Google has confirmed that it’s bringing support for Linux apps to Chrome OS, which means you’ll be able to code on a Chromebook using Android Studio, an IDE like Eclipse, edit images using tools like GIMP, or run thousands of other apps.

We’ve known this was coming for a while thanks to code commits and even early versions of the feature going live in the Chrome OS Dev channel. But now it’s official.

Google says a “preview of the new tool” will be available for the Pixelbook soon, but there’s evidence that it will roll out to other Chrome OS devices in the future, including some with ARM-based processors.


The feature is initially aimed at developers, but it could make Chromebooks a whole lot more useful for non-developers too.

Linux will run in a virtual machine designed specifically for Chromebooks. It’s said to start in seconds and integrate with Chrome OS so that when you install a Linux app it’ll show up alongside your other Chrome OS apps in the launcher. Click it and it will load as if it were running natively, and you’ll be able to resize or move the window and access files saved to your Chromebook from within that virtual machine.

In other words, while you can already use Crouton to run Ubuntu or another GNU/Linux distribution alongside Chrome OS, you need to switch between environments to get anything done. Google’s new Linux implementation (code-named “Crostini”), will offer a much more seamless experience so that it feels like you’re running one operating system, not two separate ones.

Google has some experience on that front: you can already run Android apps on most recent Chromebooks, but the operating system is still clearly Chrome OS, not Android.

Now I guess we know why Google decided to offer up to 512GB of storage for the Pixelbook, while cheaper Chromebooks have as little as 16GB. You need a lot more local storage space if you’re going to install desktop Linux apps and programming tools, among other things.

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21 replies on “Chromebooks are getting Linux app support”

  1. I love this even if I would prefer a full-blown Linux desktop (KDE Plasma is my favorite).

    This addition makes me reconsider Chromebooks for the following roles in the family:
    – first laptops for the children (Android and Linux apps together, nice)
    – the cheapo, knock-around, ultra-mobile laptops for the home

  2. I’d love the ability to run Linux apps on ‘my’ Chromebook. I’m not talking running a beta version that only works on Google’s flagship $899 Pixlebook either. I hear about all these new ‘features’ for Chromebooks, but they never work on ‘my’ Chromebook that I just bought last year. Microsoft has a Linux subsystem for Windows 10 now. Why can’t Google give me that too?

    1. Under the covers, chrome OS is Linux. And they are achieving this stuff using containers, a feature only available in more recent kernels that support it. If a manufacturer ships and chrome OS device with an old kernel and drivers that aren’t open source, then Google must wait for the manufacturer to update the kernel to support containers. If you aren’t getting this, blame your Chromebook manufacturer for not updating its kernel to support containers.

  3. Hmm…

    A _crouton_ is a piece of sautéed or rebaked bread, often cubed and seasoned, that is used to add texture and flavor to salads, notably the Caesar salad, as an accompaniment to soups and stews, or eaten as a snack food.

    _Crostini_ are an Italian appetizer consisting of small slices of grilled or toasted bread and toppings. The toppings may include a variety of different cheeses, meats, and vegetables, or may be presented more simply with a brush of olive oil and herbs or a sauce.

  4. while this is good news, I prefer that Google focus on completing the integration of Android apps into Chrome OS first before this. For starters, the Chrome OS and Android filesystems are sandboxed with only the “Downloads” folder commonly accessible. That would be a big help.

  5. This is great and I will definitely give it a shot for my daily driver desktop once it is out and about and matured a little.
    The real question is whether Google will build some kind of backend for Linux apps for use on fleet managed machines. Whitelists and blacklists for apps. Etc…
    I suspect they will. They keep talking about developers and that’s fine but this will make Chrome OS incredibly powerful and flexible for business and higher education use. But those customers want locked down fleet management.
    Honestly I hope they bring some management for regular consumers. I’d like to abstract my loadout to the cloud. So when I sign into a new machine I can choose my loadout from the cloud including data and have it autoload to that machine.
    For instance if I have my account and xyz Android apps and xyz Linux apps together with data for those apps – then I want to be able to wipe that device. Perhaps load a different account. Then later add back my original account and get an option to automatically load in my selected Android and Linux apps along with their data automatically.
    This would be extremely ideal for business users who travel internationally. Or for anyone who just needs to replace a device quickly due to damage or theft. Fleet managers should also be able to set up such an ‘image’ – perhaps different version for different department – and assign those images to specific users or groups so that when they sign in they get their assigned loadout of apps.

    1. Most schools will probably disable the Linux subsystem except for systems being used to teach programming, and perhaps not even then.

        1. Yes. It’s called a Chrome Education License and allows schools to customize access to apps on devices they give to the kids. Of course, if they have their own, that’s different, but I wasn’t talking about those.

  6. So…..after this, Chromebooks are in all practicalities Linux machines??

    Google needs to make the official distro available, cloudready lacks Android container.

    1. bradlinder – Brad Linder is editor of the mobile tech blog Liliputing, an independent journalist and podcast producer and editor based in Philadelphia.
      Brad Linder says:

      Not exactly. They can run Linux apps, but they’re still Chrome OS devices. Google controls the UI, the OS and security updates, etc. And of course, you get Chrome by default, not Chromium.

      So I wouldn’t necessarily declare the year of the Linux notebook just yet. But the move is pretty intriguing since Chrome OS already has a strong foothold in some markets, such as education. It could get a lot of people to become more familiar with Linux apps (if not a complete Linux desktop experience).

      Or maybe it’ll be a geeky feature that’s only ever used by developers and enthusiasts. Too soon to tell.

      1. I’m betting the latter. The news will no doubt give some impetus to the Linux client crowd, but I highly doubt this will be the thing that brings the Linux desktop into the mainstream.

      2. Great stuff, Brad.

        I hope you will keep us updated. I wonder when this will happen.

        And I hope you or someone will do some reviews on new Chromebooks to let us know how it works. If there were a reasonably priced Chromebook that this worked on, I would buy it.

      3. Yet, one reason less to count normal Linux desktops separately from ChromeOS machines in usage statistics.

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