How to run a PC smoothly with Pixel

It is reasonably easy to boot into Pixel from your USB stick and set up a multi-user environment that uses your computer’s hard drive.

What is there not to like about running a PC or a Mac as if it was a Raspberry Pi, especially when you had that computer that was in top condition being cast aside by clunky, computing power hungry operating systems?

Well, as soon as I read the news that Pixel was around, and I was quite late to hear it, I decided to run the new Pixel on an old dusty PC for my children to write stories with LibreOffice, listen to music and become familiar with the Raspberry Pi programming environment.

img_20161229_095936062
What do I do with this thing???

But I soon found that there were a few stumbling blocks to the smooth running of a PC with the beautiful and simple Raspbian-like environment. Eben Upton made it clear in a recent announcement that, at the moment, Pixel is on a trial phase and can only boot from DVD or USB media, although an installable release is being developed that will allow to run it from the hard drive.

That might be okay for enthusiasts who like to test this new toy, but not for those like my kids who want to use the computer for more conventional productivity / educational / playful activities (choose whichever applies to you).

The good news is that you can set up Pixel in a conventional way now. If this is what you want, why wait? Life’s too short.

See below how I configured the system. You should have a nice multi-user Pixel environment that uses the computer storage after following these steps.

Ingredients

  • An old computer. Anything will do, pretty much. J A Watson has had Pixel running on a Fujitsu Lifebook S2110. That machine was selling in 2005, in case you were wondering.
  • 1.3 GB of USB storage. I used a 4 GB stick I had around.
  • A second computer running Linux or Windows to create the bootable media, unless you got the Live DVD with issue #53 of the Magpi magazine.
  • Etcher or Win32 Disk Imager.
  • Optional: GParted on either optical or USB media, if you want to manage your partitions, file systems and existing data. You can also do this on the command line.

Total cost: Hopefully, 0.00£/€/$ (if you had the USB stick lying around)

Preparation

  • Download Pixel in the computer that you will use to create the bootable media
  • Create your bootable Pixel USB media using Etcher or Win32 Disk Imager. If you’re using a Linux distribution you can also use the dd command to simply copy the .iso file.
  • Format your computer’s hard drive (optional).
img_20161229_100431181
Some GParted action
  • Set your computer to boot from USB on BIOS
  • Boot from the USB media into Pixel
  • Open a command terminal (press ctrl+alt+t)
  • Find the hard drive name by typing in the terminal prompt:

    sudo fdisk -l (mine is /dev/sda1)

image1

  • Write the drive name down somewhere as it’s very easy to get muddled up.
  • Create a new folder, assign permissions and mount the hard drive. You can do this by typing the following:

    sudo mkdir /media/hdd

    sudo chmod 775 /media/hdd

    sudo mount -t ext4 /dev/sda1 /media/hdd If you used a different file system, enter this instead of ext4, e.g. NTFS.

  • The following commands copy recursively all files and folders in /home into the hard drive:

    cd /home

    sudo cp -rp ./ /media/hdd

  • Check using the file manager that all the files and folders are now in the new location.
  • When you are satisfied everything is there, delete everything from the home folder.

    sudo rm -rf /home/pi

  • You can unmount the hard drive from that location. Take care of spelling the command umount correctly, that is, without an n.

    sudo umount /media/hdd

  • We are going to set the hard drive to mount from default as the home folder every time the computer starts. Instead of using the /dev/sdx name we will use the UUID, as /dev/sdx names are re-allocated frequently.

    If you use the file manager, look at the directory tree on the left (under Places) and click on / , then navigate to /dev/disk/by-uuid

  • Right click each shortcut and select Properties until you find your disk, then copy the whole UUID, which will be a very long chain of letters and numbers.
  • Next, you need to update the fstab file, which will mount your drive on start. In order to edit the file, type this in the command terminal:

    sudo nano /etc/fstab

    At the end of the file add this line

    /dev/disk/by-uuid/[your label] /home ext4 defaults 0 0

    Press Ctrl+x to exit and select yes to save.

fstab-screenshot

  • Reboot the machine.
  • Check that everything is OK navigating into /home with the file manager.

    Go to the terminal and type mount to check that your hard drive is mounted in the correct location (/home)

  • Now you can delete your temporary mounting point.

    sudo rm -rf /media/hdd

  • Create user accounts.

             adduser [username here without the brackets]

  • Then enter a good password when prompted and press enter to ignore the following questions.
  • Add as many users as you need.
  • Enable booting to a login screen:

             sudo nano /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

  • In the file disable auto login by commenting (adding # at the beginning) the following line so that it looks like this        #autologin-user=pi
  • You will have to scroll down a fair amount to find that line.
  • Show the list of user(s) in the login screen by making sure the following line appears like this:

            greeter-hide-users=false

  • Save the file as in step 13 and reboot the machine.

You can now enjoy your achievement. Pixel is now happily running and your computer looks ten years younger!

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3 thoughts on “How to run a PC smoothly with Pixel

  1. thanks this kind of works but is it meant to work without the USB media in the computer, I mean when you’re all done you can remove the usb stick and reboot and all is good. That’s not working for me, grub errors.

    Like

    1. Hi Foo. The short answer is no, you can’t run Pixel if you remove the USB stick. Ideally, for our purpose, you would be able to boot from the USB stick, do an install, remove it, and run the operating system from your hard drive. Eben Upton says that this will be available in Pixel soon. At the moment, though, it only runs as live media, which means that it runs only from your USB stick (or DVD). This post is about making it as similar as possible to having Pixel installed in your PC, i.e. booting into a user login prompt and saving documents to your computer’s hard drive – both options not set up in Pixel by default.

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