ChromeOS has come a long way in a decade. Not only can you now use many apps offline, but newer Chromebooks can also run Android apps, increasing their versatility.
If you crave more powerful features and dedicated desktop apps, you can achieve this by setting up Linux on your Chromebook. The good news is that this is much easier than you might imagine and it doesn’t require you to erase the hard drive or do complicated things with the ‘distro’.
That’s because Google already offers Linux in ChromeOS itself. And here, we’ll show you how to make Linux run on your Chromebook.
Why Use Linux on a Chromebook?
The main advantage is the ability to run full desktop apps on your Chromebook. For example, while you can edit photos through web apps including Snapseed or Pixlr on regular Chromebooks, they’re very basic or require a subscription to access more powerful features.
For Linux, you can download GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which gives you many of the tools you’d find in the full version of Adobe Photoshop, but all for free – and on Chromebooks.
Can my Chromebook run Linux?
If your Chromebook was released in 2019 or later, it should be able to run Linux. For any model before that date, you can check Google’s list of compatible devices.
Since Linux is essentially running in ChromeOS, you’ll benefit from a more powerful Chromebook, but Linux is a lightweight OS nonetheless. One thing to check is how much memory your Chromebook has as many models have very small ‘hard drives’ (they are usually equipped with an eMMC, essentially an embedded SD card).
The lack of memory can be a problem if you want to install many applications.
Does the Chromebook run a full version of Linux?
You can install the full version of Linux on your Chromebook, but not through the built-in feature in ChromeOS.
Doing so is quite complicated and not something we’ll cover in this guide, but of course there are plenty of helpful online guides to take you through the process.
Debian Linux version included with ChromeOS desktop environment not included, so all commands are run through a terminal window. This may sound complicated, but if you just want to install a few Linux apps it’s pretty simple.
You also have the option to find Linux installation files for the applications you want. They can be downloaded and set up without using any command line code. So it’s really something even the most non-technical users can try.
There are some things that are not supported, such as hardware acceleration, camera and Android Emulator. You can connect your Android phone via USB, but the iPhone is still far away.
Is it safe to use Linux on a Chromebook?
Since you are running Linux in ChromeOS on a Virtual Machine, the system creates a ‘sandbox’ to contain Linux and its applications. This means that even if you have a problem with your Linux app, it won’t affect your normal ChromeOS apps.
However, because the sandbox includes all Linux-related items on your Chromebook, Linux apps can affect other Linux apps.
One of the best parts of using this method is that if you want to get rid of Linux and any installed programs, just go into settings and disable the feature. This will immediately remove everything Linux related and leave your Chromebook, ChromeOS apps exactly as they were before you turned it on.
How to Install Linux on a Chromebook
Setting up the Linux feature on ChromeOS is simple. Here are the steps you need to take.
- Go Setting
- In the left column, click Advanced to open up more options
- Option Developers
- At the top of the screen, you’ll see the option Linux development environment. Click Turn on button.
- A new window will open to start the Linux setup. Click Next to continue.
- Enter a username (any name will do) and allocate the amount of disk space you want Linux to use (usually a recommended amount), then click Setting.
ChromeOS will now download and install the Virtual Machine software that will be used to run Linux. Once this is done, a new terminal window will appear with the command prompt ready. This means Linux is installed and running, so you’ll want to find some apps to install.
How to Install Linux Apps on a Chromebook
A little detective work is required when installing the app.
The simplest way to install a program is to track its installer package, which needs to be in .deb format. This is basically the same way you would on Windows or macOS if you didn’t go to their App Store, i.e. by searching online.
If you’re thinking of a particular app, you should visit the app’s website to see if there’s a .deb package available for download. This is similar to .exe on Windows or .dmg on macOS.
If the site has one (you’ll usually find it in the Downloads > Linux section of the site) just download it to your Chromebook. Once it’s there, double-click it and follow the prompts to install it on your device.
Once this is done you will find the app in your ChromeOS launcher, most likely inside Linux Applications folder.
If you do not find the .deb file for the application you require, all is not lost because you can most likely install it via the command line.
In the window that opens when the Linux installation is complete, you can enter code commands that will find and set up applications on your system.
First of all, you will want to make sure that everything is up to date, so enter the following command then press enter.
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
The code will begin to propagate down the page, then you will be asked if you want to continue. Type Y and press enter to complete the process.
Once the update is complete, you will receive a prompt again. Now you are ready to install an application. Although you can use the following standard command to install the application directly:
sudo apt-get install [followed by the name of the app]
You’ll need to search online for apps that you can actually install, but with free services like LibreOffice (a full desktop Office package), Audacity (audio editing software) and GIMP (replace with photoshop), they are good places to start.
So, for example, installing Libre Office would require the following command;
sudo apt-get install libreoffice
Many programs these days use something called flatpak, which is a new way for Linux applications to package the files needed for a program. The advantage of this is that after the initial setup you can use Flathub, which acts as an app store for Linux and is compatible with ChromeOS.
To set this up, enter the following command:
sudo apt install flatpak
Press Enter, then type:
flatpak –user remote-add –if-not-survival flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo
The final step is to restart Linux, so go down to the Terminal icon in the dock, right click, then select Turn off Linux.
Next, open ChromeOS launcher, find Linux Applications folder and double click End.
Linux will reboot when installing Flatpaks and Flathub. So open the Chrome browser, go to
https://flathub.org/home and find the app you want to install. To finish the process, scroll to the bottom of the application’s page and enter the displayed command line instructions (there will be only a few). Then agree to the installation questions and the app will be installed on your Chromebook.
Now, when you go back to the Linux apps folder in the ChromeOS launcher, you’ll see that the app is installed and available to use.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you want to use the downloaded files with the app, you’ll need to move them to the Linux files folder in My Files, as the sandboxed nature of the Linux environment means it doesn’t. can access your normal ChromeOS folder.
We’ve noticed the flatpak route has a few bugs here and there, so be prepared to use your Google skills to troubleshoot, but we definitely think the advantage of running linux apps on Chromebooks go beyond the occasional detective work you might need to use to keep things running.
How to remove Linux from a Chromebook
If at any point you want to go back to just ChromeOS and remove all traces of Linux and its applications, just go to Settings > Advanced > Developer > Linux Developer Environment > Remove Linux Development Environment and click Eliminate button.
Everything will be erased and your system will look like Linux was never installed.
If you want to add the extremely useful features of Linux apps to your Chromebook, but find that your device doesn’t support it, or just want a more powerful Chromebook to get the most out of the options When picking up this new software, be sure to check out our guide to the best Chromebooks.
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