Installing Linux on an HP Stream 11

linux mint desktop

The Stream series of portable computers from Hewlett-Packard (HP) are low-cost and rather bare bones devices for connecting to the internet.

I have a Stream 7 which is a tablet and runs Windows 8 (the first version of Windows that introduced various features to desktops that formerly were only used on portable devices like smartphones). And I have a Stream 11 which is a small notebook that has just a little more disk space than it needs to run its OS (operating system) which was Windows 10.

One day while sitting somewhere (probably my church’s café), I got a message that the computer needed to install a security update, but did not have enough disk space to do so. I was not able to reduce the unused space on the disk to the point where the update could be done. What could I do about this?

One alternative would have been to get a bigger disk. I could do this by purchasing a little gizmo called a “Micro SD” card. These are basically thumb drives in a special package designed to be installed more or less permanently in a host device, like a digital camera. They aren’t very expensive; it was an option.

But, I don’t like Microsoft products (like Windows) that much, and am always trying to find excuses to replace them with something else. The “ultimate” anti-Microsoft operating system is Richard Stallman’s GNU/Linux. Loaded onto “free” hardware (no proprietary firmware or hardware-related software – drivers) it creates a totally free computer system. I usually settle for a compromise. The HP hardware is no way totally “free” and I believe there is some proprietary software associated with reading some media files I use that are very popular. So I decided to try Linux Mint. Mint is a Linux distro that is meant to look and behave almost exactly like Windows. The rationale is that if Linux can attract Windows users, they might never go back to Windows. A full install of Mint would require maybe 10GB of disk space, whereas Windows 10 was taking around 20GB.

The UEFI

The Stream 11, like most recent computers, uses the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on its motherboard, instead of a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The UEFI is implemented with much more modern hardware, and supports stricter security protections. In fact, a manufacturer can use UEFI settings – if it wants to – to limit its motherboard to just one type of operating system.

Thus, updating recent hardware from Windows to Linux can be chancy. Will it work?

Getting a Linux disk

These days the standard way to obtain a Linux install disk is to download the disk “image” (a huge file showing exactly what the final disk should look like) and then burning it to a DVD-ROM on your own DVD drive. The HP Stream has no optical drives. So I had to obtain the image (.ISO) file then burn it to disk on a computer that does have an optical drive. Then I had to get out my portable DVD ROM reader, put the DVD in there, and connect it to the HP Stream. And then I had to get the HP Stream to boot from the attached drive instead of the installed boot partition. This is done by pressing the ESCAPE key when powering up the Stream and selecting the appropriate items from the text-based menu that appears.

escape key

Install

Like most recent versions of Linux, Mint detected the presence of the UEFI and presented me with a variety of special options to deal with it. I needed to install proprietary hardware drivers, and this can be a potential problem for the UEFI (per on-screen instructions) but did not seem to be a problem in this case.

Then I had to decide whether Windows would co-exist with Linux or be totally replaced. In this case, I wanted total replacement. The installer reported to me what disk partitions it was going to create over the old ones and then started the process. The whole thing went rather smoothly.

On reboot, I feared the worst, as the UEFI presented a screen telling me it could not find the operating system (Windows).

But all I had to do was press ESCAPE again, and there after F9…

startup menu

…were a list of boot options that included the new Linux.

UEFI boot options

So: The installer was unable to erase the fact that Windows was the expected default OS on this machine. But it was able to tell the UEFI that a new OS had been installed. Like most Linux distributions, software called “grub” is used as the boot manager. Here is the options screen it displays:

Linux Mint

linux mint password screen

Linux Mint is a very nice OS. It is based on the very popular Ubuntu, but has a special desktop environment that makes it look almost the same as Windows 7. It has an Update Manager just like Windows, and also a software installer called Software Manager. My browser needed immediate updating in order to run videos properly, and now everything runs smoothly. As I only use the Stream to watch the Scientology TV channel and download files occasionally, the OS will never get a full test on this machine. But at least the bulk of Windows 10 and the programs that came with it is gone.

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One Response to “Installing Linux on an HP Stream 11”

  1. Miracles Happen Says:

    Here I am, a former Windows user who switched to Linux Mint! There is a lot to learn and it’s incredibly fast if you compare it to Windows. As you said I’m never going to go back to Windows ever again in my life. Good article!

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