Linux app support coming to Chrome OS

Google's I/O developer conference kicked off yesterday, bringing with it a raft of announcements of interest to programmers and users alike. While demonstrations like Google Assistant's natural call to a hair salon took centre stage, Google also slipped in a big scoop for developers: Linux app support will soon be added to Chrome OS.

Historically, developers interested in working on Chromebook hardware such as Google's line of Pixelbooks have had to boot Linux on their devices or use tools like Crouton to install their favourite distro. These workarounds are effective, but they do require not insignificant levels of effort and technical literacy.

With Linux app support now built into Chrome OS, developers can now enjoy the benefits of Chrome OS alongside useful Linux apps such as GitHub's Atom text editor and Android Studio. Another essential ingredient, a Terminal app, has also been added recently.

Linux apps running on Chrome OS will be able to make use of a Material Design-inspired GTK theme, allowing apps that use the popular Linux toolkit to blend in with native Chrome OS apps. Linux apps on Chrome OS can also be started directly from the Launcher, appear in movable windows and have direct access to files.

However, not all apps are able to run on Chrome OS, most notably those that rely on hardware video acceleration. Reddit user /u/redfiz was able to get digital games service Steam running on their Pixelbook, but couldn't play most games due to the lack of GPU support. However, proper GPU support may be added later this year, to the detriment of developer productivity everywhere.

With Chrome OS now supporting both Android and Linux apps, it could become a more popular choice for developers. Unfortunately, at present only one Chromebook model supports this new functionality: the Pixelbook, which currently retails for £799 ($899). You'll also need to be running the Chrome OS dev channel in order to see the new feature.

Recent commits to Chromium, the open source projects behind Chrome OS and the Chrome browser, suggest that Linux app support will also appear on other, more affordable Chrome OS devices in the future, as long as they run Linux kernel 4.4 or higher. Even ARM-based Chromebooks won't be left behind, with /u/MrUrbanity spotting a Linux (Beta) option on their Samsung Chromebook Plus. With huge numbers of budget Chromebooks sold in the education market, Chrome OS could also become something of a breeding ground for young developers.

Are you excited to run Linux apps on Chrome OS? Let us know in the comments.

Body image credit: Google.

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