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.

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14 replies on “All new Chromebooks will be Linux-ready (and other Chrome OS news)”

  1. I’m running Linux Beta on my Asus C300 Chromebook. It works just fine, but it’s a little slow with the dual core Celeron N3060 1.6ghz processor. Linux programs are very slow to start up, but seem to work just fine once they are up and running. 4gb of RAM seems to be enough for now. Also, I only have 2.5gb of free space left after installing Linux Beta. But hey, it works pretty good the way it is for a sub $200 Chromebook. I’d love to get a new Chromebook with a faster processor and at least 32gb of storage for running Linux. I’m considering the Dell Chromebook 14 that comes with a Core i3 processor and a 128gb SSD, but that will have to wait til I have a bigger budget.

  2. BigTechUSA: you can run Linux but only under our terms. We’ll continue to make it extremely difficult to install the OS proper on bare metal. If you want to get anything done, “telemetry” is not optional.

    Intel: You guys are working too hard with this passive-aggressive $#1+! Just backdoor your way in and take whatever you want. WTH?!

    BigGov: Don’t forget to share, guys! Amazon’s hosting:-)

    Huawei: But…

  3. Hopefully, this news means greater visibility of Linux support on Chromebooks and increased attention to squashing bugs. Since Chrome OS 71, Linux support has been flakey on my Pixelbook.

  4. Is this about keeping up with Windows now that Win10 has a Linux subsystem with a full kernel? Are they worried about a Linux killer app that would motivate users to not use ChromeOS?
    Other than trying to win the science fair, I have no idea where Google and MS are going with Linux compatibility. Seems like a waste of focus for them.

    1. For MS it is targeted at Linux developers wanting a lighter weight solution than a VM, It also allows them to run Docker containers.
      For ChromeOS it might be an attempt to fill the offline app gap by allowing users access to LibreOffice and Gimp.

    2. A lot of popular server utilities are made for Linux, and they don’t want people to actually install Linux INSTEAD of their operating systems.
      So if they make all their operating systems able to run any Linux software, then there aren’t any awesome, exciting and cool reasons to switch to Linux distros, just privacy and freedom woes, and complaining just isn’t cool.
      But there is at least one thing Linux distros will let you do that Windows and ChromeOS won’t: uninstall anything.

      1. I highly doubt Microsoft is worried that typical Windows users are going to move to Linux clients. The vast majority of Windows users don’t even know what Linux is.

        The reality is that the open source development community uses Linux to develop software for all kinds of platforms (embedded, mobile, laptop, desktop, servers, and cloud,) and even where Microsoft doesn’t own the operating system, they have significant interests in ensuring developers are creating products that either run on or tie into their various services.

        The same goes for Google, by the way.

        1. You forgot an important future market, IoT, especially industrial IoT. Note embedded and IoT are not the same, embedded has been around for ages. Thats what they are all after, MS and Google. But IoT is so fraught with privacy and spy concerns, so open source what people get behind. Of course corporations want to dominate, but in this hysteria environment, its too easy to get ensnared. Yet they dont want to get left behind, they want to plant a foot in the door.

    3. It’s pretty exciting for software developers — iOS/Windows specific developers aside, *nix is what most servers run on. OSX is built on top of BSD, which anecdotally is why most backend-focused developers I know prefer it if given the choice between OSX and Windows for their work machines.

      With a full kernel, Windows developers can now run docker or even lxc containers, which is also big for things like kubernetes. It’s huge for making the development and deployment environments as similar as possible, which cuts down on bugs that don’t get noticed until QA (or until things go live…)

      For ChromeOS it’s even more intriguing. You always had the option to enter developer mode, but now you don’t have to: you’ve got almost every app on Linux easily available.

    4. I have no idea where Google and MS are going with Linux compatibility. Seems like a waste of focus for them.

      It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the open source development community.

      Software development has changed beyond recognition over the span of my career. When I started work as a software developer, all the development tools were proprietary, and a single license for full set of development tools for any one platform (desktop, server, etc) would cost thousands of dollars, easily, and within a year or two some of them would be obsolete.

      Today, I can download dozens of first-rate development tools (editors, compilers, toolkits, development kits, operating systems, etc.) without spending a single penny for any of it. I have everything I need to go out an build the next great application for phones, or the desktop, or the cloud (except a workable idea!), and when the technology moves on, all I have to do is download updates or a new set of free tools.

      Today, as a corporation, if you want your shiny new software or hardware technology to be widely adopted, you have to go where the developers are — i.e. the open source community — and Linux is the cornerstone for open source. I can’t remember the last time a major new software development kit wasn’t offered up for free to all-comers, and many (most?) of them are open source into the bargain.

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