When Google first launched Chrome OS, it was only able to run web apps. A few years ago the company added support for Android apps. And last year Google introduced Crostini, a tool that allows you to install and run Linux applications on a Chromebook.
For the most part, it works as promised — allowing you to run apps like GIMP, LibreOffice, or even software that you would use to write code on a Chromebook.
But because the way Linux apps work on Chrome OS (in a virtual machine that’s somewhat isolated from the rest of the operating system), there are some features that don’t work and some things that are hard to do.
This week Google rolled out Chrome OS 74 Dev Channel though, which makes the experience of running Linux apps on a Chromebook a little better.
First up, as reported by About Chromebooks, there’s now support for audio playback when using Linux apps. Up until now if you wanted to use Linux software to watch videos, listen to music, or do anything else that requires sound, you were out of luck.
There’s still no support for recording audio. That means you’re probably not going to want to use a Chromebook to record and mix your band’s next album or produce your next podcast. It also means you can’t use voice or video chat apps like Skype. Google may add audio recording support in the future, but it’s not expected to arrive anytime soon.
Next, one of the best things about Chromebooks is that most of your information is backed up to the cloud so that it’s tough to lose data. If something goes horribly wrong with a Chromebook, you “powerwash” it to return it to factory settings, login with your Google credentials, and it’ll re-load your preferences in a matter of minutes.
But up until now there hasn’t been a good way to backup your Linux virtual machine, which means that resetting your Chromebook wipes all of your data forever.
Now About Chromebooks notes that the Chrome OS 74 Dev Channel release has initial support for backing up and restoring a Linux container. You need to enable a flag first (found at chrome://flags/#crostini-backup), but once that’s done,
You’ll still need to manually create a backup, and you’ll want to save it to an external storage device or upload it to Google Drive in order to save it if you’re planning to reset your Chromebook… or if you plan to do some experimental stuff with your Chromebook and might want to restore your Linux apps and files.
Keep in mind that this feature is still only available in the Chrome OS Developer Channel, which means that it’s an early release that may still be a bit rough around the edges.
But it’s a step toward making Linux apps feel more like first class citizens on Chromebooks.