New tool lets Chromebooks run Linux in a desktop window

Dropping into Linux on your Chromebook just became a whole lot easier. You’ve been able to use Linux in Chromebook virtual terminals for a while now with the help of Crouton, but now an extension by Google hardware engineer (and Crouton developer) David Schneider allows you to run Debian or Ubuntu in a window right within the traditional Chrome OS interface.

You can see Linux in a Chromebook window in the screenshot above.

While Schneider’s extension will certainly make the experience of using Linux alongside Chrome OS more pleasant, the setup process still isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll need to be in developer mode, download the Crouton extension from the Chrome Web Store and the Crouton tool itself (warning: that’s a direct download link), and then play with hidden terminal commands in Chrome OS—all before you even get around to actually installing your Linux distribution of choice.

It’s not quite as strenuous as it sounds, but if you’re a casual Chromebook user who just wants to be able to use LibreOffice and Skype you’ll want to keep Chromebook evangelist François Beaufort’s quick installation primer handy, as well as the README installation instructions from the Crouton Github repository.

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Why this matters: One of the big knocks against Chromebooks is that they’re limited to web-based software and therefore next to useless when offline. That’s not really true, but being able to run a Linux distro in a discrete window can definitely help power users squeeze more functionality out of Google’s dirt-cheap netbook successors.

Between this, Photoshop and Skype moving to the web, and the ability to run Android apps, Chrome OS’s available software library has exploded in 2014—and if you install Wine on your Linux OS, you can even coax Windows programs into running on Chromebooks. Note, however, that most PC software was written for Intel processors and may not function correctly on ARM-powered Chromebooks.

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