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Can Google Chromium OS Extend the Life of an Older Mac? (Part 1)

February 16, 2020 Comments off
An old MacBook that was running OS 10-7 (Leopard)is now running the Chromium OS via the cloudready installer. It's free for home use.
Yes it can! A MacChromeBook!

MacRecycleClinic refurbishes and recycles Macintosh Computers. You know that!

But as we head into the second decade of the 21st Century, we are increasingly seeing older MacBooks, MacMinis and even older iMacs that – at best – can only run up to OS 10.11.6 (El Capitan) and don’t have the hardware to keep up with newer WiFi and security needs.

We’re at the point where we don’t want to give out these machines because they are effectively on their last legs as a Mac.

But the question is, is there a way to extend their lives and still provide for the needs of those we donate to? Could it be… Google’s Chromium OS?


AN ANSWER YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE EXPECTED

The answer is in the installation of the Chromium OS in place of the Mac OS. Chromebooks are commonplace in Montgomery County, Maryland schools and beyond these days and many people have purchased them because they are inexpensive ways to access the Internet and do basic work.

Three of five refurbished Chromebooks on their way to a middle school in North Carolina.
These refurbished Chromebooks are destined for a middle school in North Carolina.

In fact, your MacRecycleClinic is now refurbishing Chromebooks as a way to further our mission of returning usable computers back to the community.

The biggest problem is that you are forced to live within the Google Universe when you use these machines. You must use Google’s cloud applications like Google Docs, you have to use the Chrome browser, Chrome App store, etc. That said, the OS provides an easy user interface and good security.

But because Chromebooks are so inexpensive, they are also cheaply made and don’t always stand up to heavy use – especially in the classroom. Just check EBay for lots of abused machines that are locked to a school network.

Many times, it really is easier to sell for parts (see EBay) – or just toss it (OK- recycle to Shady Grove or your local recycling center) and replace it. That said, we have had good luck just replacing the motherboards (bricked when tied to a school network)(or other components) to bring the machine back to life.


CONVERTING A MAC TO A CHROMEBOOK

Our beloved Macs – including the older MacBooks, MacMinis, white iMacs, etc. – are very well made and able to take a lot more abuse than the Chromebooks can. So if there was a way to install the Chromium OS onto a Mac, we could extend the computer’s life while giving our clients an OS they (or their children really) are used to using.

The Chromium OS is based on Linux and is what’s called “open source.” That means anyone can use it and – more importantly – update or transform it as you chose. The Chrome OS you find on a purchased Chromebook is Google’s version of Chromium and ONLY AVAILABLE for license by vendors who manufacture Chromebooks.

The Chromium Projects website FAQ indicates that Google’s version “has some additional firmware features, including verified boot and easy recovery, which require corresponding hardware changes and thus also don’t work out of the box in Chromium OS builds.”

That said, the open source OS has a lot to offer the home user and since we can’t use Goggle’s version, we’ll move ahead with Chromium. We can do that thanks to a company called Neverware.

NeverWare’s CloudReady site provides excellent instructions for installing the home edition of it’s Chromium OS install software on Macs and PCs.


FIRST TASK: MAKE A CHROMIUM OS/CLOUD READY USB INSTALLER

This article won’t go into HOW to create the installer but it’s not hard (see the video below to help). Take a look at NeverWare’s website first as it has a thorough installation guide. One of the things you need to check is the software company’s list of computers they say can take the Chromium OS. Even so, I think you just have to try it to see if it can be installed!

Other resources include this Lifewire tutorial or check out the numerous YouTube videos.

Create your Chromium Boot Drive with the Chromebook Recovery Utility.

But you will need three things:

  1. The Chrome Browser on your Mac (or Windows machine) to access and run the Chromebook Recovery Utility.
  2. Go to the Neverware.com website and download (to the Downloads folder) the freeware CloudReady app for the Mac. Neverware will recommend you do this on a PC but I have been able to use the Mac version without a problem. The only “issue” is that there is just one 64 bit download. Don’t worry about that – just download it to your Downloads folder and unzip it (your Mac will suggest a program to do this).
  3. A USB stick of at least 8 GB or larger (you will have to dedicate this thumb drive to the installer however, no partitions allowed).

NOTE that Lifewire has not updated their instructions to reflect you only have the 64 bit version of CloudReady to download but go ahead and download it.

Once you've created the CloudReady installer on a USB stick, you can boot via the Option key and then install Chromium via the EFI boot (on the thumb drive.)
Once you’ve created the CloudReady installer on a USB stick, you can boot via the Option key and then install Chromium via the EFI boot (on the thumb drive.)

CREATING THE MAC CHROMEBOOK

This is really the easiest part of the process. Plug in the USB installer into a USB port on the MacBook and start your machine with the Option key pressed down. You can let up when you see the cursor appear on the screen.

Now you’ll be presented with two or three “choices” on screen. One is the hard drive of your MacBook and separately, its recovery drive (not all installs will have a recovery drive but don’t worry about that.)

Your Mac will now boot up as if it were a Chromebook. Cursor over to the bottom right part of the screen and open the window there. At the top left is an icon that says “install OS.” Choose this and follow the screens – your hard drive will be reformatted and the Cloudready version of Chromium installed.

Once installed, the Mac will automatically shut down. Remove the USB stick and restart as normal.


Our next blog will focus on installing Chromium on other Mac hardware and restoring a Chrome OS machine back to the Mac OS. Congratulations! you now have a MacChromebook!

Up next: Installing Cloudready on other Macs.

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