You can already run some Linux applications on some Chromebooks thanks to Google’s Project Crostini software. But as I noted when testing Crostini on the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 last month, the feature is still very much a work in progress.
For now it’s not available if you’re using the stable channel version of Chrome OS, it doesn’t run on all Chromebooks, and you have to jump through some hoops to enable Crostini. Once you do that, you’ll find that you generally need a little Linux know-how to find and install applications using the command-line apt tool.
But now Chrome Unboxed reports that Google has added experimental support for installing .deb packages. In a nutshell, that means you can download an installer from the internet, open it in Chrome’s Files app, and click it to start the installation process. It’s a bit more like the way you would typically install applications in Windows or macOS and while it’s not necessarily the best way to install Linux applications it does make it a lot easier to install software that you might not be able to find using command line tools.
I don’t have a Chromebook handy at the moment, so I haven’t been able to test this myself. But according to Chrome Unboxed if you have a device that supports Crostini all you need to do is switch to the Chrome OS Canary channel, set up Crostini, and run the “sudo apt update” and sudo apt upgrade” commands.
Once you’ve done that you should be able to install .deb packages from the Files app.
Historically I’ve found that apt is a more reliable way to install applications, since it will locate and install dependencies for you. But if you’re looking for software that may not show up on a Chromebook when using apt, it’s nice to have this option.
That said, I’d recommend most users wait for the feature to make its way to the Chrome OS dev, beta, or stable channel. Chrome OS Canary channel software is experimental and often buggy. It’s really aimed at developers rather than end users.
Update: Support for installation of .deb packages has now made its way to the Dev channel, which is slightly more stable than Canary.