Abracadabra, OpenSUSE Me!

Acer Chromebook 14 CB3-431

Last week I posted about rescuing a 12-year-old Acer C710 Chromebook someone sent me, by installing Bodhi Linux. Already I’ve come to love that distro for its user friendliness and light footprint. I’m fairly astonished at how smoothly the thing operates, and that even with LibreOffice, the Cheese webcam recorder (I’ll be using for game demo videos), and the Telegram desktop app, there’s still more than 3GB of hard drive space of the initial 16GB. This thing is destined to be my travel companion.

This weekend I figured I’d try out a few other Linux distros on the Acer CB3-431 in the photo, which has been running Win11 just for the cussedness of jamming such a big OS onto a Chromebook with only 4GB of RAM and 32GB of drive.

The biggest takeaway: God how old this thing felt, straining under the weight of Win11; and how new it feels running OpenSUSE. I mean, it’s exactly the same machine as before, with the same lightly scuffed shell and a keyboard with the C nearly worn off its key, but it feels like a Chromebook fresh off the shelves (maybe even better than one in its original price range).

Before settling on OpenSUSE, I sized up a few different Linux distros recommended by the Chrultrabook community website, and tried out a few, going through the long install process for each.

Chrultrabook.com recommends staying away from Ubuntu and its various flavors, due to problems with some Chromebook types.Their recommended Linux distros are Arch Linux or EndeavourOS, Fedora or Ultramarine Linux, openSUSE Tumbleweed, Debian 12 (Bookworm), and Pop!_OS. I had installed Ubuntu before reading that note, and liked what I saw, but why risk fate with my newbie status?

Halfway through the Arch install I aborted, frightened off by all the code. Pop!_OS is a Ubuntu fork (I hope I’m using that term correctly), and though free has elements owned by a computer manufacturer. Plus it’s as aimed at “STEM and creative professionals.” I wanted something less tuned, for which I could pick and choose apps to suit my needs and the limits of my Chromebook’s hardware. Each of the other distros would take up two thirds of its drive, and strain within the confines of its RAM, so OpenSUSE it was! (I may switch to Bodhi later, for familiarity, or not.)

OpenSUSE nstallation was fairly straightforward, with only one screen that gave me pause, about setting Internet parameters, apparently hardware settings. But online message board advice was to ignore it, which I did, with no resulting problem. The desktop is attractive, as you can see in the photo, with that popup Welcome screen containing links to an intial Read Me file, Documentation, and software programs on the left. On the right are support for your chosen desktop environment (after some online research, I had chosen Xfce from a half dozen other options), and invitations to support in turn by volunteering time and skill, or donation.

Three things I most use my current workhorse Windows PC for are Affinity Publisher, OBS Studio (an open source, full featured video recording program), and Open Shot video editor (another open source program). OBS Studio and Open Shot are now installed on the Acer 14; we’ll see how well they perform, but I’m expecting they’ll do well.

As for the Affinity suite, they have no Linux version (despite a community of users asking for it and jumping through hoops to code proof of concept imports). I spent many hours trying to get the Windows version to run through Wine or Bottles, but there was always some bit of installation code or another that my chosen OS got hung up at (pretty much always a Windows’ Dot Net failure). Nonetheless, those hours were hardly wasted, given how much I learned about using the Terminal window. It brought back memories of those early DOS days, before desktop GUIs were invented.

In the end, I installed Scribus instead, for which DriveThruRPG once had user support pages but no longer. Even their Affinity instructions are thin, with the assumption that most companies are using Adobe Acrobat. Which they probably are.

But for small publishers, an Adobe subscription is overly costly, and Adobe’s recent invasive terms of service changes are raising a stink among even full-time pros. I’d love to stick with Affinity, but the company has zero plans to develop a Linux version.

And today it dawned on me that, facing the question of layout software once again, why bother suiting DriveThru, simply to satisfy their choice of printer? A printer that requires the old PDF/X-1a:2013 format, which delivers such washed out, off color books and cards. It’s a lot of expense and effort for disappointing quality. Seriously, hold up a print book from DriveThru next to one from Lulu, or Jostens, or whomever, and the difference is shocking.

Such a lot of trouble and expense for such marginal results. It may be time to follow the example of some other successful small press folks I know, and drift to other waters, at least for other than PDF sales.

But this post isn’t about that aside. It’s about installing some type of Linux on old Chromebooks. Doing so isn’t for everyone: There’s some work involved with even the most user friendly distros, due to the Chromebook’s unique design. You have to open the case and disable the write protect, then flash a new BIOS, and walk through the Linux install process itself (which ranges from as straightforward as installing Windows in some cases, to expert code jockey in others). After that, with most Chromebooks you have to run three lines of code to make the speakers and headphone jack work. Next, there’s the issue of top row keys (such as volume and backlight controls) not functioning until you access the key binding interface in the menu and map them to do what you want (not horribly difficult, time consuming).

In the end, however, you’ve rescued a Chromebook from a landfill, and ended up with a sweet little machine with all the portability of a Chromebook but more of a customizable desktop OS. Or maybe send it to someone like me. I’ll install Bodhi Linux, LibreOffice, and some multimedia programs, and then pass it along to someone in need. There’s too much potential in these machines to let them go to waste.

2 thoughts on “Abracadabra, OpenSUSE Me!

  • June 20, 2024 at 1:46 pm

    I’ll confess, with this Acer CB3-431, it took me several days of experimentation and digging through message boards to solve one last heartbreaking problem with the audio. But in the end, I stumbled across a helpful post with a line of code that fixed things.

    Bodhi Linux on the 12-year-old machine was a pig simple installation. But the 8-year-old machine had the same problem with every Linux distro I tried. I kept at it only through sheer cussedness, because the screen is so clear, and the speakers rich enough, that it would be a crime to discard this Chromebook.

    Through the process, I learned a heck of a lot about terminal commands, of course. As well as the satisfaction of the old Q/A: Why do you keep banging your head against the wall? Because it feels so good when I stop. XD

  • June 17, 2024 at 11:55 am

    I think this is awesome. I have a Chromebook with Linux on it, but I have to hit a specific keystroke combination for it to boot and it’s still pretty slow. That’s not an indictment of Linux, the same machine was painfully slow when ChromeOS ran on it.

    I haven’t tried OpenSUSE in a long time, I might take that for a spin.

    I love this fight against planned obsolescence and electronics waste. I’m trying to get my kids excited about it too, and haven’t had much luck yet.

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