How to Run Linux on Your Chromebook

Chromebooks have come a long way, and in some circumstances are now capable productivity machines out of the box. However, sometimes you need a more complete operating system than Chrome OS – Linux, for example – to do your work and run software offline.

In the past, there were many hacks to run Linux on your Chromebook, Crostini being one of the prime examples. But now Chrome OS has a built-in way to run Linux virtual machines with little end-user requirements. Even better, we can even run Linux GUI apps like GIMP, Inkscape, and LibreOffice.

In this tutorial, we will learn how to install Linux on a Chromebook running the latest version of Chrome OS. We will also learn how to find and install software using the package manager. Finally, we will learn how to share files and directories between Chrome OS and the Linux virtual machine.

Update your Chromebook

Making sure your Chromebook is up to date is the first part of the process. As a general rule, Chromebooks keep themselves up to date, but it’s always best to update before undertaking important tasks.

1. Click the settings menu cog found via the menu at the bottom right.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

2. Using the search box, check for the update.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

3. Select “Check for update”.

4. Click Check for updates. Your Chromebook will start an update process or tell us that our machine is up to date.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

To start the Linux installation process

1. Click on the settings menu cog found via the menu at the bottom right.

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2. Search Linux and under Linux development environment, click Activate to start the installation process.

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3. Click Next to set up the environment.

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4. Create a user account, and set disk size. Click Install and wait for the installation to complete. We stuck to the default 10GB disk image.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Using the Linux development environment

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The Linux development environment is basically a virtual machine running a Debian-based Linux distribution. This means that we can manage the installation of applications using the APT package manager.

To ensure that our Linux development environment is up to date, we will update software repositories and upgrade the installation.

1. Update the list of available repositories. This is the list of available software, and the update will compare the lists on our Chromebook with those on the remote server. If the remote server has a newer list, our list will be updated.

sudo apt update

2. Upgrade software on your Linux development environment. This may return that there are no updates, but if there are, it will download and install the packages.

sudo apt upgrade -y

To install the software, we use APT again.

1. Use to look for to search for an application or tool. In this case we will search the GIMP image editor.

sudo apt search gimp

2. Scroll down the list of returned apps and you should see GIMP. This means that we can install the application.

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3. Use the to install command to install GIMP. It will take a few moments to install.

sudo apt install gimp

4. Start GIMP from the terminal.


(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Running Linux Apps in Chrome

When a Linux app is installed, Chrome adds it to the “Linux apps” group. We can also access the Linux terminal through this group. Essentially, when an application is selected, it starts the Linux VM and then starts the application.

To start a Linux application

1. Access the applications menu. We can access it through the search button on our keyboard or by sliding from bottom to top of the screen.

2. Scroll down to the end of installed apps.

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3. Click Linux Appsa group of applications installed in the Linux development environment.

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4. Click on the GNU image to launch GIMP.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Sometimes there is a file/directory that we want to share between the two operating systems and for that we have two ways of working with files and directories on both.

To share an indAAAAividual file

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1. Open the Files app.

2. Locate the file you want to share and drag it into the Linux Files directory. This directory was created when installing Linux.

3. Open the Linux terminal and use ls to list the contents of the directory. By default, files shared through Linux Files are stored in our home directory.

To share a directory

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1. Open the Files app.

2. Go to My Files.

3. Create a new folder, Linux Stuff.

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4. Right click and select Share with Linux. This will make the directory available as a shared folder with Linux.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

5. Open the Linux terminal.

6. Navigate to the shared directory. The directory is mounted inside /mnt/ChromeOS/MyFiles/LinuxStuff. Use the TAB key to autocomplete the path.

cd /mnt/Chrome OS/MyFiles/Linux Stuff

Any files created on Linux or Chrome OS will be available and updated here.

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