Want to run a full-fledged GNU/Linux desktop environment on a Chromebook? While it’s possible to replace Chrome OS entirely, the simplest method is to run Ubuntu or another Linux distro alongside Chrome OS by enabling developer mode and using Crouton.
But soon you may be able to run some native Linux software without enabling developer mode (and without sacrificing some of the security features inherent to Chromebooks).
Last week a group of redditors noticed a series of code commits suggesting that developers were working on a new Chrome OS feature called Crostini that would enable Linux virtual machines to run natively without the need to enable developer mode. Now it looks like at least one application for Crostini could be a Linux-style terminal.
It looks like Chromebook and Chromebox users may be able to install an optional terminal feature which could open the door to running command-line Linux tools without the need to load a full desktop operating system.
In other words, the Crostini/Terminal feature could be to Chrome OS what the Windows Subsystem for Linux is for Windows 10: a way that developers, power users, and Linux enthusiasts can run native Linux software on a device that’s not running a traditional Linux distribution.
What we don’t know for certain is whether Google is planning to make it easy to run Linux applications with a graphical user interface. Doing so could make Chromebooks a heck of a lot more useful by letting users run powerful applications like GIMP (for image editing), Ardour (for audio editing), LibreOffice (for document editing), and OpenShot (for video editing). But opening that door could also make the limitations of low-end Chromebooks more apparent, since many Chrome OS devices have relatively slow processors and limited amounts of memory and storage.
On the other hand, high-end Chromebooks like Google’s Pixelbook have specs that rival the latest Windows and Mac computers. So maybe it’s time that Google offers optional software features to match.
For now I suspect Crostini and the Terminal app are likely aimed at the same audience as the Windows Subsystem for Linux: developers and power users. But it could be much, much more.
There’s no word on when Crostini will be available to the public, if that’s even what it’ll be called if and when it launches, or whether we’re completely misreading the clues about what Crostini is.