Chrome OS to support running Linux software in virtual machines

The idea of a fusion of Android and Chrome OS might not be totally dead but is, instead, taking on a different form. And that form comes in Chrome OS' ability to run almost any kind of software from any OS, officially or otherwise. A recently spotted change to the Chromium source seems to imply that, in just a few months, Chromebooks might officially support running Linux software, considerably expanding the number of possible uses these "cloud" machines can have.

The irony of both Android and Chrome OS is that while both are based on Linux, neither of them can run typical Linux programs like, say, the GIMP image editor. At least not directly. There are definitely methods to make that possible, but most of the time they are more trouble than they are worth.

On Chrome OS, for example, there is Crouton, which does let users run Linux apps on Chromebooks. The catch is that aside from the laborious process of setting it up, using Crouton requires enabling developer mode, which means giving up any security checks and benefits.

The folks at Chrome Unboxed, however, might have some good news. Chrome developers introduced what is nicknamed "Crostini" (a play on "crouton") which is practically a Linux virtual machine running on Chrome OS. What's more, Crostini will supposedly be available without having to enable developer mode and can simply be enabled by an administrator. In theory, that should allow for running Linux programs with less hassles. That said, virtual machines aren't exactly known to be fast, so it remains to be seen how well that will perform in the real world.

Chrome OS already officially supports running Android apps. And through WINE for Android, it can also run some Windows programs as well. Adding Linux to the mix practically makes Chrome OS almost a universal operating system. It might be too early to get hopes up, but Crostini might make a public appearance by April ahead of Google I/O in May.