Running Linux Apps on Chromebook

The arrival of the Chromebook was a big moment for American education systems, allowing them to buy inexpensive laptops for students, teachers, and administrators. Although Chromebook have always run a Linux-based operating system (Chrome OS); until recently, most Linux applications on them were impossible to run. However, that all changed when Google released Crostini – a virtual machine that allows you to run Linux (beta) on a Chromebook.

Most Chromebooks released after 2019, as well as some older models, are capable of running Crostini and Linux (beta). To find out if your Chromebook is on the list of supported devices, you can here… Luckily my Acer Chromebook 15 with 2GB RAM and Intel Celeron processor is supported.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

If you plan to install a lot of Linux applications, I recommend using a Chromebook with 4GB of RAM and more free disk space.

Linux setup (beta)

Once signed in to your Chromebook, move your mouse cursor to the lower-right corner of the screen where the clock is located, and left-click. A panel will open, at the top of which the options will be listed (from left to right): exit, shutdown, lock and open parameters. Select the options icon (Settings).

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

On the left side of the panel Settings you will see in the list Linux (Beta)

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Press on Linux (Beta), and the option to launch it will appear in the main panel. Click the button Turn on

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This will start the process of setting up the Linux environment on the Chromebook.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Then you will be prompted to enter Username and the size of your Linux installation.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

It takes a few minutes to install Linux on a Chromebook.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Once the installation is complete, you can start using Linux on your Chromebook. There is a shortcut in the menu bar at the bottom of the Chromebook display terminal – a text-based interface that can be used to interact with Linux.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

You can use standard Linux commands, eg ls, lscpu and topto get more information about the environment. Applications are installed by the command sudo apt install

Installing the first Linux application

The ability to install and run free and open source software on a Chromebook gives you a wide range of possibilities.

The first thing I recommend is to install the app Mu editor for Python. Install it by entering the following into the terminal:

$ sudo apt install mu-editor

It will take a little over five minutes to install, but you will end up using a great Python code editor.

I have used with great success Mu and Python as a learning tool… For example, I taught my students to write code for the Python turtle module and execute it to create graphics. I was frustrated that I could not use Mu with open hardware board BBC: Microbit… Even though Microbit connects to USB and the Chromebook has USB support in a Linux virtual environment, I couldn’t get it to work.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

After installing the application, it will be displayed in a special menu Linux Appswhich is shown in the lower right corner of the screenshot.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Installing other applications

You can install more than just a programming language with a code editor. In fact, you can install most of your favorite open source applications.

For example, you can install the LibreOffice package with this command:

$ sudo apt install libreoffice

Open source audio editor Audacity Is one of my favorite learning apps. My Chromebook microphone works with Audacity, making it easy for me to create podcasts or edit free sounds from Wikimedia Commons… Installing Audacity on a Chromebook is easy – with the Crostini virtual environment open, open a terminal and enter the following:

$ sudo apt install audacity

Then start Audacity from the command line or search for it under Linux Apps Chromebook menu.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

I also easily installed TuxMath and TuxType – a couple of great educational programs. I even managed to install and run the image editor Gimp… All Linux applications come from the Debian Linux repositories.

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

File transfer

Linux (beta) has a utility for backing up and restoring files. You can also transfer files between a Linux virtual machine (beta) and a Chromebook by opening the Chromebook app Files and right-clicking on the folder you want to transfer. You can transfer all files from your Chromebook, or create a dedicated folder for shared files. While in a Linux virtual machine, the folder can be accessed by going to /mnt/chromeos

(Don Watkins, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Additional Information

Documentation Linux (beta) is very detailed, so take a good look at it to see what’s possible. Here are some important aspects taken from the documentation:

  • Cameras are not yet supported.
  • Android devices are supported via USB.
  • Hardware acceleration is not yet supported.
  • There is access to the microphone.

Do you use Linux apps on your Chromebook? Let us know in the comments!


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