How to Run Linux on a Chromebook

154news | February 12th, 2024

Chrome OS is a web-centric operating system built around Google’s web browser. It’s ideal for casual users who just want to check email, browse Facebook and other social media, write a few Google Docs, and play some video games now and then. But it’s a poor choice for advanced users who need to use powerful software like Photoshop or even full-blown office suites. And for anyone who really wants to be productive with their laptop, a more traditional Windows or macOS device is still the way to go.

But a small group of users who are willing to go out of their way to get the functionality they need have found a workaround. A small Linux distribution called crouton allows you to run Linux apps inside a sandboxed virtual machine on top of ChromeOS. The apps show up in the ChromeOS launcher and can be launched from there just like regular apps are launched. They can also be pinned to the shelf and run in desktop mode using a keyboard and mouse. And the applications have their own sandboxed file system so they can’t access any other files on your computer.

Crouton is just one of a handful of ways to run Linux on a Chromebook. Other methods include a more stable and mature approach from Neverware, which has been used by schools and businesses to deploy Chrome OS devices for years. This approach, which is called Chrome OS FLEX, is similar to the open-source Chromium OS, but with additional features and mainstream hardware support. It’s based on the same code as ChromeOS, so it’s easy to upgrade or roll back to previous versions.

Another option for enterprises is a project from Google that’s known as Crostini. It works by allowing Linux apps to run in containers within a virtual machine on top of ChromeOS, and it’s designed to work on older models. And finally, there’s an official ChromeOS app called Geary that lets you manage all your Linux systems from a single platform.

The point of all these is to provide a more diverse range of apps and services for people who use Chromebooks. In addition to the standard collection of web apps, many of which can be installed with extensions, ChromeOS now supports native Android applications. And in 2016, the company introduced Google Play to ChromeOS so you can install all the apps that you’d expect to find on your Android phone on your Chromebook.

For IT administrators, managing ChromeOS devices is a snap. Devices can be updated with the new operating system in minutes through USB or network deployment, and a user’s cloud profile automatically syncs across their devices. And a robust set of policies can be applied through the ChromeOS Admin console. So IT teams can maximize the life of aging PCs and MacBooks, reduce e-waste, and provide employees with the speedy, secure tools they need to be productive.

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