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State of support for the Chromebook C201

Time4Tea - 7 months ago -

Hey Parabola friends. I thought I would christen this shiny new forum with a discussion about the state of support for the Chromebook C201. I apologize in advance if this comes across as a bit of a rant/complaint, but I hope it will ultimately be constructive ...

I am a Parabola user for just over a year now (I am also using it on my x86 Desktop). I switched from Trisquel because I liked the idea of the rolling release model - I want up to date software and I consider myself a fairly experienced Linux user, so I am ok with some level of system configuration and occasional troubleshooting. I bought a Chromebook C201 around the time I joined the site, having seen the news posting about it being supported by Parabola. However, I ended up experiencing a lot of problems and eventually stopped using the device completely, because I simply ran out of spare time to keep mucking about with it. I got it out of the draw a couple of weeks ago to try it again, thinking that maybe some of the issues I had struggled with previously had been resolved. However, I again seem to be finding myself underwater, trying to resolve what seem like basic stability issues. Now, I know this is a somewhat 'exotic' device that has only recently been ported to Linux and support for it can probably be considered 'experimental'; however, I am curious as to what, honestly, is the state of Parabola support for it?

The problem I seemed to be struggling with mostly back then was that the libre USB wifi dongle I had bought was very unstable. It would reliably cause fatal system crashes within a couple of minutes of logging in. There is an issue report for it here from back then, which is still open. There was some talk about a patch on github that supposedly fixed it; however, I tried that and still experienced the same problem. In the end, I stopped using the C201 entirely, because I deemed it to be unusable without a stable wifi interface. So, has there been any resolution to this issue (I admit that I haven't tried the latest linux libre kernel)? If not, then I would have to take the view that the device is only really usable with the non-free vanilla kernel (i.e. the built-in Broadcom wifi), since there would appear to be no libre-compatible wifi option that works.

Besides that, there seem to be some ARM package issues in Parabola that are making the system on ARM difficult to use effectively. In particular, these seem to be affecting icecat and the other ice* internet browsers. For example, there is another issue here to rebuild all these packages, which has been open for over a year. On my C201 system, several packages are now broken (including the lightdm greeter, meaning I can't even log in to the DE) because they want icu version 65, whereas icecat has a dependency on icu<65. These packaging issues seem to be dragging on, with no sign of resolution.

So, I've got a Linux netbook where the wifi doesn't work and the internet browser breaks everything else. Ok ... I guess I'll be using ALARM for the time being then ...

Well, actually no, because there seem to be issues there as well (which I know is not Parabola's fault, but I'm going to mention it anyway). I have an ALARM system installed on another partition on my C201, which I have been using as a backup. However, it seems that some recent updates are causing some pretty bad instabilities with the X server on that, causing it to crash frequently. This post I made recently on the ALARM forum might give you a taste of the issues I am experiencing there. So far, no-one there has been terribly helpful, as you can see.

So, I feel like I'm back in the same position I was in a year ago: banging my head against a wall as the prospect of a modern, libre Linux laptop remains a distant dream. Does anyone have any thoughts or comments? What are the chances (honestly) of these issues getting resolved in the near future?

Regards (and sorry again for the rant),

Lee (Time4Tea)


Replies (6)

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - Time4Tea - 7 months ago -

Having said all this, I just want to add that I have been and I still am willing to help with testing and providing feedback/bug reports, to help get this working. It seems like it's so close to fulfilling the promise of a modern, libre laptop, if only these few niggly issues could be resolved ...

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - oaken-source - 7 months ago -

I plan to get back to working on my C201, and as such also on the state of parabola on that damn thing later in april, when I have my working space properly set up.

At the moment, I'm working from my living room with limited space, which is detrimental to supporting many different platforms. I hope this will improve then.

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - bill-auger - 7 months ago -

if the only thing holding you from upgrading is icecat, then you
could remove it, and install iceweasel instead - iceweasel was
just built a few days ago so it should be in sync with the
latest system - icecat 68 is due to be released soon

if any issue that concerns you is languishing, the best thing
that you can do, is to bump the ticket and make sure that someone
acknowledges you, just as you did with that stale 'icu' ticket -
if no one responds on the bug tracker, send mail to the mailing
list, or complain on IRC

things can be forgotten if users stop nagging, especially
software which the parabola devs do not use often themselves -
in the case of that old icu issue, probably it was just
forgotten to close it

as for the kernel itself, megver is the one who has been working
on that - he does not have a C201 though; so he needs
co-operation from people who do - also, i dont think he watches
the forum - the best way to get megver's attention is to
reply to some redmine ticket that he is assigned to - megver is
assigned to the one about the C201 wireless support; and the
last thing he did was mark it as "in progress" - i dont know any
more than that - the last i knew, the kernel was working again
and everyone interested in it, was happy - you should ask him
about the progress of that ticket and offer to try any
experiments he suggests

https://labs.parabola.nu/issues/2261

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - Time4Tea - 7 months ago -

oaken-source thanks for your reply and the update on your situation. I appreciate the difficulties you are facing and obviously things are particularly tricky right now as well with the coronavirus challenges. I didn't mean to come accross as impatient or demanding and I will definitely be happy to help with testing when you get round to looking at it again.

bill-auger wrote:

if the only thing holding you from upgrading is icecat, then you
could remove it, and install iceweasel instead - iceweasel was
just built a few days ago so it should be in sync with the
latest system - icecat 68 is due to be released soon

Ok, I will happily try iceweasel, if it is in a better state than icecat. I haven't used it before, so not sure how it differs, but I'll give it a try.

bill-auger wrote:

if any issue that concerns you is languishing, the best thing
that you can do, is to bump the ticket and make sure that someone
acknowledges you, just as you did with that stale 'icu' ticket -
if no one responds on the bug tracker, send mail to the mailing
list, or complain on IRC

things can be forgotten if users stop nagging, especially
software which the parabola devs do not use often themselves -
in the case of that old icu issue, probably it was just
forgotten to close it

Ok, noted. I can definitely bug people a bit more and bump issues to try to draw attention to them.

bill-auger wrote:

as for the kernel itself, megver is the one who has been working
on that - he does not have a C201 though; so he needs
co-operation from people who do - also, i dont think he watches
the forum - the best way to get megver's attention is to
reply to some redmine ticket that he is assigned to - megver is
assigned to the one about the C201 wireless support; and the
last thing he did was mark it as "in progress" - i dont know any
more than that - the last i knew, the kernel was working again
and everyone interested in it, was happy - you should ask him
about the progress of that ticket and offer to try any
experiments he suggests

https://labs.parabola.nu/issues/2261

Ok. As I mentioned, I haven't tried the latest libre kernel yet myself, so perhaps there has been some improvement in the hardware support. I will give it another try when I can find some time and I will post in that ticket either way, to give it a bump.

Thanks for your input and advice.

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - Time4Tea - 7 months ago -

I removed icecat and installed iceweasel. It seems to work well and doing that allowed me to properly upgrade the rest of my system, so everything is now working again.

I also figured out that the X server stability issues I was seeing in ALARM were because of a new panfrost kernel module that it was installing. It is apparently a free software driver for the Mali GPU that the C201 has; however, according to this page , it is a 'work in progress and not ready for general use'. I now have it blacklisted in ALARM and it doesn't seem to be included in the linux-libre package in Parabola anyway, which is good.

So, I think the only issue for me now is that kernel driver one for the wifi.

It looks like there are only about 10 open issue tickets relating to arm packages, and at least half of those are for ice* rebuilds. So, seems like once those are done Parabola arm should be in pretty good shape.

RE: State of support for the Chromebook C201 - Time4Tea - 6 months ago -

Hi, quick update on this: I tried the latest version of linux-libre in the Parabola repos yesterday (5.5.13) and the USB wifi dongle I have still doesn't seem to work. It crashes the system like before.

However, on a positive note, the panfrost driver for the Mali GPU seems more stable with the newer kernel version. I am using it right now and I am not experiencing any X11 crashes. Although, there is a bit of tearing (on Mate), so perhaps there is a way to optimize the configuration to avoid that?

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