know that Linus Torvalds, the author of the Linux-kernel is a user of the Chromebook Pixel?

http://www.zdnet.com/chromebooks-biggest-fan-linus-torvalds-7000012842/

Chris

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I believe they had a lot of trouble getting things to work. But the reason they wanted a free BIOS (?) was to speed up the boot time. It was not an ethical issue.

mYself
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I agree, but I doesn't care about their intentions as long as I can get a laptop with a pre-flashed free BIOS.