Frankensteining PC to Chromebook

If you just want to know how to convert your PC into a Chromebook, follow the tutorial. If you want to know why I did it and the gotcha’s, read on.

PC to Chromebook

As we move into the second agonizing month of being stuck at home due to COVID-19, I was glad to see that my daughter’s school here in Ontario, Canada was taking the steps to setup online learning via Google Classroom. Why Google Classroom, I don’t know but I am guessing it was the natural fit for her classroom EdTech environment built around Chromebooks. However, the joy was short lived when I received an email from the school informing me that my Son, who is in kindergarten at the same school, will also be using Google Classroom for his online learning. Now at this point you might be wondering why my joy was short lived when both kids are due to continue their schoolwork from home – it was because I only had one Chromebook at home which now needed to be shared between a kindergartner and a fourth-grader (only parents with more than one kid will get it). 

I’m a big fan of Chromebooks! They are light, cheap and allow you to do pretty much everything you do on your Android phone on a larger screen (including dropping it on the floor). I’m used to doing a lot of my work on a smartphone. So, naturally, I have a cheap Chromebook I had purchased a few years back for around $150. Being a proponent of throw-away-tech, I really like the fact that I can treat my Chromebook like dirt knowing if it breaks, all my data will still be safe on the cloud. So I gave it to my daughter for schoolwork last year – talk about treating it like dirt. Since my Son also needed a Chromebook now, I planned to buy my daughter a new one and give the old one to him. So began my Amazon/Bestbuy online search for a Chromebook on Wednesday night lying in bed. To my astonishment, I couldn’t find anything (not even refurbished) for less than $250. I’ll be damned if I spend $400 on a Chromebook for a fourth-grader! However, I was tempted as breaking up fights for the computer between the two and being locked in the whole day with my wife was definitely worth the 400 bucks. Then I remembered my old crashed Windows 7 PC hiding under the proverbial bridge.

Long story shortish…, I didn’t want to spend the money for a Windows 10 upgrade. So I Googled “installing Chrome OS on a PC” just for the hell of it and discovered CloudReady by neverware. All excited, I went downstairs to my office right after midnight and started Frankensteining my old i7 PC into a Chromebook using a USB drive and the excellent tutorial from neverware. Forty minutes of stand-up by Kevin Hart later, I had converted my PC into a Chromebook for free. I gave it to my daughter the next day and now she has an i7 powered Chromebook for her schoolwork – here’s the catch:

  1. If you want to do the PC to Chromebook conversion, make sure you have another PC handy to create the installation drive and read the tutorial – luckily, I had my office computer with me.
  2. The installation is not exactly the Chrome OS you would find in a Chromebook. It’s the parent Chromium OS (which is pretty much the Chrome OS minus a few bells and whistles added by Google).
  3. You will not get Google Play support. i.e. you cannot install Android apps from Google Play on your new Chromebook. However, the Chrome web store works fine and you will be able to install most of the daily-use apps as plugins on your Chromium browser – yes that’s right, you don’t get the Chrome browser but a stripped down Chromium version which works almost identically.

After seeing the installation, I was pumped with pride for saving $400 until my daughter tried to login to her Google Family Link account the next morning. Although embarrassing, I realized that due to heavy Google restrictions on the Family Link API, CloudReady was unable to log-in minors. However, it worked fine with her school sponsored Google SSO account which, apparently, is not monitored by Family Link or similar restrictions. So now she has to borrow little brother’s Chromebook to access her Google account. So I’m back to square one…

Having said that, the PC-Chromebook works fantastically if you have a regular Google account and do all your work on the cloud via browser. You get what you pay for – I paid nothing for it and I’m very happy with what I got!

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