By Chris Hoffman on May 25th, 2015
Want to turn any old computer into a Chromebook? Google doesn’t provide official builds of Chrome OS for any old computer, but there are ways you can install the open-source Chromium OS software or a similar operating system.
These are all easy to play with, so you can run them entirely from a USB drive. Installing them on your computer is optional.
Should You Really Do This?
The Chrome OS software is only part of a Chromebook. Chromebooks are designed to be simple and get updates directly from Google. If you install Chromium OS or a similar operating system on your own computer, you won’t get automatic updates straight from Google like you will on a Chromebook.
Chromebooks are fairly cheap — if you want a Chromebook, you should probably buy one and get the full experience. Instead, you may want to go the other direction entirely — rather than attempting to install Chrome OS on a PC, get a Chromebook and install a full PC Linux operating system on it.
But you may want to get a browser-focused operating system on some old PC hardware you have running around — perhaps it used to run Windows XP and you’d rather have a more secure environment. Here are some ways you can do this.
Chromium OS is the open-source project that forms the basis of Chrome OS, just as Chromium forms the basis of Google Chrome. Google doesn’t provide downloads designed for any computer, just recovery images for Chromebooks. That’s why you need to get a build of Chromium OS created by an enthusiast if you want to boot up Chromium OS on your own computer or in a virtual machine.
Hexxeh’s builds were the best for this in the past, but they’re now old and out-of-date. Instead, download Arnold the Bat’s Chromium OS builds. If you’re using Windows, use an extraction program like 7-Zip to extract the archive and write it to a USB drive using Win32 Disk Imager. You can then boot from the USB drive and play with it.
Chrome on Windows 8.1
You could also try to do this from within Windows 8.1 — no alternative operating systems necessary. Use Google Chrome’s “Windows 8 mode” to get a Chrome OS-style desktop. You can even force Windows 8.1 to boot to that Chrome OS desktop and disable access to the Windows desktop.
This does seem a bit silly, but it does work on Windows 8. It won’t work on Windows 10, as Microsoft is changing everything again.
A Lightweight Linux Desktop
Any lightweight Linux distribution can work well, providing a minimal desktop you can run Chrome or another browser on. Rather than attempting to install the open-source version of Chrome OS or a Linux distribution designed to look like Chrome OS, you can just install a Linux distribution with a lightweight desktop environment (or any desktop environment you prefer) and use Chrome on that.
For example, Lubuntu would be a good choice. Other Linux distributions like Xubuntu, Linux Mint with MATE or Cinnamon, Ubuntu MATE edition also offer a simple desktop environment you can install Chrome on. Really, any Linux distribution with any desktop environment you like can do the job.
There’s no turning any old computer into a Chromebook. They won’t get Chrome OS updates straight from Google, and they won’t be optimized to boot as quickly. If you’re using a laptop, that laptop won’t necessarily offer the battery life a Chromebook does, either. But these are the best ways to approximate the experience.