When Chromebooks made their debut almost a decade ago, they were basically laptops designed to run a single app — a web browser. There’s a lot you can do in a web browser, but folks who prefer running native apps that work offline weren’t impressed.
Then Google added support for running Android apps a few years ago. That helped a bit. Last year the company started building support for running desktop Linux software on some Chromebooks, which helped make Chromebooks feel even more like “real” laptops.
But the experience has sometimes been kind of wonky, since Chromebooks now basically support running three operating systems at once, and they haven’t always done a great job of interacting with one another.
During this year’s Google I/O developer conference, Google announced a few key developments that should help folks who plan to use Chromebooks for work and play.
First up, every Chromebook that ships in 2019 will be Linux-compatible. While the feature isn’t enabled by default, all you have to do is go into the Settings menu and turn on the Linux (Beta) feature. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to install desktop apps like GIMP or LibreOffice.
Second, one of the desktop apps you can already run on a Chromebook is Android Studio, but Google is making it easier to get the software up and running. Moving forward, all you need to do is download and double-click a file to install Android Studio. That should make it a bit easier for folks who want to code Android apps on a Chromebook to get started.
Google does recommend you use a Chromebook with at least 8GB of RAM, a Core i5 U-series processor or better, and at least 4GB of disk space if you want to run Android Studio though, so while all new Chromebooks will be Linux-compatible, you’re probably going to want a relatively high-end model if you want to use it for development purposes.
Third, Google has updated the Chrome OS File Manager so that you can move files between Chrome OS, Android, Linux, and Google Drive. Previously files associated with one OS had been isolated from the other operating systems unless you jumped through some hoops to transfer them. Now you should be able to download a document in Chrome OS, edit it using a Linux tool, and then share it using an Android app.
Meanwhile, Kevin Tofel at About Chromebooks found another Chrome OS update that Google didn’t call attention to in its Google I/O announcements: it looks like Virtual Desktops are coming to Chrome OS 76.
We found out that Google was working on virtual desktop support earlier this year, but development has continued, and the latest demo video shows how it’ll work. Users can create multiple virtual desktop spaces and open different sets of apps in each. When you switch from one view to another, apps will continue running in the background. In fact, you’ll even be able to see a live preview of video playback from the task switcher if you’ve got video playing in one or more desktops.
Now it looks like the feature should be ready to ship when Chrome OS 76 arrives this summer.