How to install Linux on a Chromebook, with or without Google

The Chrome OS pre-installed on Chromebooks is becoming more and more open. Google now allows the installation of Linux – at least that’s what the new beta feature calls it. What’s really behind it, and how to install real Linux on the Chromebook instead, you can find out here.

Google has released a new beta feature for some Chromebooks. With the so-called Linux (beta), software developers should be able to use their familiar Linux applications on Chromebooks. This includes in particular command-line tools, code editors, and development environments.

If this is useful for you, enable Linux (beta) in the settings. If not, skip to the last section and install real Linux on the Chromebook.

  1. Click on the time.
  2. Now Settings.
  3. Scrolls down and activates Linux (Beta).
  4. Follow the instructions on the screen. Wait 10 to 15 minutes.

Now a Linux terminal opens. There you can run UNIX commands and install tools with the package management system APT, known from Debian derivatives like Ubuntu, and customize your shell.

All Linux apps are located in a common sandbox, so they can communicate with each other unhindered. However, access to the Chromebook itself is restricted. Because it is not the command line of your Chromebook itself. Because…

“Linux (Beta)” is not the Linux you are looking for

What Google is selling as Linux is by no means real Linux. How the system was implemented under the hood is still not clear to me. However, it has very limited functionality and is more like a broken virtual machine. It reminds me of what I know about the Windows Subsystem for Linux: a bit of Linux encapsulated in a virtual box.

After all, our colleagues from Android Central were able to install the Software Center of the desktop environment Gnome. There is also a whole range of well-known Linux desktop software such as LibreOffice or Gimp available for free download. But do not rejoice too soon. Google has not yet provided its Linux beta with all the hardware features of the Chromebook. It’s missing:

  • Microphones and cameras
  • USB (only Android devices are supported)
  • Hardware acceleration via GPU, also video decoding

So if you want to use it to install the media center Kodi and then play 4K movies from the external hard drive: Wrong!

How to back up your Linux beta and how to fix crashes is explained in the official help page.

If you want to install better apps than just the Chrome apps, there has been a better method for Chromebooks for quite some time. In many Chromebooks, you can activate the Google Play Store. The steps are largely the same as described above for the Linux beta.

Screenshot 2019 06 03 at 15.37.53

In the Play Store itself, you will find the app “CrossOver”. In it, you can install Windows apps. CrossOver uses the translation library “Wine”, which already does an excellent job on Linux and Mac, to get Windows programs running on it. However, we have already written an article on CrossOver:

If Chrome OS gets in the way of your daily work and even Play Store or the so-called Linux (beta) doesn’t help, there is a way out. Switching to real Linux on the Chromebook is especially worthwhile if your device no longer gets official updates from Google. This is usually the case after five years.

Are you looking for an inexpensive laptop? Chromebooks from the year 2014 and 15 are offered incredibly cheap on eBay or in the Amazon Marketplace. In combination with Linux, you have a full-fledged workstation that is ideal for email, office, social media, but also for movies, streaming, and music.

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