Google's web-first Chrome OS delivers a streamlined browsing experience, but the lack of native applications has been criticized since the operating system's earliest days. Over the last couple years, Chrome OS devices eventually gained the ability to run Android apps, but even with that feature, there are significant functionality gaps compared to traditional desktop operating systems. The company is now adding support for containerized Linux apps to Chrome OS machines, starting with its own high-end Pixelbook.
Google says that both GUI and command-line programs are supported, and that they'll run on a virtual machine “designed from scratch for Chromebooks.” This specificity should allow for quick app start-up times and smooth integration with Chrome OS features. The announcement says that Linux apps can start by just selecting an icon as usual, and that users can move the apps' windows around at will and open files directly from them. The use of a virtual machine may have a performance impact compared to running the apps on a native Linux system, though.
Google is bringing Linux app support on Chrome OS as a shortcut for developers. VentureBeat reports that Google's Android Studio integrated development environment is one of the first such tools to get the Chrome app container treatment. The outlet goes on to say that Google is working on a Chrome OS-specific version of Android Studio. Application development is an area where Android application support hasn't done much to help Chrome OS catch up with mainstream desktop OSes like Windows and macOS. VentureBeat says Google's containers are based on Debian Stretch.
Chromebook owners have been able to run Linux apps in Chrome OS using tools like Crouton. These tools typically require the defeat of some or all of Chrome OS's security features, reducing their appeal to many users. Apps running in Crouton environments also usually aren't very well integrated into Chrome OS. Google hasn't specifically stated whether Linux app container support would require activation of Chrome OS's reduced-security developer mode.
Google also hasn't indicated whether Linux app containers would come to ARM-based Chrome machines. New feature support on Chrome OS for ARM has often lagged behind that of x86 devices running the browser-based OS. Android Authority says the first Chrome OS preview build with Linux container app support would be available to Pixelbook owners today.