One of my goals for winter break was to get Minecraft running on a Google Chromebook. My erstwhile colleague (and fellow elementary STEM teacher) Dave Zirkle worked with me for most of the day yesterday, and, we got it done. Here’s proof:
If that screen looks odd it is because our solution involved installing Ubuntu Linux on the Chromebook. This post documents our efforts for anyone interested. Here’s the bottom line: if you are willing and able to add a second operating system (the free Ubuntu Linux in our case) and your Chromebook is fast enough (like the Samsung Series 5 550, the most powerful model currently available), Minecraft is DEFINITELY playable.
Our First Testbed: my Chromebook CR-48
I have two Chromebooks. The CR-48 was the first Chromebook ever made, and was originally given away free to lucky people deemed worthy by “The Google.” Clearly not in that category, I had to snag one on eBay (paid $162 for it about a year ago.) It’s a great basic laptop, speedy enough for what it is, and works great. But would it be powerful enough to run Minecraft? I had my doubts, but, I wanted us to use the CR-48 to learn the process before attempting it on my Samsung Series 5 550. This decision would cost us time, but in the end, gave us the confidence to literally tear through the process with the 550 and get Minecraft up and running pretty easily.
Two Roads Diverged in a Wood
After doing some quick research, one thing was clear: we needed Ubuntu Linux. We had to choose: load Ubuntu on a bootable SD (memory) card or on the Chromebook’s internal 16gb SSD (solid state hard drive)? We chose the former because it was the least invasive and theoretically cleanest approach. (Too bad it didn’t actually WORK…)
We scoured the interwebz for information about making a bootable SD card for the CR-48, but were unsuccessful. We did however find several people talking about booting Ubuntu from an SD card with Chromebook 550’s. The most promising was this post in the Chromebook Central Google Group. Yossi Oren is “currently a Ph.D. student at the Cryptography and Network Security Lab at Tel-Aviv University.” (Wrap your head around that for a moment. A Ph.D. student in Cryptography and Network Security. Holy crap! We were both way out of our league here…) Yossi’s post was from back in July, and it’s clear he was (is?) actively developing a script to facilitate this process. Sadly, when I ran the command, the destination page/script failed to load; the website address was timing out (the site was unreachable). I posted to the Google Group and tweeted to him in the hopes of a response. None came, until today – I tried the link again when writing this post and the script seems to work. More on that in another post!)
We would later find this post by Olof Johansson, a Google engineer, who has Ubuntu running on his ARM-based ($249) Chromebook. (Yeah, this is what a Ph.D. student in Cryptography and a Google Engineer do for fun!) Reading through it, my head promptly exploded. We decided to move ahead with installing Ubuntu directly onto the Chromebook’s SSD.
If at first you don’t succeed, get a different hammer
With our new direction, we eventually found this post (actually a collection of posts) and figured we were home free:
How to Play Minecraft on Chromebook (ChromeOSZone)
Dave is an experienced Unix user and knows his way around character-based operating systems. There is no way – NO WAY AT ALL – that I would have had the patience and skill to navigate the instructions the way Dave did, but in the end, it didn’t matter. We got hung up with an error like this:
jre-6u37-linux-i586.bin: line 86: ./install.sfx.5587: Permission denied. Failed to extract the files. Please refer to the Troubleshooting section of the Installation Instructions on the download page for more information.
CURSES! Others had the problem too, and it appeared we were out of luck, until we found THIS blog post:
ChrUbuntu 12.04. Now with double the bits! (Chromebooks and Chrome OS)
This … WORKED!!! We ran the script exactly as instructed and after some annoying beeps we were greeted by the sight of ChrUbuntu running on my CR-48!!!
Everything worked, too – wireless, audio, everything – and the system was VERY responsive, noticeably faster even than the stock ChromeOS.
It was all going so well…
The final step for our CR-48 test mule was to install Java (super simple via the “ChrUbuntu Store” applet). We went with Version 7, only to later discover that Minecraft would not run (we got a black screen after the Minecraft login page.) We uninstalled Version 7 that and went with Version 6 (also in the store), and Dave set the Minecraft.jar file (the Linux version I downloaded as a registered user) to execute and with a right click, open with command we had Minecraft up and running on the CR-48!
There was only one problem – performance was horrible … completely UNPLAYABLE due to lag (and this was running Single Player, locally [no network]). It looked terrible too. This was no surprise as we knew the CR-48 hardware would likely be insufficient. Ah, well, onward ho!
We’re Dangerous When We Know What We’re Doing
I tossed the 550 onto the desk and began preparations for the install. In minutes we had the script running. We waited … and waited … and waited. Eventually, it finished. The rest of the steps ran like clockwork. Install Java6, make the .JAR file executable, “open with,” and SHAZAM! It’s Minecraft time! (I even went directly to my local network’s server rather than using Single Player mode.)
SUCCESS! Minecraft on the 550 was much, much better! It LOOKED great and RAN smoothly! (I am conducting more performance tests now to estimate how well it will work on an ARM-based [$249] Chromebook.)
Why do this? Why? Why? WHY?!?!?
I basically burned an entire day of Winter Recess – as did my friend Dave, who drove almost two hours to be here and help. I invested even more time today (wait for my next post). Why? Several reasons:
- We are suckers for a challenge, especially one involving technology.
- We are lifelong learners. We learn “for fun.” This was … fun. Hard fun!
- Our Minecraft@NCS program is gonna be huge. HUUUUUUGE! More people are interested than we can accommodate. I’ll do anything I can do to help my local community (and anyone else) get the most out of this wonderful educational program, even if they can’t participate in our after-school gatherings. Think of the young engineers and scientists we could be developing!
That’s all for the moment. Now, to write the blog post that makes almost EVERYTHING I SHARED ABOVE … meaningless! Not kidding!
– Mr. Jarrett