People have been running Ubuntu and other GNU/Linux distributions on Chromebooks for almost as long as Chromebooks have been available. While some folks have replaced Chrome OS altogether or created dual boot systems, the simplest method is to use Crouton, which allows you to install a Linux distribution in a chroot environment, allowing you to run Ubuntu or another OS alongside Chrome OS and switch between the two environments without rebooting.

In order to do that you need to enable Developer Mode on your Chromebook though, which removes some of the security protections that you normally get with Chrome OS.

But now there’s an easier way to run Linux apps. As we reported earlier this year, Google is developing a new Chrome OS feature called Crostini that makes it possible to run Linux apps on a Chromebook. Now it looks like you can take it for a spin… if you have a Google Pixelbook. The feature will probably roll out to additional devices in the future.

Here’s how Crostini works. You open a crosh terminal by typing ctrl+alt_t on a Chromebook and then enter a few lines of text into the terminal.

Crostini will create a Linux virtual machine (or maybe “container” is a better term) that lets you install and run desktop Linux applications. Kevin Tofel from AboutChromebooks installed the Eclipse IDE and the open source text editor, Sublime Tex allowing him to write code on a Chromebook.

And in a Google+ post, John Bowdre showed that he was able to run the GIMP image editing program and even the Firefox web browser.

He also installed the Chromium web browser, because why the heck not?

+John Bowdre

Right now Crostini is still very much a work in progress, and in order to try it you’ll need to have a Google Pixelbook laptop running Chrome OS v67 dev channel with the experimental #enable-cros-container flag enabled.

Note that dev channel isn’t the same thing as developer mode. While developer mode offers access to Chromebooks features that are normally locked down, switching to the developer channel just means that you’re accessing an early build of an upcoming Chrome release. It may have features that aren’t yet available in the stable or beta channels, but it may also be a little more buggy, so proceed with caution.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can’t currently pin Linux apps to your shelf (taskbar) and there aren’t any special icons to differentiate Linux apps from native Chrome OS apps in the app launcher, although both of those features are in the works.

Update: Chrome Unboxed has posted a video showing Crostini in action… and pointing out some of the limitations. It’s possible (maybe even likely) that some of these will be fixed by the time Crostini is ready for the public, but right now, among other things, it:

  • Keeps any file you save within the same container as the Linux app, so you can’t access it from other apps or browser windows: ie, you can’t edit a photo in GIMP and then upload it in Chrome.
  • Doesn’t seem to tap into your device’s graphics processor.

There’s a pretty long introduction to Crostini in the video, but if you just want to see what it looks like when you run a Linux program like Inkscape, just skip to the 5 minute mark.

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12 replies on “Google’s Crostini lets you run GNU/Linux apps on Chromebooks without enabling developer mode”

  1. Great idea, but I doubt it will ever be available for MY Chromebook.

  2. What’s the Linux distro that the virtual machine is running? What performance and battery life impacts does this have? A virtual machine seems like a bloated solution. Doesn’t seem like it’d be useful on the low end Chromebooks that I’m guessing make up a good chunk of the Chromebook market.

    I don’t use ChromeOS/Chromebooks but is the Google Pixelbook the most powerful Chromebook available?

    1. Is this really relying on a full blown virtual machine? It seems like the wrong solution for just running userspace applications. Probably why it’s only being tested on the high-end Google Pixelbook that hardly anyone has.

      I doubt this will become usable or Google may end up just killing it like the many things they tend to throw at the wall. Sounds like Google wasting resources again.

  3. Crostini just creates a virtual machine, it’s nothing like running natively or at least in chroot.

  4. I hope the rollout of Crostini on Chrome OS goes smoothly and within a reasonable amount of time. However judging from the fiasco that the rollout of android apps on Chrome OS has turned out to be – I won’t be holding my breath.

  5. Or you can just install Ubuntu permanently… Just sayin. Eagle 9.0 just got released.

    1. You don’t really need a chromebook for that. It’s nice to know I’ll have this option one day on a chrome book

    2. Or maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of people buy Chromebooks do so because they want to use Chrome OS, but a tiny minority of users would like the additional ability to fire up the occasional Linux app.

      Just sayin’.

        1. Just installed a bios from MrChromebox (recommended) and GalliumOS. Like you was concerned about data collection but also gave up on Android apps ever appearing. Plus, not enough disk space for two operating systems and a good selection of apps. Doubt I’ll ever go back.

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