Chrome OS set to receive containers full of Linux applications

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.

Comments closed
    • moog
    • 1 year ago

    Chrome OS might be cut and replaced with Android. Chrome OS has many compromises and gotchas, so it might be ok for experimenting but maybe not mainstream.

    • Laykun
    • 1 year ago

    Was already pretty happy with my pixel book, this just makes it that much better. I tried using Crouton to run Visual Studio Code and it WORKED but it wasn’t optimal, I’m quite excited to get better linux app support on my little convertible.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 1 year ago

    That’s great, but most Chromebooks come with like 25GB of free space, if you’re lucky.

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      Why are you being such a downer? Let the new kids code while doing memes and dabs and whatever they do nowadays. We don’t want to hold back those creative energies with such downer mentality. It is equality for all; it is a new age!

      uni-mitation

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        I guess I’m turning into an old person. </3

      • TheRazorsEdge
      • 1 year ago

      An Alpine-based container provides a POSIX environment in under 5 MB. You can go very, very small if you want to.

      Obviously, fancy frameworks and high-res graphics can quickly bloat a container. But this is true for any application.

      The bottom line is that the developers’ choices are the biggest factor. Containers can easily work on basic Chromebooks as long as the CPU has decent virtualization support.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        I’m more concerned about the 1.5GB Android Studio install and 2-3GB of SDK and emulator images. You’re talking about 15-20% of the remaining space.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 1 year ago

          Oh, plus space for your projects. Even simple business apps can take up a lot of space on your drive, thanks to making assets at multiple resolutions, build files, output, and so on.

      • tipoo
      • 1 year ago

      Well, hopefully that means a rise of more Chromebooks with more or extensible storage. A select few had m.2 slots.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        Local storage and apps to install on it are the two things that have kept me from taking Chromebooks seriously. But that wasn’t what google wanted at first, so I can respect that decision. But this pleases me.

          • LostCat
          • 1 year ago

          I assume USB storage is still a thing on Chromebooks. I haven’t used one, but…

      • shank15217
      • 1 year ago

      It’s Linux, how much free space do you think is needed?

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        5MB, apparently

    • windwalker
    • 1 year ago

    In Google’s upside down world the browser runs on bare metal and the other applications run in containers.
    I bet the hog that is Android Studio will be extra lovely to use inside a container.

      • Laykun
      • 1 year ago

      Well it’s not running on the browser, it’s running on a Linux VM so I imagine with hardware virtualisation it should work just fine.

    • willmore
    • 1 year ago

    I’m looking forward to the Arduino IDE being on there. I doubt they’ll bring the Debian functionality to my old XE303C12.

    • tipoo
    • 1 year ago

    This is awesome. Android apps were an ok addition in some cases but always felt like fish out of water on clamshell chromebooks. Linux apps in containers should be a much better fit if it integrates almost natively.

    Android Studio particularly makes them nice dev machines if that’s all you were developing on, might win some over.

    • psuedonymous
    • 1 year ago

    Will it finally be the year of Linux in the desktop?

      • tacitust
      • 1 year ago

      No.

        • DancinJack
        • 1 year ago

        ^

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      It will be the year of ghosts and apparitions. Next year I expect zombies.

      uni-mitation

      • NovusBogus
      • 1 year ago

      Of course; next year is always the year of the Linux desktop!

        • psuedonymous
        • 1 year ago

        This guy got the joke.

    • sweatshopking
    • 1 year ago

    Though they haven’t clarified on security explicitly, they have made this feature an opt in, so take that as you will

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