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3 Create Your Own Linux Computer

In this chapter, we will explain how to turn a Chromebook computer into a Linux computer. This chapter has four sections:

3.1 Why We Need to Create Our Own Computer
3.2 The Rapidly Changing World of Solid State Drives
3.3How to Upgrade an Acer C910 from 32 to 256 GB SSD
3.4 Install Linux Mint on a Chromebook Acer C910
The main reason for replacing Google Chrome with Linux Mint is to be able to keep working on your documents, images and videos even when you do not have Internet access. A second important reason to install Linux Mint is to access more than 10,000 free programs for processing images, videos and documents that are available through the Linux Mint Software Center. A third reason to install Mint is so we can use the Mint File Manager to keep our documents, images and videos well organized. In fact, the main reason to expand our Solid State Drive from 32GB to 256 GB is to be able to have plenty of room for our documents and programs while working with Linux Mint.

Before we get into the steps to replace the Chrome operating system with Linux Mint, we will explain why a complete replacement is better than the other two options for using Linux Mint on a Chromebook. The other two options are using a program called Crouton or a program called Chrubuntu.

Why Replacing Chrome is More Reliable than Crouton or ChrUbuntu
ChrUbuntu is a process for “dual booting” or dividing or partitioning the solid state drive between Linux Mint and Google Chrome. For example, you can allot half of the SSD or 100GB to Mint and the other half or 100GB to Chrome. At the computer startup screen, you would then need to choose which operating system you want to use by pressing on control plus D to enter the Chrome operating system or Control plus L to enter the Linux operating system. The problem with Chrubuntu is that there really is no need for the Chrome operating system once Linux Mint is installed. Having a dual boot option just adds another step when starting your computer. ChrUbuntu also has problems with trackpads and other devices not working and requiring additional configuration.

The other option, called Crouton, allows us to run Google Chrome and Linux Mint at the same time. You can switch back and forth between the two operating systems at the click of a button without needing to reboot to switch operating systems (like you would have to do with ChrUbunutu). Also because Crouton uses the Google Chrome drivers, track pads and all of your other devices will work. The problem with Crouton is that it only works in a risky setup called “Developer Mode.” The Developer mode start screen urges users to click on the “space bar” to re-enable Chrome. But it fails to warn users that clicking on this space bar will wipe out any and all data, documents and programs you have stored in Linux Mint! The method we will use does show this same screen for about one second. But the space bar resetting function will be disabled – eliminating any chance of losing your data, documents and programs by clicking on the wrong key.

8 Steps to Completely Replace the Chrome Operating System with Linux Mint
There are 8 important steps for installing Linux Mint. We will need either WIFI Internet access or an Internet Ethernet cable and USB to Ethernet connector.

#1 Make a copy of Chrome Operating System. Then turn off Chromebook.
#2 Remove the Write Protection Screw
#3 Turn on Chromebook and put Chrome into Developer mode.
#4 Open a Terminal to Update the Coreboot Startup Program
#5 Enable Coreboot to Start by Default
#6 Make a Live USB of Linux Mint or any other Linux Distribution.
#7 Use the Live USB to install Linux Mint

These 8 steps will update the Coreboot startup program and replace the Chrome operating system.

Step #1 Make a recovery copy of Chrome Operating System.
(Note: if you already did this for upgrading the SSD, you do not need to do it again).
For this step you are going to need either a USB stick or an SD card that is at least 4 GB.
Turn on your Chromebook and insert a clean flash drive. Then type Chrome://imageburner in your browser. It will take you to a page that says "Create Recovery Media". It will detect the flash drive you have plugged in. Press the "OK" button under "USB Memory Stick Detected". This will wipe your USB or SD card clean, and place a recovery image of the Chrome operating system on it in case you ever want to reinstall the Chrome Operating System. Also, if you have any documents or programs on your SSD, you should copy these onto a separate USB stick as the SSD will be wiped clean when we install Linux Mint.

In our previous article, we explained some of the benefits of the Acer 910 Chromebook. This revolutionary new 15 ½ inch laptop only has a couple of drawbacks. The first is that it comes with a Solid State Drive (SSD) that only has 32 GB of capacity. The second drawback is that the Chrome operating system is extremely limited in terms of the programs it can run. A 32 GB SSD is simply not enough for folks who want to store their own images, videos and documents on their own computer. We will therefore explain in this article how to replace the 32 GB SSD with a 256GB SSD – for a cost of about $90. Then in the next article, we will explain how to replace the Chrome operating system with a much more functional and completely free operating system called Linux Mint – which will allow us to access tens of thousands of free open source programs.

There are 9 steps to the SSD Upgrade process:
#1 Order the Correct 256 GB SSD Replacement Drive
#2 Set Up Your New Acer C910
#3 Save your documents to a USB drive.
#4 Create a Chrome Recovery USB Stick.
#5 Open the Rear Cover of our Chromebook.
#6 Remove the 32GB SSD.
#7 Insert the 256GB SSD.
#8 Replace the Cover.
#9 Restart the Chromebook, Insert the Recovery USB Stick and Follow the Recovery process.

We will review each of these steps in more detail. You’ll need a 4GB USB stick or SD card, a small cross-head screwdriver and the 256 GB M.2 SATA drive. The process will take 30 to 60 minutes including the Chrome system recovery process.

#1 Order the Correct 256 GB SSD Replacement Drive
As we noted in the previous article, solid state drives are 50 to 500 times faster than traditional Hard Drives that use a spinning disc. Because of the rapid decline in price of solid state drives, they are now within the reach of virtually everyone. There are several kinds of Solid State Drives. The most common is called SATA. The second most common is the MiniSATA also called mSATA. The third most common and newest option is called M.2 SATA. The SATA part is often dropped from the description which is not good because there is a newer option that is not SATA called M.2 PCI (PCI has one notch in the connector while M.2 SATA has 2 notches). M.2 is pronounced “M dot 2.” The Acer C910 uses the M.2 SATA Solid State Drive. The M.2 SATA is 3.5mm thick, 22mm wide and comes in three lengths. These are 42mm, 60mm and 80mm.

Below is a picture of the three lengths for the M.2 SSD models.


The Acer C910 uses the shortest of these three lengths. This short SSD is often described as a “2242” which is simply the width followed by the length.

Brand Options for our 256GB SSD
There are several brands of 256 GB M.2 2242 SSDs on the market. One of the most recent is made by Intel. The Intel Model 530 M.2 240 GB SSD costs about $185 at cdw.com and has a 5 year warranty. However, it can be difficult to get. If you have the funds and want the most reliable M.2 2242 SSD, then this is the model we recommend. However, because this huge extra cost places the entire computer cost outside of the budget of most low income parents and most school districts, we will use a less expensive alternative.

Transcend also makes a 256 GB M.2 2242 SSD called the MTS 400. The Acer C910 is not yet listed as compatible with the MTS 400 on the Transcend website. However, it has been confirmed as the correct model by several C910 users on the Internet. The 256 GB version of the MTS 400 costs about $115. However, it appears that this SSD will crash your Chromebook unless you disable a power management feature called ALPM. If you decide to use this SSD, see the following link for how to disable ALPM: https://superuser.com/questions/887916/transcend-mts400-ssd-crashes-my-acer-c720-chromebook-how-to-disable-sata-power

The third and most common 256gb SSD option is called MyDigitalSSD. It is available at Amazon for about $90 and directly from MyDigitalSSD for $87. Here is the full name of this SSD: MyDigitalSSD 256GB Super Boot Drive 42mm SATA III (6G) M.2 2242 NGFF SSD – MDM242-SB-256. Here is the direct link to MyDigitalSSD:

A problem with this brand is that in the past, about one in twenty of these SSDs may have failed. An SSD failure would cause us to lose all of our data if our laptop is not backed up frequently. In speaking with the technical support person at MyDigitalSSD, he said that most of the claimed failures were due to folks not following the proper procedures such as not using the Chromebook Restore function. Folks then wrote bad reviews but his testing of the SSDs indicated that there was nothing wrong with them. There are two versions of this SSD. The slightly better version is called SuperBootDrive and comes with a Toshiba A19nm MLC Toggle NAND Flash. This SSD comes with a three year warranty. There is a slightly cheaper version called the SuperBootDrive Eco which uses a Micron flash instead of a Toshiba flash. Either way, MyDigitalSSD seems to be pretty good about replacing a failed SSD. But this warranty does not cover getting your lost data back. One option would be to get a free Cloud storage system linked to your SSD which makes a constant backup of your SSD every time you go online. Another option would be to backup your current folders every day or every week. This is the price of working with very new technology. My own view is that this SSD is not likely to fail if we are careful about following all of the proper steps.

The digital divide is the difference in access to technology suffered by students from poor families and low income school districts compared to students from middle class and wealthy families from higher income school districts. In this article, we will explain how a new laptop called the Acer C910 can help close this digital divide – and what this technology revolution means for Learning Equity, Social Justice, Low Income Students and Cash Starved School Districts - by giving lower income students better access to state of the art computers!

Until recently, students and school districts had only two choices. They could purchase inexpensive Chromebooks such as the Acer C710 – or pay huge fees for fully functioning Windows or Apple laptops with MS Office. For cash strapped school districts, the choice was obvious. More than 500 school districts across the US bought more than 4 million Chromebooks in just the past 2 years. While costing only a couple hundred dollars per student, Chromebooks suffered from several problems. First, they only worked online - requiring every student to have a school assigned Google Drive account to store their school related projects. This raises important privacy concerns about Google and others data mining student documents.


A second problem is that many low income students do not have Internet access in their homes. Their parents simply cannot afford $50 to $100 per month for Internet access. These low income students therefore are at an extreme disadvantage to students who are able to access the Internet from home in terms of completing and turning in their homework assignments during evenings and weekends. For example, a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that out of America's 30 million families with school age children, nearly 20% or 5 million families lacked Internet access. This lack of Internet access was most pronounced among lower income families. Almost half of all low income homes with school aged children lacked Home Internet Access. Even one in four medium income families lacked Home Internet Access. But of those families making over $50,000 per year, over 90% had high speed Internet access in their homes. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/20/the-numbers-behind-the-broadband-homework-gap/


A similar study found that families with Home Internet access also had student access to a computer at home while low income families without Internet access also lacked student access to a computer at home. Half of all low income students lacked access to a computer at home while only 6% of middle to high income students lacked access to a computer at home.

As part of an effort to bridge the so-called digital divide—the gap between rich and poor when it comes to access to technology—the Kent School District has for six years given every student a laptop, beginning in seventh grade. But some of these students don’t need to carry the bags home—because they can’t get online there. It’s a problem that districts are increasingly facing as they turn to technology to revolutionize their teaching. In Kent, about 9 percent of students, or roughly 2,500 kids, can’t access the Internet once they go home, district surveys show. Many of them are the poorest students, the very ones district officials believe would benefit from more exposure to technology to help them catch up to their more advantaged peers.”

It becomes a civil rights issue. Low income students are being denied equal access to knowledge and information that is part of education in the 21st century.” Edward Vargas, Superintendent of the Kent School District

Another study found that lack of home Internet access not only prevented students from completing their homework assignments – but also reduced their ability to participate in class discussions the following day. Nearly all parents recognize the need for home Internet access. However many low income families simply cannot afford the monthly cost. Wealthier students not only had Internet access but their parents were able to buy them more expensive Windows or Apple computers that could work offline as well as online.

A third problem of the Acer C710 is a very small screen size. Although it is called an 11 inch laptop, the actual dimensions of the Acer C710 screen is only 10 inches by 6 inches for a screen area of 60 square inches.


By contrast, the Acer C910 is called a 15 ½ inch computer with a 14 inch by 8 inch screen – giving it a screen area of 112 square inches or nearly twice the screen area of an Acer C910. This is extremely important when having two document or browser windows open at the same time for side by side editing.

A fourth problem of the Acer C710 is a limited battery life of less than four hours. This means that students have to carry a battery pack to school with them to charge their computers and that schools need to have dozens of electrical extensions in classrooms to keep the computers charged. By contrast, the Acer C910 has a battery life of 9 hours meaning students can leave their chargers at home and charge them in the evening. Schools also can charge computers after school rather than during school hours.

The most important problem with Google Chromebooks is that there are only a limited number of programs available for Chromebooks. MS Office and many other programs simply will not work on a Google Chromebook. Chromebooks are therefore pretty limited in terms of what a student is able to do and learn. Again, students who have wealthier parents have access to a more complete line of software programs. Thankfully, the new Acer C910 is made in such a way that we can easily upgrade this laptop to the a fully functioning Linux Mint computer in less than one hour – for free. The result is a laptop that can run almost any programs – including MS Office - and comes with access to over 70,000 free open source programs.


Best of all, there is no longer the need for Internet access for students to get their work done and no need for storing documents on Google Drive as students can store their documents locally in the Linux Mint File Manager.


What about low cost Windows laptops?
In response to the rising popularity of Chromebooks in schools, Microsoft has come out with a series of inexpensive Windows laptops such as the HP stream which has an initial cost of only $200 and comes with one year of MS Office. I guess they figure that people cannot do math – because the five year cost for MS Office is still $500 in addition to the $200 for the laptop. But huge long term costs are just the beginning of the problems with cheap Windows computers. First, the Stream is only 10 inches wide so it has the same limited screen size as the Acer C710. Second, it has a low resolution screen making it harder to read text. It costs nearly $2,000 for a full functioning Windows laptop with the same screen size and resolution as the Acer C910 with Linux Mint. Third, the HP Stream has only 2 GB of RAM versus 4 GB of RAM for the Acer C910. This meaning that the HP Stream cannot run complex programs without the risk of constant freezing. Fourth, the HP Stream is extremely slow. For example, it takes 34 seconds to load versus a Chromebook with Linux Mint that takes under 8 seconds to load. This slow loading time is due mainly to the bloated Windows operating system which is five times larger than the Linux Mint operating system. The bloated Windows operating system also means that the HP Stream has a much lower battery life than the Acer C910. Finally, there is no real storage on the HP Stream as the Windows operating system takes up nearly the entire 32 GB on the hard drive. By comparison, the Acer C910 still has over 20 GB of storage space on the hard drive thanks to the much smaller file size of the Linux Mint operating system. All Microsoft is doing with their low cost laptops is selling people a crippled computer with a very high longterm cost.

The Acer C910 with Linux Mint is a true revolution in computer technology. It is better than any current $2,000 laptop from either Microsoft or Apple - at a price of less than $400 – the first fully functional laptop at a price that low income students and cash starved school districts can afford. To learn more about the Acer C910 and how to install Linux on it, visit the following page:

The One Percent Solution… A Plan to Provide Every Middle School and High School Student in Washington state with a Fully Functioning Laptop
There are one million students attending school in Washington state – with about 80,000 students in each grade. This makes 240,000 students attending Middle School grades 6 through 8 and 320,000 students attending High School grades 9 through 12. This is a total of 560,000 students. The Acer C910 can be bought for about $200 in large lots of one thousand or more. Thus, the total cost for purchasing every middle and high school student in Washington state this revolutionary laptop would only be about $100 million. This is only one percent of the $10 billion our state spends annually on public schools. The ongoing annual cost for each new class of 6th graders would only be 80,000 times $200 or $16 million – which is much less than we currently spend on worthless unfair, unreliable high stakes tests.

Students always respond better to rewards and incentives than to threats and punishment. To help low income students get their homework assignments done, we should allow every student to bring their laptop and charger home. As an incentive for students to stay in school and get their high school diploma, we should give each graduating senior their Chromebook as a gift from the state. This gift of a state of the art laptop would be something that could actually help our students become career and college ready.

Closing the International Internet Gap
Giving every student access to a high quality fully functioning state of the art laptop only solves half of the problem. As we have already noted, half of all students from low income families in Washington state - and the rest of the United States - also lack high speed Internet access. Billionaires constantly talk about the need to compete with other nations on International tests (despite the fact that these tests are unreliable). What the billionaires fail to point out is that the Internet system in the US is not only among the most expensive in the world, it is also among the slowest in the world. It is unfair to expect our kids to compete with kids from other nations, when kids in other nations have access to a much better Internet system at a much lower price. It is like handing our kids a bicycle and expecting them to win a "Race to the Top" against kids who have been handed a race car! Here is a chart showing the average download speed in various nations around the world. According to a study by the OECD, the average Internet speed in the US is about half the Internet speed in other developed nations.
https://www.oecd.org/internet/broadband/oecdbroadbandportal. htm


Only it is even more unfair than this because students in the US have to pay much higher prices for Internet access than students in other nations. A 2014 study by a group called New America found that for 25 MBPS access, a modest high speed connection, the average price in the US was about $60 per month while in many nations the same service was less than $40 per month. (See below for link and next page for graph).


What is Causing the High Prices and Low Speeds of Internet Access in the US?
There are two factors driving high Internet access prices and low Internet speeds in the US. The first is that many Internet Service Providers are granted a monopoly over local markets by corrupt government officials. With a monopoly, a corporation has no incentive to improve service or lower prices. Second, nations with the highest speeds and lowest costs have had governments that invest in building the Internet structure in their country. This has resulted in some countries, especially Scandinavian countries, having both very high speed service and very low prices. These same countries offer students free access to high quality computers and the students in these same countries are among the highest performing students in the world on International tests. So if the billionaires really want to help our students compete on International tests, instead of attacking our schools, billionaires should offer to pay some taxes so that we can afford to build an Internet structure similar to that found in other nations.

Learning from History
We can take a lesson from the private electric monopolies that dominated the nation 100 years ago. They were nearly all corrupt and spent huge sums electing and bribing corrupt politicians. Then in 1932, the voters booted the corrupt corporate owned politicians out of office and elected a group of progressive "Roosevelt" Democrats. Over the course of the next 20 years, this group built Public Power systems all across the nation - resulting in the best electrical system and the lowest prices in the world. Franklin Roosevelt said that electrical power was too important to the nation's economic prosperity be left in the hands of greedy corporate bosses.


The Internet matters as much to our modern economic as electric power did 100 years ago. We should do like other nations and invest in a Public Internet system in order to offer all Americans better Internet access and lower Internet prices. We should think of the Internet as the modern version of the Public Library and invest in the Public Internet just as our parents and grandparents invested in public libraries, public schools, public roads and public power systems in the 1940s and 1950s. Other nations have understood the important of a public Internet system. It is time for the US to join in the knowledge revolution.


Now that we understand why the Acer C910 is a revolution in computer technology, in the next article we will explain how to modify the Acer C910 to make it even better.

With an estimated market of more than 600 million Windows laptop and desktop computers that haven't been upgraded in more than four years, a lot of people are now using computers that are very insecure. Windows computers can be hacked and halted at a moment's notice. Hundreds of millions of people are therefore faced with the decision of what they will use for their next computer. There are also millions of high school and college students every year who need a computer to help them complete their educational homework assignments. In previous articles, we have explained why Linux computers are the fastest, more dependable and secure computers in the world. The only reason they are not more popular is that, due to Microsoft and Apple monopolizing the computer market, it is very difficult to even purchase a Linux computer. In this article, we will explain why you can and should create your own Linux computer.

A Brief History of Computers
To better understand why our current computers are so unreliable, we will take a brief tour down memory lane. The software that runs all computers consists of basically three parts – a startup program, an operating system program and a series of application programs.

The startup program sets verifies the power levels of all of the hardware in a computer when it first starts. It checks basic settings and then passes control of the computer over to the operating system. Historically, up until about 2012, all computers used a simple startup program called BIOS – which stood for Basic Input Output System. In 2012, with the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft forced computer manufacturers to switch to a much more complex and much less secure startup program called UEFI. Apple now also uses the UEFI startup program. The benefit with UEFI if you are Microsoft and Apple is that is gives Microsoft and Apple the ability to turn off any computer that it thinks is running software it does not like by remotely turning off the startup program – preventing the computer from even starting when you push the Power On button. This is commonly called a Kill Switch. The drawback of EUFI if you are a computer user is that your computer is open to remote attack – not only by Microsoft or Apple – but by any computer hacker who wants to turn off your computer. Partly in response to this security risk, the Linux community created a free open source startup program called Core Boot. However, the only current computers using Coreboot are Google Chromebooks. Ironically, the reason they are using Coreboot is to keep the cost down!

The operating system can also present a security risk. In the 1980s and 1990s, programs were created for computers to exchange information over the Internet. We call such programs Web Browsers. Unfortunately, these interactive web browsing programs are the primary way that computers are attacked with weapons we call computer viruses. It was recognized early on that web browsers were a security risk to the operating system.

For many years, the makers of all operating systems including Microsoft, Apple and Linux kept their web browsers separate from their operating system and even put up a series of walls between the operating system and the web browsers (and all other applications) to protect the operating system from being altered by or harmed by programs that we loaded while folks were on the Internet.

This all changed in 1997 when Bill Gates made the shockingly bad decision to incorporate the Internet Explorer Web Browser inside of the Windows 98 operating system. The benefit of doing in the eyes of Microsoft was the ability to turn off the Windows operating system on any computer that was running programs it did not like. Every Windows operating system version since 1998 has had this “feature.” To their credit, both Apple and Linux continued to keep their operating systems separate from their web browsers – which is why Linux and Apple computers were more secure and much harder to attack than computers using the Windows operating system.

In 2012, with the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft made the security program much worse by adding a second operating system, commonly called the Metro or Mobile operating system to their former operating system. This was supposedly done in order to make their computers more compatible with their mobile phones. But whatever the reason, it was and still is a disaster as it requires two separate control panels and two separate web browsers – both of which are inside of their Windows operating system. This means that Windows 8 and Windows 10 both have two back doors – in addition to the UEFI kill switch. This gives hackers several ways to enter the Windows 8 and 10 operating system. This is why security experts warn that Windows 8 and Windows 10 computers are not secure. This is also why the vast majority of web servers (the computers that run the Internet) use Linux.
Ironically, while most servers have used the Linux operating system for more than 20 years, less knowledgeable members of the general public were forced to either buy an insecure Windows computer or pay a huge price to get a more secure Apple computer. Linux computers were “blacklisted” from the market due to the power of the Microsoft Monopoly.

Thus, for many years, folks who cared about security and/or privacy typically had to buy a Windows computer and replace the Windows operating system with the Linux operating system – a process that involved changing a couple of settings in the BIOS startup program and only took a few minutes.

Sadly, as we noted above, in 2012, Microsoft forced all computer manufacturers to replace the simple BIOS startup program with the UEFI startup program. While BIOS did not have a kill switch, UEFI does. Contrary to claims made by Microsoft, this kill switch cannot be turned off or disabled. In fact, the code for UEFI is copyrighted and encrypted. Anyone who claims that they know what is in UEFI is mis-informed. Like most dangerous products, the ugly truth of UEFI is deliberately kept hidden from the public. It therefore does no good to put Linux on a Windows 8 or Windows 10 computer – or any Windows or Apple computer made since 2012 – because Microsoft still control the keys to UEFI and can remotely turn off or alter your computer without notice.

Here is what one reviewer said about the dangers of UEFI: “Modern UEFI firmware is a closed-source, proprietary blob of software baked into your PC’s hardware. This blob includes remote management and monitoring features, which make it a potential security and privacy threat. You might want to replace the UEFI firmware and get complete control over your PC’s hardware with Coreboot, a free BIOS alternative.”

Yet, because UEFI is baked into the hardware of your computer, it is extremely difficult to replace UEFI with Coreboot. Just as bad, there are very few computer companies producing computers with Coreboot. For example, a company called Minifree produces the only computer certified by the Free Software Foundation. It is a 12 inch laptop that costs about $600 and uses an offshoot of Coreboot called Libreboot. They also sell a 14 inch model for $900. However, these supposedly “state of the art” computers are actually 2008 Lenovo Thinkpads with some minor alterations. Equally bad, neither of these computers are wide enough to allow side by side editing with a browser open in half the computer and a word processor open in the other half – especially since the screen resolution on these two computers is only 1280 x 800.