In this article, I want to give you a little guide on how to switch from Linux to Chrome OS.
Did someone set up a computer for you with Linux, and you don’t have in-depth knowledge of Linux yourself? You use it as a normal user, but some things are too complicated for you? Maybe you are better off with Chrome OS. 🙂
Or are you a nerd and know your way around the depths of Linux? 😀
All kidding aside! Some distributions make Linux comfortable and easy to use. Unfortunately, however, there are so many that I can’t possibly provide you with a guide about each one.
My experiences with Linux
During my computer engineering studies, I got to know Unix and Linux around 2003 at the University of Applied Sciences. Thereafter, I tried different distributions [Wikipedia] besides Windows. openSUSE, Fedora and Ubuntu were among them, and Linux Mint was my primary operating system between 2015 and 2017.
I’m also more of a normal user who only launched the Terminal when necessary. At my university, of course, we had to do more things. I was also compiling program code. I prefer to use a graphical software management or App Store to install my applications. Furthermore, I also like AppImages [Wikipedia] because you don’t have to install them and can just launch them.
In 2017, I bought my first Chromebook, but actually to just test Chrome OS and got stuck right away. It’s because, on Linux Mint, the Chrome browser was the program I used the most, and that’s what Chrome OS was originally designed for.
In addition, you could already install Android apps like Netflix and didn’t have to deal with DRM issues (copy protection, digital rights management) like on Linux. Many things were easier, and Chrome OS is pretty damn fast.
The Linux mode of Chrome OS
Since 2018, there has been an official Linux mode on Chrome OS. Initially in beta for three years, now called “Linux Development Environment.”
The Linux mode is currently based on Debian 10 Buster. However, Google wants to allow other Linux distributions such as Linux Mint and Ubuntu in the future, without bending with Crostini and activating the debug mode of Chrome OS. That’ll also be possible in parallel in different containers. You’ll need a well-equipped Chromebook for this, though! Here is an article on that from Allaboutchromebooks: Link.
If you use a Gnome, KDE or, e.g., Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop environment, you should have no problem with the core system of Chrome OS. You can also install most of the Linux applications you use now in the Linux mode. Of course, they have to be compatible with the Debian version, and currently, there are still various limitations in graphics card support and performance.
The first steps on Chrome OS
First, I would recommend you see which web applications, Chrome extensions, and Android apps are available to you on Chrome OS. Today’s web apps are very powerful, often run great on Chrome OS, and you can use them partially without an internet connection. That’s where Chrome OS has its strengths. Whether you’re running Windows 10, macOS Monterey, or Linux Mint, the Chrome browser runs best on Chrome OS!
You don’t want that and want to use Chrome for normal browsing? No problem! Chrome OS is very flexible. Before I get specific about Linux mode, you should also check which Android apps run well and stably on your Chromebook. There are countless apps in the Play Store. If you use an Android smartphone, you’ll find your way directly.
As a normal user, I think you can cover all your use cases with a computer this way.
If you want to do more, you can use Chrome OS’s Linux mode.
Using Chrome OS Linux Mode
I described how to activate and use the Linux mode here: Link.
I wrote more about Linux applications in this article: Link. There, I also give tips on the specifications your Chromebook should have for this.
The icons of installed Linux applications can be found in the Launcher and in the Tray of Chrome OS. You can conveniently launch the apps from there.
What about the KDE or Gnome desktop environment?
Well, the desktop environment is now Chrome OS!
If you search for it on the Internet, there are also tutorials on installing and using a desktop environment in Chrome OS’s Linux mode. Here, e.g., described by Chrome Unboxed using KDE: Link.
I installed it once for fun, but you’ll need a high-speed machine for that! Try it out if you like. I can’t tell you anything about stability and performance here, and I don’t give support for it. This is not a pure Linux blog!
However, now you know about what’s possible.
Installing Linux applications on Chrome OS
Well-known applications like KeePassXC, Scite, Chromium, Firefox, VLC, Dia, Darktable, Rawtherapee, Krita, Thunderbird, Blender, Handbreak, and more are included in the package sources of Debian Buster, the Linux Mode distribution of Chrome OS. You can install them with a quick “apt install” in the Terminal as usual on Linux, or you use, e.g., the Gnome Software Center [my article] or KDE Discover [my article]. There, you don’t have to give cryptic commands. It’s just like a graphical app store.
Many software vendors provide Debian packages. You can download them there and install them by double-clicking from the Files app of Chrome OS, as long as it’s compatible with the Debian version of Linux mode. Your processor architecture must also be supported. 32 bit vs. 64 bit. Intel vs. AMD vs. ARM. If you switch from Ubuntu, Linux Mint, or Debian, you may be able to just keep using your packages on Chrome OS under these restrictions.
If you are a software developer, you can install software development environments like Google’s Android Studio and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code on Chrome OS, among others. That’s also possible! However, I don’t offer any content on that here. This is not a pure Linux blog, nor is it about software development!
Using Linux applications under Chrome OS
As mentioned above, the icons of installed Linux applications are located in the Launcher and Tray of Chrome OS. You can conveniently launch the apps from there.
By right-clicking on a folder in the Chrome OS file system, you can use the Files app to make folders visible to Linux apps via “Share with Linux” and thus share data. In the Linux mode, you can then find these folders under “mnt”. Everything is as normal as on Linux.
No matter with which background you want to switch from Linux to Chrome OS: Chrome OS is very flexible.
I’ve described in this little guide that as a normal user, you might be able to cover all your daily use cases with a computer using web apps, Chrome extensions, and Android apps.
If you need more than that, Chrome OS’s Linux mode gives you almost the same options in terms of apps as the Linux distribution you’re switching from. However, Chrome OS is usually the desktop environment here. In addition, you can, for example, use Netflix on Chrome OS without having to deal with DRM problems (copy protection, digital rights management) as you would on Linux.
You can use famous desktop applications like Firefox, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Gimp, KeePassXC, and many more like on your old system.
Of course, I’ve only given you a small insight into how to switch from Linux to Chrome OS, but that should be enough to get you ready for the first steps.
Where do you see problems when switching from Linux to Chrome OS? What hurdles are in your way?
Do you have any unanswered questions you’d like me to answer in more content on this topic?
Below is the comment function! The community and I are happy to help. 🙂
More as always on the blog.
Words in italics may be registered trademarks or companies! Examples: Google, YouTube, and Android. Or they are technical terms from the IT world, which are described in various locations in the blog.