Technology

I just turned an old MacBook Pro into a Chromebook – here’s how I did it

A few months ago I went on a little trip. I brought a 2010 MacBook Pro into the modern era with an SSD and Linux. It was quite an important event for me when I overcame the problems. But I didn’t want it to lie.

I managed to get my hands on a 2012 MacBook Pro and put a spare SSD in it. But then he lay in a box after the move, and I did not know what to do with him. I was thinking about making another linux laptop and selling a resurrected 2010. While I casually pondered what to do with my laptops, Google made a splash: ChromeOS Flex.

Google now lets you install ChromeOS on a wide variety of machines just like any other Linux distribution. And as it turns out, my 2012 MacBook Pro was on the list of officially supported devices. Suddenly fired up with the desire to take on a new project, I hit the road. That’s how it was and where I am now.

Install Chrome OS Flex

For starters, I had to make a dedicated live USB for ChromeOS. I couldn’t use reliable software like Etcher or put it on my Ventoy drive – it’s basically a tool where you can store multiple ISOs on one drive and boot from them as if they were written to USB drive. I had to use Google’s own installer, which meant I needed to use Chrome.

2012 MacBook Pro converted to Chromebook

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

I stick with Firefox for the most part, but I picked up Chromium and made my first attempt at creating a ChromeOS Flex install disk. It failed. Repeatedly. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work on Linux. I’m guessing it was some sort of permissions issue related to the WebUSB functionality causing problems, but switching to Windows wasn’t all that successful either.

It took me over an hour for the process to finally work. I’ve lost count of how many times I tried, but the last button press worked. I had a Live USB ChromeOS Flex. Getting my MacBook Pro to boot from a USB stick was easy enough. I just held down Option while the laptop booted up and it went to the ChromeOS installer. The process from there was pretty darn easy. In fact, it went more smoothly than the installers of some Linux distributions. Looking at you, Fedora.

The installation process itself was insanely simple. In fact, it went more smoothly than the installers of some Linux distributions.

As soon as I went into ChromeOS, I noticed that everything works almost perfectly. Some older MacBooks have Wi-Fi issues on Linux, but mine worked great out of the box. Most Mac multimedia keys work fine, and ChromeOS recognizes a slightly different layout, with the Super key next to the spacebar instead of in the middle like on a regular keyboard.

2012 MacBook Pro converted to Chromebook

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Getting my MacBook Pro to boot from a USB stick was easy enough. I just held down Option while the laptop booted up, then it went to the ChromeOS installer. Then the process went very simply. In fact, it went more smoothly than the installers of some Linux distributions. Looking at you, Fedora.

As soon as I went into ChromeOS, I noticed that everything works almost perfectly. Some older MacBooks have Wi-Fi issues on Linux, but mine worked great out of the box here. Most Mac media keys work fine, and ChromeOS recognizes a slightly different layout, with the Super key next to the space bar instead of between CTRL and ALT like on a regular keyboard.

MacBook Pro (2012) CPU Intel i7-3520MGeekbench 5 (single-core/multi-core)585/955Jetstream 278.729WebXPRT 3116WebXPRT 484CrXPRT68

For fun, I ran some of our tests on my MacBook Pro Chromebook. You can see the results above. The i7-3520M isn’t great by today’s standards, but at least I can upgrade 4GB of RAM to 16GB. I could also convert the optical drive to a 2.5″ HDD or SSD for additional storage.

At least my new Apple Chromebook has enough power for basic tasks like editing documents and browsing the web.

Reintroducing ChromeOS

I haven’t used ChromeOS for a very long time. Playing with my wife’s Pixelbook a few years ago was the most recent experience. Suffice it to say that a lot has changed. There’s now an up-to-date application menu in the left corner, quick settings on the right offer all the information and controls I might need at a moment’s notice, and Linux apps are all the rage. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

2012 MacBook Pro converted to Chromebook

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

But thanks to the use of two of the best Linux desktop environments, GNOME and KDE Plasma, the ChromeOS user interface hasn’t changed much. The dashboard feels a lot like a modified GNOME, but there’s a lot of Android DNA in there, which also helped me adjust – it was a huge change when I used ChromeOS a few years ago.

I appreciate the simplicity of ChromeOS, though I regret the lack of features and customization. Coming from things like GNOME and KDE, ChromeOS seems to be more limited like Windows and macOS. However, that’s part of its appeal and what makes it perfect for kids and people who don’t want to mess around with their computer’s OS.

ChromeOS is great for what I need in a laptop. I just need this thing to boot up and work properly, like writing a novel, coding, or studying.

How to make Linux applications work

Since I last used ChromeOS, Google added the ability to run Linux apps via Debian compatibility. This means you can install a lot of desktop software, although I’ve heard that Flatpaks and Snaps seem to be having issues. However, I’ve had no issues with DEB files and have been able to get software like VS Code to work just fine.

I probably won’t worry about too many programs on ChromeOS since what I have now does basically everything I want a laptop to do.

Trying to run my novel writing program, Scrivener, under the WINE compatibility layer has proved… difficult so far. I haven’t played with it too much, but I might get a Crossover license to see if I can install the program there. For now, if I’m writing on the go, I just use the Google Doc and bring it into my Scrivener project when I get home.

2012 MacBook Pro converted to Chromebook

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

I’ve also had good success with AppImages. Obsidian, for example, works great when run through AppImage. This app is critical to my study habits and second brain efforts. I haven’t tried other software like GIMP or Kdenlive for photo and video editing respectively, but I’ve seen them work pretty well on ChromeOS.

I follow the minimum rule when it comes to my technology software. A minimum of applications / programs, a minimum of dependencies, a minimum of code, and so on. Because of this, I probably won’t worry about too many programs on ChromeOS since what I have now does just about everything I want a laptop to do.

Lack of Android apps.

A bit of a big disappointment with ChromeOS Flex comes from Android apps, or more specifically, the lack of support for them. My MacBook Pro does not have access to the Play Store, which could improve its performance. For now, I’m fine with the Linux apps, although I’d like to install something like the Geekbench app for benchmarks.

2012 MacBook Pro converted to Chromebook

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

I hope Google will add Android app support to Flex in the future, but I won’t hold my breath. This is likely to cause a number of compatibility issues as Flex is available for so many devices. But the same can be said for regular Chromebooks, some of which use ARM processors instead of x86 ones. Perhaps Google is just fixing some bugs before launching the Play Store in Flex.

As I said, it’s a bit of a loss, but it would be nice to see Android apps on my MacBook Pro someday.

Appearance ChromeOS Flex

So what have I learned from this? ChromeOS has a lot more features than I remember. The ability to run Linux apps greatly enhances the Chromebook experience, including my MacBook Pro. The fact that I can use some of my favorite Linux programs excites me a lot.

I’m going to stick with ChromeOS on this machine. It’s been working for me since Google released Flex a few weeks ago, and my laptop has been stable all this time. I can do whatever I want with him, although he is already 10 years old.

If you have some older hardware, please check the list of Google ChromeOS Flex supported devices. (will open in a new tab) to see if you can get an official build. It can just bring your aging computer back to life with its lightness and simplicity.

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