Linux is used by many people across the world as an alternative to Windows and even macOS.There are a lot of great laptops that can run Linux, but what if you have a Chromebook or want to buy a great Chromebook to run Linux instead? Well, though it is possible to replace ChromeOS with Linux entirely on a Chromebook, the best way to set up and run Linux on a Chromebook is through ChromeOS itself. Google has integrated a Linux environment that runs in a virtual container on top of ChromeOS.
What exactly can you accomplish running Linux apps? ChromeOS by default is a cloud computing platform, which leaves out some desktop-class apps you might see on a Mac or PC. For instance, if you need to run Photoshop natively, that's not possible on your Chromebook. In addition, if you're a developer, you undoubtedly need Linux for coding tools. While not all Chromebooks support Linux apps (there are some baseline system requirements), most modern Chromebooks will have the option available. In this guide, we walk through precisely how to enable and install Linux apps on your Chromebook and run down the best Linux apps available on ChromeOS.
How to run Linux apps on a Chromebook
By default, Linux will be turned off on your Chromebook. You can, however, enable Linux very easily by going to the system settings. Once you enable Linux, you can use the Linux terminal, run Graphical User Interface apps, use command line tools, code editors, and even developer environments. You can even do coding on your Chromebook. Of course, your Chromebook will need to support the feature, but this shouldn't be a problem, as most modern Chromebooks support it just fine.
- Open up the ChromeOS settings (by clicking the time area in the lower-right corner of the desktop and then clicking the gear-shaped Settings icon).
- Click on the Advanced tab and select Developers.
- Click the Linux development environment option and choose Turn on.
- Follow the on-screen prompts to install Linux on your Chromebook. During the setup process, you will choose a username for the Linux environment. The username can be just about anything, so don't worry about this too much.
- You'll also need to decide how much of your available storage to devote to Linux, but this can be modified later.
The installation will take a few minutes, so a little patience is needed. When the installation concludes you will see a terminal window like the one above. Now you're finally ready to download and install some Linux apps.
How to download and install Linux apps on ChromeOS
There are two fairly simple ways to download and install Linux apps on your Chromebook. If you're a command-line veteran, the terminal offers a quick method for installing any app you might want. However, if you prefer to point and click, that's also possible for many apps. Let's take a look at both options.
Installing Linux apps using Debian (.deb) files
The easiest way to install Linux apps is by using the Debian extension file. You'll find this installation package on the webpage of the most popular Linux apps you're interested in. Slack is one of the most popular Linux apps, which is a full-featured teams communication tool. If you navigate to the Slack Linux download page, you'll notice the option to download as a .deb file.
Downloading this file to your Chromebook will place it in the Downloads folder. If you open the Downloads folder and double-click on the given file, ChromeOS will install the software for you. The new app will now appear in your app drawer and can even be pinned to the dock.
This is certainly the easiest way to install Linux apps, but occasionally a Debian file might not be available for an app you want.
Installing Linux apps from the terminal
Using terminal commands isn't that familiar for most Mac and PC users. The command line interface is at the heart of Linux productivity. For apps without a Debian download, you can use quick commands to install them with ease. Before starting, it's worth updating your Linux package repository using:
sudo apt-get update
Now you can install some apps. Suppose you want to install the popular Photoshop replacement GIMP? Simply run the command:
sudo apt-get install gimp -y
You'll notice a wall of text scroll down the command line -- this is normal during installation. At the end, GIMP will be placed in your Linux apps folder inside the Launcher. While using the command line isn't too much work, it can occasionally be annoying to Google for the exact name of the program you need. You must enter the name precisely in the command line, or this approach won't work.
Updating Linux apps
Occasionally you'll need to update your Linux apps. Unlike apps on Android or iOS, you need to manually check for these updates. Conveniently, Linux allows you to check for updates for all of your installed software simultaneously. To do this, open the terminal and type:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
This dual command will check all of your apps for updates and then proceed to download any that are available. Keep in mind that this will upgrade system apps too, so you may be better off updating apps Individually.
Uninstalling Linux apps
You might also decide you no longer need certain Linux apps on your Chromebook. Uninstalling apps is also done from the command line. For instance, if you want to uninstall GIMP you would open the terminal and type:
sudo apt-get remove gimp
It's really that simple. You can repeat this process for each app you want to uninstall.
Suggestions for Linux apps to try in 2023
GIMP is a full-featured photo editing suite, similar to Photoshop but without the high price. If you're a graphic designer transitioning to ChromeOS, you'll find that GIMP is an indispensable tool. The functionality and file types are precisely aligned with what you would expect in other photo editing software. There are many advanced tools like layers, lasso, and plenty of brushes to keep advanced users satisfied. If you need a photo editing app on your Chromebook, this is the only way to go.
sudo apt-get install gimp -y
Microsoft Office is the king of word processing on both PC and Mac, but your Chromebook comes with Google Docs as the default word processor. Perhaps you'd like a more robust program for editing documents and spreadsheets? If you need all of the functionality that Microsoft Office offers, Libre Office is a solid replacement. You also get a presentation app, similar to Powerpoint. Libre Office supports a large number of file formats ranging from Microsoft Word to Apple Pages and Keynote. With Libre Office, you'll easily be able to continue business as usual on your Chromebook.
sudo apt install -y libreoffice libreoffice-gtk3
Visual Studio Code
If you're going to use your Chromebook for coding applications, Visual Studio Code is an excellent code editor. With support for several popular coding languages, you get auto-complete functionality and Git support for version control. With a slick UI, optional extensions, and theme support, this is a robust code editor that developers need on ChromeOS. Frequent coders might also consider picking up a nice docking station for their Chromebook, to enhance productivity.
Visit the Visual Studio Code download page and download the Debian file.
For the creators out there, you might need a nice app to record or edit audio. This is an advanced audio editor and recorder that comes in handy when you want to play around with various audio files. Audacity has a lot of features that allow you to create your own unique tracks or remix other songs. There are also many plugins available for Audacity which will allow you to connect to sound equipment and other audio programs. Overall, this is the best audio editing app you can get on your ChromeOS device.
sudo apt-get install audacity -y
Video editing is a big deal these days. Millions of people upload videos to Youtube, Twitch, and Tiktok every hour. If you're serious about video editing, moving to ChromeOS can be a bit scary. Thankfully, Kdenlive is a nice video editing program for Linux that can run on your Chromebook. Those of you that are used to running Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro will pick up the intuitive interface in no time. It's worth noting that while Kdenlive does run well on ChromeOS, you'll need a fairly powerful Chromebook to take full advantage of this app.
sudo apt-get install kdenlive -y
If you're a developer using Linux on a Chromebook, we do have a list of the best tools for software development on a Chromebook, too. But these are our favorite apps to get you started with Linux on any of the top Chromebooks. There are countless other Linux apps that can also enhance your experience with ChromeOS. Perhaps the most exciting part of enabling Linux apps is the exploration of all the new possibilities. Linux has something for everyone, whether you need productivity apps, pro editing apps, or just want to enjoy media on your Chromebook.
Replacing ChromeOS with Linux (not recommended)
To end, we do want to mention that it is entirely possible to replace ChromeOS with Linux, or to run Linux and ChromeOS together at the same time, natively and not in a container. To do this, you'll have to put your Chromebook into developer mode and erase all your files and other settings. Then, you'll also have to turn off OS verification and download Crouton and follow the developer's instructions to install your preferred Linux distribution. Again, we don't suggest this method because it is unstable and because it involves heavily modifying ChromeOS and your Chromebook, which brings risks of damaging your device. It's best to stick to virtualizing Linux on ChromeOS. We have a look at some of the best Chromebooks that are modern, efficient, and more than fast enough to virtualize and run ChromeOS in a container.