If you thought Chrome OS was just a boring glorified web browser turned OS, then your impressions are woefully outdated. Next to still unofficial, or even unconfirmed, platforms like Google Fuchsia or Microsoft Andromeda, Chrome OS is shaping up to be one of the most exciting operating systems of late. That is, if you owned a Google Pixelbook or one of the more recent, more powerful, more expensive recent Chromebooks. Worry not because Google has just recently flipped the switch that will give even the cheaper and older ones some powerful features, namely Linux app support.
Google’s announcement of Linux support on Chrome OS may sound like copying Microsoft’s own Windows Subsystem for Linux but there is one big practical difference. You can run graphical apps (GUIs) in the Chrome OS version. In fact, Google intends this feature to be used for running Android Studio on Chrome OS to create Android apps that can also run on Chrome OS.
Internally, the implementation uses a virtual machine, which sort of means that Linux is running on top of Chrome OS. While there are ways to optimize that, it will always take a performance hit, hence the presumption that only the beefier Chromebooks will support it. Fortunately, that’s not the case.
XDA came across an update to Chrome OS that simply said that VM support is being enable for Reef and Coral baseboards which use an Intel Apollo Lake processor. This refers to “power efficient” (read: lower power) Atom and Celeron CPUs running on some budget-friendly Chromebooks. Specifically, that list includes 18 models such as:
• Acer Chromebook Spin 11 R751T
• Acer Chromebook 15 CB515-1HT
• Acer Chromebook 15 CB515-1H
• Acer Chromebook 11 C732
• Acer Chromebook 11 C732T
• Acer Chromebook 11 C732L
• Acer Chromebook 11 C732LT
• Acer Chromebook 11 CB311-8H
• Acer Chromebook 11 CB311-8HT
• Acer Chromebook Spin 11 CP311-1H
• Acer Chromebook Spin 11 CP311-1HN
• ASUS Chromebook Flip C213SA
• Dell Chromebook 11 5190
• Dell Chromebook 11 2-in-1 5190
• Lenovo Thinkpad 11e Chromebook
• Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 11e Chromebook
• Lenovo 500e Chromebook
• Lenovo 100e Chromebook
It will take weeks, maybe even months, before the change actually hits stable release. Nevertheless, it’s definitely reassuring to know that even these less powerful Chromebooks will get a fair chance at having Linux support. Whether they will be able to do so satisfactorily is an entirely different question.