There’s mounting evidence that Google is preparing to make Chromebooks a viable platform for gamers. Earlier this year a member of the Chrome OS team told Android Police that the company was working on bringing the Steam game client to Chromebooks. Now 9to5Google has found code that hints at how Google will do that.
Chrome OS is an operating system that was originally designed to support a single app – the Chrome web browser. But in recent years Google has brought support for Android apps and Linux apps to Chromebooks.
So far that Linux support has come through a feature called Crostini, which is basically a virtual machine that runs Debian Linux in a way that lets you install and run Linux software without leaving Chrome OS.
But 9to5Google was digging through the source code for Chromium OS (the open source version of Chrome OS) and discovered a new Linux virtual machine called Borealis, which uses Ubuntu rather than Debian. Borealis also includes a pre-installed version of Valve’s Steam game client for Linux.
Steam has supported Linux for a number of years, but not every game available through Steam will run on a Linux computer, which means not every game will be available on a Chromebook either.
But in addition to encouraging developers to make Linux-compatible versions of their games available for distribution, Valve has been developing software called Proton which allows users to play many Windows games on Linux even if there’s not a native version available.
According to 9to5Google, it’s unclear if Borealis will eventually replace Crostini or if the two will coexist. It’s possible Borealis could be a solution exclusively for users that want to run Steam, for example.
Of course, not all Chromebooks really have the horsepower for serious gaming. Many are inexpensive laptops with low-power processors. But there are a growing number of premium Chromebooks with higher-end processors, and 9to5Google expects that some of the first models to support Borealis and Steam are likely to be model with 10th-gen Intel Core processors.