How to install Linux on a Chromebook

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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, massively increasing their versatility.

If you crave more powerful features and dedicated desktop apps, you can achieve that by setting up Linux on your Chromebook. The good news is that this is a lot easier than you might imagine and you don’t have to wipe the hard drive or do complicated things with “distributions”.

That’s because Google made Linux available in ChromeOS itself. And here we show you how to get Linux running on your Chromebook.

Why Use Linux on a Chromebook?

The main benefit is the ability to run full desktop apps on your Chromebook. For example, while you can edit photos via web apps like Snapseed or Pixlr on a regular Chromebook, these are either very basic or require subscriptions to access the more powerful features.

On Linux, you can download GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which gives you many of the tools you would find in the full version of Adobe Photoshop, but all for free—and on a Chromebook.

Can my Chromebook run Linux?

If your Chromebook was released in 2019 or later, it should be able to run Linux. For all models before this date, you can check Google’s list of compatible devices.

Because Linux essentially runs inside ChromeOS, you’ll benefit from a more powerful Chromebook, but Linux is a lightweight operating system anyway. One thing to check is how much storage your Chromebook has, since many models have very small “hard drives” (they often come with eMMC, which is basically an embedded SD card).

A lack of storage space can be a problem when you want to install a lot of apps.

Do Chromebooks run full versions of Linux?

You can install full versions of Linux on Chromebooks, but not through the built-in feature in ChromeOS.

This is quite complicated and won’t be covered in this tutorial, but of course there are plenty of useful guides online to guide you through the process.

The version of Debian Linux included with ChromeOS does not contain a desktop environment, so all commands are run from a terminal window. This sounds complicated, but if you just want to install a few Linux apps, it’s easy.

You also have the option to find the Linux installation files for the apps you want. These can be downloaded and set up without having to use command line codes. So it really is something for even the most non-technical users to try.

There are some things that are not supported, e.g. B. Hardware acceleration, cameras and Android emulators. You can connect an Android phone via USB, but iPhones remain aloof.

Is it safe to use Linux on a Chromebook?

Because you’re running Linux on ChromeOS in a virtual machine, the system creates a “sandbox” that contains Linux and its apps. This means that even if you have problems with a Linux app, your normal ChromeOS apps will not be affected.

However, because the sandbox includes all Linux-related items on your Chromebook, Linux apps can affect other Linux apps.

One of the best parts about using this method is that if you want to get rid of Linux and all installed programs, you can simply go into settings and disable the feature. This will immediately erase everything related to Linux, leaving your Chromebook and ChromeOS apps exactly as they were before activation.

How to install Linux on a Chromebook

Setting up the Linux feature on ChromeOS is very simple. Here are the steps you need to take.

ChromeOS will now download and install the Virtual Machine software used to run Linux. When this is done, a new terminal window will appear with a command prompt ready. That means Linux is installed and running, so you should find some apps to install.

How to install Linux apps on a Chromebook

Installing apps involves a bit of detective work.

The easiest way to install a program is to track down its installation package, which must be in .deb format. This is basically the same as you would do on Windows or macOS if you’re not going through their app stores, i.e. by searching online.

Debian files

If you have a specific app in mind, it’s worth checking their website to see if there’s a .deb package available for download. This is similar to an .exe file on Windows or a .dmg file on macOS.

If the site has one (you can usually find it in the Downloads > Linux section of the site), just download it to your Chromebook. If it’s there, double-click it and follow the prompts to install it on your device.

When that’s done, you should find the app in your ChromeOS launcher, most likely in the Linux apps folder.

command line

If you can’t find a .deb file for the app you want, all is not lost as you can most likely install it from the command line.

In the window that opened after the Linux installation was complete, you can enter code commands that will find and set up the apps on your system.

First, you should make sure everything is up to date. So type the following command and then press Input.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

How to install Linux on a Chromebook: Upgrading Linux

The code will start pouring down the page and you will be asked if you want to continue. kind Y and press Input to complete the process.

When the update is complete, you will be prompted again. Now you can install an app. While you can use the following standard command to install apps directly:

sudo apt-get install [followed by the name of the app]

You’ll have to search online for the apps you can actually install, but with free offerings like LibreOffice (full desktop office suite), Audacity (audio editing software), and GIMP (Photoshop alternative), they’re a good place to start.

For example, installing Libre Office would require the following command;

sudo apt-get install libreoffice

Flatpaks

How to Install Linux on Chromebook: Flatpaks and Flathub

Many programs these days use something called a Flatpak, which is a new way for Linux apps to pack the files required for a program. This has the advantage that after the initial setup you can use the 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 and then type:

flatpak –user remote-add –if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

The last step is to restart Linux. So go to the Terminal icon in the Dock, right click and select it Quit Linux.

Next, open the ChromeOS launcher, locate the Linux apps folder and double-click terminal.

How to install Linux on Chromebooks: Linux folder

Linux will reboot with Flatpaks and Flathub installed. So open Chrome browser, go to https://flathub.org/home and find an app you want to install. To complete the process, scroll to the bottom of the app page and enter the command line instructions that appear (only a few are shown). Then agree to the installation questions and the app will be installed on your Chromebook.

Now when you return to the Linux apps folder in the ChromeOS launcher, you should find that the app is installed and available.

How to install Linux on Chromebooks: Install apps

Note that if you want to use downloaded files with the app, you’ll need to move them to the Linux Files folder in My Files, as the sandbox nature of the Linux environment means they won’t port to your regular ChromeOS can access folder.

We’ve found that the Flatpak route has thrown up a few bugs here and there, so be prepared to use your Google troubleshooting skills, but we definitely think the benefits of running Linux apps on a Chromebook far beyond the occasional detective work you might need to do to keep things running.

How to remove Linux from a Chromebook

If at any point you just want to go back to ChromeOS and remove all traces of Linux and its apps, just go to Settings > Advanced > Developer > Linux developer environment > Remove Linux development environment and click the Remove Button.

Everything will be erased and your system will look like Linux was never installed at all.

How to install Linux on a Chromebook: Removing Linux

If you’re looking to add the incredibly useful capabilities of Linux apps to your Chromebook but find that your device doesn’t support the feature, or just want a more powerful Chromebook to take full advantage of these new software options, be sure to check out our guide to the best Chromebooks.

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