Chrome OS: What about portable applications like on Windows? [E]

Introduction

On Windows, for example, it is possible to use portable applications very comfortably without installation with the help of portable application tools such as PortableApps and LiberKey. In my case, there are about 150 applications that I use in this way.

Well, do you wonder why this should be done in times of the Windows Store?

You can copy portable applications to a USB stick or an external SSD. This way, you always have your favorite tools with you and can, for example, go to a relative to help them with a problem. Even as a pupil or student, you can use everything you need in the computer center of your school or university without installation.

Another example: When I got a new Windows device, I copied my 150 or so applications to the internal data storage, and everything I needed was right at the start. In other words: There are many areas of use!

LiberKey on Window
LiberKey on Windows | Image: cyldx.com

So far, so good! But what about portable applications on Chrome OS?

There are alternatives for every scenario, like Chrome OS, Android, and Linux mode, which I present to you now!

Important Notes

Notes for beginners: My posts usually contain some basics so that you can understand how to proceed. I partly repeat the basics in other posts, so you don’t have to jump back and forth all the time.

Here is the meaning of the abbreviations after the headings: [E] Everyone [A] Advanced [B] Beginner [P] Professional

If you still miss something, feel free to comment. The community will try to help you! πŸ™‚

Notes for professionals: My posts usually have the form of a knowledge database entry and should be equally suitable for beginners, advanced users, and professionals. Just pick out what you need right now. You can also find content specifically targeted to professionals. These are marked accordingly with [P] and other finger points.

Do you want to have more professional content on a topic? Add it to the comments πŸ˜‰

Disclaimer of liability: As always on this blog, I warn you that all changes to your system mentioned in this post are at your own risk! It is theoretically possible that there are system or application errors that could lead to data loss and further problems!

Scenario: Portable applications for Chrome OS [B]

There are no portable applications comparable to PortableApps or LiberKey for the raw Chrome OS. With a few exceptions, such as the Files app, Google has designed it for online use.

If you are allowed to log in to another Chrome OS device with a Google account, your usual Chrome OS environment can be set up automatically through synchronization. Once everything is synchronized, you can quickly access everything you use.

That’s great, but of course, these are not really portable applications, as you can access online applications from anywhere.

Web applications on Chrome OS
Web applications on Chrome OS | Image: cyldx.com

With your Chrome extensions, it is a bit different, because you need to them as an add-on in the Chrome browser. But this is also done entirely automatically by the synchronization. They are not shown here in the screenshot, because they are not callable in incognito mode.

You can also use your web applications in Chrome OS guest mode. In Chrome, login to a Google service such as Gmail, for example, and you can access your Google apps as usual via the app navigation in the navigation bar.

Even if the Chrome browser’s bookmarks bar and your Chrome extensions are not available here, you can still access all your web applications or regular websites.

Scenario: Portable applications for Android on Chrome OS [B]

There are no portable applications comparable to PortableApps or LiberKey for the Android of Chrome OS, because Android apps need to be installed before you can use them. πŸ™‚

If you are allowed to log in to another Chrome OS device with your Google Account, and you enable synchronization of your Android apps, they will be available as usual after a short wait:

The Chrome OS synchronization
The Chrome OS synchronization | Image: cyldx.com

That works very well! πŸ™‚

If the device is not a family device and you need to return it, deleting your Google Account on the device will delete all apps and everything else on the device once you initiate this. That is portable in the broadest sense. It’s similar to unplugging a USB flash drive that has your portable apps on it, except that Google has made the apps on the other device available to you.

However, if you are not allowed to log on to the Chrome OS device as mentioned above, it is unfortunately not possible to use your usual Android apps.

Scenario: Portable applications for the Linux of Chrome OS

Overview [A]

In the Linux of Chrome OS, things look very different: There are portable applications that can be used like the PortableApps and LiberKey on Windows without installation! It is also possible to integrate them into the launcher of Chrome OS so that you can launch them just like the other Android and Linux apps.

Unfortunately, in my research and own tests, in preparation for the creation of this post, I was not able to make these applications executable on a USB stick or external hard drive. That is easily possible with the standard Linux distributions.

So, in the Linux of Chrome OS, these applications can apparently only be executed from the internal storage at the moment, and this is quite simple to do!

The preparations [A]

First of all, you need to activate the Linux of Chrome OS, if you haven’t already done so! How to do this and how to set up Linux I have described in this post: link.

If you have set up Linux and you don’t want to make your applications executable with cryptic commands via the Terminal and start them from there? Then you can do this with a graphical file manager like Double Commander with a few clicks. There you will have a list of your applications in the broadest sense, like in the menu of PortableApps on Windows. That works very well and is stable. More on this later!

Now I have to tell you what kind of portable applications I mean? More on that in the next section. πŸ™‚

AppImages on the own device [A]

AppImages are portable applications for Linux. You can download them from the web, make them executable and then launch them quite easily. I don’t want to bore you with more technical details. See the linked Wikipedia article for more information.

You can download AppImages from various portals. Two good examples are AppImageHub and AppImageHub on Github. However, I would recommend that you also check the website of the respective developers to see if there is a newer version you can download and use from there.

When downloading AppImages, you should pay attention to statements like “suitable for Generic Linux” or Debian. In rare cases, some AppImage packages cannot be started at all in the Linux of Chrome OS, because they have been prepared for other Linux derivatives.

In the last section, I already referred to my post about Double Commander, in which I already described how to make executable and run AppImages.

If you now place all your AppImages in one folder, you can search them with the Commander:

Calling up the search function of the Double Commander
Calling up the search function of the Double Commander | Image: cyldx.com

If the directory matches, you can now search it for the name of your AppImage:

Using the search function of the Double Commander
Using the search function of the Double Commander | Image: cyldx.com

If you double click on the search result you will get back to the folder overview and from there you can double click on the already marked AppImage again to start it:

The search result of the Double Commander
The search result of the Double Commander | Picture: cyldx.com

This search is, of course, only necessary if you have a huge AppImage collection. Of course, you can also scroll directly to your desired application and start it with a double click:

Starting an AppImage from within Double Commander
Starting an AppImage from within Double Commander | Image: cyldx.com

If you prefer to use the Terminal, you can make AppImages executable there as follows and then run them:

chmod a+x Program.AppImage
./Program.AppImage

Integrating AppImages into the launcher of Chrome OS [P]

Overview

For the standard Linux distributions, there is another alternative. It is the AppImageLauncher, with which you can integrate AppImages in the system. That makes it possible to start AppImages from the “start menu,” as on Windows. That also works with the launcher of Chrome OS!

Attention: Unfortunately, this useful tool in the Linux of Chrome OS still has a few bugs! You cannot control it via the Terminal due to error messages. The integration into the launcher of Chrome OS works by double-clicking from a file manager or the Terminal via AppImageLauncher. But removing AppImage shortcuts from the launcher would only work with a command in the Terminal. That is, as just mentioned, currently not possible. (For example, we don’t have the Gnome Shell here, where this would work with a right-click and the option “Remove from System“). So here’s a strong hint: Do the following steps only if you know what you are doing! Say: if you have advanced Linux knowledge!

The Installation

On the manufacturer’s side, there is a slightly older but basically executable version that is suitable for Debian Buster (the Linux distribution of the Linux of Chrome OS): Link. There you can find the file “appimagelauncher_2.0.3-travis888.4f7bc8e.buster_amd64.deb.” You can download this package and install it on your system by double-clicking it.

As already mentioned, this version still has a few teething troubles on Chrome OS, so everything at your own risk! If you have problems with your Linux system after the installation, you can uninstall the package after a reboot in the Terminal with the following command:

sudo apt-get remove --purge AppImageLauncher*

In the software sources, there are additional packages that support the use of AppImages. You can install them using the package management of the Gnome Software Center:

Calling up the package management of the Gnome Software Center
Calling up the package management of the Gnome SW Center | Image: cyldx.com

If you can’t find such a package management system on your system, you can find it here in my post about the Gnome Software Center: link.

Now we continue with the search for AppImage packages in the package management. Therefore we will search for the term “AppImage:”

Finding and installing AppImage packages using the package manager of the Gnome SW Center on Chrome OS
Image: cyldx.com

The previously manually installed package is also listed here.

The usage

Then you should restart your system once and then start the Terminal or another Linux application, so that the AppImageLauncher is available when you call up AppImages (double click on an AppImage or run it from the Terminal):

First start of the AppImageLauncher on Chrome OS
First start of the AppImageLauncher on Chrome OS| Image: cyldx.com

Here you can now select the option “Integrate and run:”

Integrating an AppImage into the launcher of Chrome OS with the AppImageLauncher
Integrating an AppImage into the launcher of Chrome OS with the AppImageLauncher | Image: cyldx.com

If you don’t want to do that, you can choose “Run once.” The AppImage will start immediately.

Attention: Again, there is still a problem with the AppImagelauncher in the Linux of Chrome OS. Because it will not aks you again afterward if you want to integrate the AppImage file into the system, but there is a little trick: just rename the AppImage. Then the AppImageLauncher treats the file as an unknown application, and the dialog appears again next time πŸ˜‰

After integration, the AppImageLauncher moves your AppImage under a different name to the directory you configured when you first started the Launcher:

AppImage moved by AppImageLauncher
Image: cyldx.com

So don’t be surprised if your AppImage is suddenly missing in the source directory! πŸ˜€

AppImages integrated into the launcher of Chrome OS

If you have integrated your AppImage into the system, the name of the AppImage should – as always with the Linux of Chrome OS – finally appear in the launcher of Chrome OS after a reboot:

Launching an AppImage integrated in the Chrome OS launcher
Launching an AppImage integrated in the Chrome OS launcher | Image: cyldx.com
Background information

If you still want to know what is happening in the background, take a look at the following screenshot. As a professional, you will get an idea of what the AppImageLauncher is doing there:

The files mounted by AppImageLauncher, including the desktop file for integration into the Linux menu
Image: cyldx.com

Since you can not launch AppImages from your USB flash drive, you can only use them if you are allowed to copy them to the internal storage of the other device. Besides, you need to mark the files as executable again on the device before you can use them.

But since no installation is required, you can use your favorite applications directly. πŸ˜‰

If you also have a Linux device with one of the common Linux distributions, you can use the AppImages there. That is very convenient! πŸ™‚

Advantages with Powerwash or a new Chrome OS device [A]

Do you powerwash your device, or are you looking forward to a new Chrome OS device? Then you can copy your AppImage collection into a folder below “Linux files” and use it without having to install anything extra. πŸ™‚

As mentioned above, this works for the pure Chrome OS and your Android apps via synchronization πŸ˜‰

Conclusion

Depending on the scenario (Chrome OS, Android, or Linux mode), there are various ways and possibilities to use your favorite web applications and tools on other devices. It’s not the same as with Windows, but it basically works. πŸ˜‰

What portable applications do you use? πŸ™‚

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