Google is slowly starting to add support for running Linux applications on Chromebooks. But as I discovered when I tested Linux apps on the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 recently, it’s still a work in progress. The feature also isn’t available for all Chrome OS computers yet.

That could change in the not-too-distant future. Right now you need to be running Chrome OS in the developer channel in order to enable Linux app support. There are signs that Linux app support could hit the Chrome OS beta channel this week, and it could graduate to the stable channel by the time Chrome OS 69 is released later this year.

But… what if you want to try Chrome OS + Linux app support and you don’t have a Chromebook or Chromebox? You could just build your own.

After taking Linux app support for a spin on an HP Chromebox G2, Ian Morrison wanted to see if he could use the software on a different computer. So he installed Chromium OS (the open source version of Chrome OS) on a Vorke V5 Plus mini PC (currently available for $150 from AliExpress) and found that Chromiume OS also supports Linux apps.

For years, Chrome OS users have been using a tool called Crouton to install fully functional GNU/Linux desktop environments such as Ubuntu or Debian alongside Chrome. But while Crouton makes it possible to install and run desktop Linux software on a Chromebook, you need to switch to a less secure developer mode to use it, and Linux runs in its own desktop environment, which means you have to switch back and forth between Chrome OS and Linux.

The new Linux app feature in Chrome OS uses a new tool that Google calls Crostini. Linux is installed in a virtual machine/container system that allows you to install and run Linux applications almost as if they were native Chrome OS apps. They’ll show up in your launcher and they run in windows that can be viewed at the same time as Chrome OS windows.

Morrison notes that the steps for enabling Crostini/installing Linux are pretty much the same in Chromium OS as they are in Chrome OS. But there are a few key differences between Chromium and Chrome.

Not only is one open source, while the other is not, but Chromium OS doesn’t support Android applications, Adobe Flash, or Widevine CDM. It also doesn’t support automatic updates.

So if you decide to build your own Chrome OS/Crostini device, you’ll need to download and install security and feature updates manually.

It’s also worth noting that, at this point, you can’t use Linux apps if running from a LiveUSB. You’ll need to install Chromium OS to the computer’s built-in storage. So make sure to backup any important files that you don’t want to lose before installing Chromium.

Right now I’m not sure there’s much reason to run Chromium OS with Crostini on a laptop or desktop other than for testing purposes. But in the future it could be an interesting option for folks that want to build their own Chromebox rather than buying an off-the-shelf model, but who also want the ability to run desktop Linux applications such as GIMP, LibreOffice, Kdenlive, Handbrake, or Ardour.

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20 replies on “Build your own Chrome/Linux operating system with Chromium OS and Crostini”

  1. A fun combo to try would be:

    1. Install Chromium OS and Crostini for Linux applications support.
    2. Install Anbox as a linux app for Android application support via linux!

    Now you should be able to run Chrome OS, Linux and Android Apps all in a open source operating system!

  2. Chromium OS has 0 usability on any actual PC. If the Play store was fully functional, then yes I would use it but having Linux software run a shitty OS by itself is a fucking JOKE. Its much easier to have Linux run in a VM under windows and do whatever is required that way and in a window if you so choose. END OF STORY!!

  3. CloudReady OS based on Chromium OS now supports installing Linux apps. Download the latest version.

  4. Would not do that as you lose the security that running gnu/Linux with ChromeOS gets you.

  5. I still don’t understand the benefit of ChromeOS except for managed systems like schools. Ubuntu/Linux Mint are dead simple to install and maintain and have a massive number of applications to use.

    1. I fully agree. I see the linux app support in Chrome as a method to keep Chromebook owners from installing a linux distro… just like how windows is allowing some linux distros to run while Windows is running.
      On a similar subject, I learned from my buddy that Broadcom is using G-Suite and has completely ditched Office 360. Here is a major company that could switch to chromebooks.

    2. ChromeOS is far more secure and get better performance. Plus you get all the driver and Linux kernel security updates automatically.

      1. I have a gaming rig with an AMD threadripper and 32GB of DDR4 (and 1 TB 960 Pro SSD). It runs my linux distro and I believe it smokes any Chromebook/Chromebox in existence. My linux distro is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, and it is considered to be very secure by many, including the US government as it is certified USGv6 and is used by the Department of Defense.
        https://access.redhat.com/articles/2918071
        I can also compile any driver I want from source, and load it into my kernel, as my linux distro is open source. I believe I have much, much more hardware compatibility than ChromeOS.
        Your ChromeOS does have the advantage that it is free (as in beer), where I have to pay a yearly license/service fee to Red Hat.

        1. Lol, so much gaming on a Linux “rig”, don’t be ridiculous. Is it better than it’s ever been? Sure, but don’t run your “gaming rig” mouth in a discussion about OS’s. That’s partly why you have neg reps on your post…. The other part….well…..

          1. Thats very interesting. Do you have the $49 version?? I thought you could acquire open sourced Linux for free, why is redhat charging? For technical support?

            How does it perform compared to Ubuntu?

          2. Sorry Tobi, but my box is really just running Ubuntu. I was just trying to make a point about a particular linux distro being more secure than ChromeOS. My box is also just an ivy-brige i5 with 8GB of RAM.
            I have not used the $49 Red Hat workstation version, but I use the server version at work everyday. Red Hat charges for the security updates, and I think you get 1 or 2 free support questions with the yearly workstation subscription.

  6. “Chromium OS does not support Android applications”

    Too bad. Hopefully that changes in the future.

    1. Look at my comment above:
      “A fun combo to try would be:

      1. Install Chromium OS and Crostini for Linux applications support.
      2. Install Anbox as a linux app for Android application support via linux!

      Now you should be able to run Chrome OS, Linux and Android Apps all in a open source operating system!”

  7. You don’t have to switch between chrome and crouton desktop – it can be configured so that the crouton/linux desktop runs in a chrome tab under chrome os and allows copy/cut/paste etc. I really wish people who report on this technology would report it correctly… It only takes a few minutes to read the details and it makes you look like you are an amateur.

    1. You’re still running a full desktop environment in a tab if you use xiwi, so you don’t get icons for individual apps in the launcher, they don’t run in their own windows, you can’t switch between individual apps with alt+tab, etc.

    2. There is absolutely no reason to be this rude towards Brad on his own website. As a linux enthusiast and user of Flint OS on the ASUS tinker board…I enjoyed reading this article. Then I come down to the comments to perhaps get involved in a discussion about the future of linux on Chrome/Chromium and I have to digest your entitled ‘holier than thou’ nonsense. I’d actually like to read an article on why Mike Leist is so angry to lash out like this? That would make for an interesting read and perhaps you could be healed at the same time by letting out the anger?

      Excellent article Brad…minus the usual typos. Smile.

      1. Agree. Brad does a great job reporting on Linux compatibility for devices he tests.

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