How to Install Linux on Chromebook: A Guide to Linux Apps on ChromeOS

Chromebooks are great machines with a surprising amount of flexibility, but sometimes you need a little extra functionality — whether it be running Windows or Linux apps, or working with a Linux development environment for coding. Even though ChromeOS itself is technically Linux-based, it’s not able to run conventional Linux applications by default.

So what does it take to get full-blown Linux on your Chromebook and start making use of that functionality? If you happened to see our recent blog post on installing Windows on your Chromebook, you’ll probably be relieved to know that Linux installation is slightly easier than that.

But before we start exploring the steps toward a dedicated Linux installation on your Chromebook, you might begin by evaluating whether or not you really need to go through that trouble in the first place. When your goal is simply accessing Linux apps, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to install an entire secondary operating system on your Chromebook.

Instead, a more streamlined and cost-effective alternative is to provide users with access to the Linux apps they need, right from within ChromeOS. That’s exactly the solution that Cameyo for Linux provides (in addition to enabling you to deliver all non-Windows web apps via Linux servers on Cameyo).

Cameyo for Linux leverages the same technology model that has made our pioneering Virtual App Delivery (VAD) platform such a popular choice for Windows app delivery. From healthcare to the enterprise, Cameyo has enabled organizations of any size to provide all their people with mission-critical Windows, SaaS and internal web apps, no matter what desktop environment they happen to be using.

For example, Fortune 500 manufacturing powerhouse Sanmina utilized Cameyo to eliminate the Windows application gap, enabling it to migrate its workforce to Chromebooks. A major Scandinavian company deployed Cameyo to equip its employees, now on Chromebooks, with business-critical legacy applications.

Because Cameyo is OS-independent, organizations like these can use it to deliver apps not just to Windows but also Mac, Ubuntu and ChromeOS machines. In fact, Cameyo can even deliver desktop-native apps to mobile OSes like Android and iOS.

And now Cameyo for Linux extends that capability to Linux apps, so users can seamlessly work with Linux files and Linux-based software on any device—including Chromebooks—without having to run Linux outright or create a dual-boot environment.

What’s the advantage of Linux apps in ChromeOS?

The benefits of running Linux software are applicable to all operating systems, not just ChromeOS.

  • Many Linux apps have lower costs. Unlike Windows apps, which can command a hefty price tag, open-source Linux software is more likely to have lower upfront pricing on commercial or enterprise licensing. Many popular distros and titles are even free or donationware. Furthermore, Linux apps such as the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) or the LibreOffice suite can be just as powerful as their Windows counterparts.
  • Linux distributions can be tailored to your needs. Windows aims to be one-size-fits-all, but that can come at the expense of customization. Linux, by contrast, comes in many flavors that are often far more optimized for specific use cases or implementations. As a result, you can choose a Debian-based distro like Ubuntu, an Arch-based Linux distro like Manjaro or a Fedora-based distro like CentOS depending on your exact application.
  • Linux servers have lower admin overhead. The ability to tailor your Linux distro also reduces the number of unnecessary software modules, which in turn limits the scope for incompatibility and error. That contributes to the stability of Linux and scales back the amount of administrative maintenance and oversight required to keep them running smoothly. No wonder so many enterprise-scale organizations are powered by Linux servers.
  • Linux performs better on lower-spec hardware. Another bonus of Linux customization and only having to apt-get the software modules and libraries you need? Even with a less expensive CPU and less RAM, you can often achieve the same level of performance as a Windows-based server.
  • Avoiding vendor lock in. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Microsoft would very much like your organization to stay within its ecosystem forever. On Linux, the barriers to migration between solutions aren’t nearly as steep, and the lower overall costs mean that organizations have the freedom to experiment with new and potentially more optimized solutions.

With Cameyo for Linux creating the essential bridge between ChromeOS and your organization’s Linux apps, you can now tap into all of these efficiencies. And if you don’t have the resources to manage Linux servers in-house, that’s totally fine. By using Cameyo’s fully hosted option, your organization can deliver apps hosted on Linux servers without having to actively manage the supporting infrastructure on your own.

Still determined to run Linux on a Chromebook?

If you’d still prefer to forge ahead with installing Linux on your Chromebook, there is a sanctioned method for running individual Linux apps in ChromeOS. It’s called Crostini.

Be warned: This functionality is not something that will easily scale to more than a couple very self-sufficient, tech-savvy users. It also only supports Chromebooks released since 2019. More importantly, key steps of the process will likely wipe all your existing data and settings, so be sure to back up beforehand.

First, enable Developer Mode. You do this by opening the “Settings” page and searching for “Linux” in the search field. Click the “Turn On” button, which will initiate a series of prompts that ultimately enable Linux.

Second, install your Linux apps. Keep in mind that the Linux model of software installation is not like it is on Windows. Downloading an app and clicking on the icon in your Downloads folder will not always work. Apps that require dependencies will not run until those dependencies are installed. Most apps can only be successfully installed via command line instructions. For this method, you’ll need to type sudo apt-get install [PACKAGE_NAME] in the terminal window and press Enter.

Maybe Crostini won’t cut it and you’d rather install a full-blown Linux desktop environment to run alongside ChromeOS. This is done through a modified chroot environment known as Crouton.

As with Crostini, using Crouton begins by enabling Developer Mode as above. Once you’ve done that, power off your device, hold down the ESC and Refresh keys, then press the power button to reboot. This will put your Chromebook in Recovery Mode.

When the recovery screen appears, press CTRL + D. Next, you’ll be asked to turn off OS verification. It’s important to note that from this point forward, every time you boot your Chromebook, you’ll have to press CTRL + D and decline OS verification.

After completing these steps, you should be in ChromeOS. Now search GitHub for Crouton and download it to your Downloads folder. Press CTRL + ALT + T to open the ChromeOS terminal, type shell and press Enter to open a terminal window. Next, run the following command:

sudo install -Dt /usr/local/bin -m 755 ~/Downloads/crouton

The following command will install Crouton with the XFCE desktop environment:

sudo crouton -t xfce

It could take some time for that process to complete. Once you’ve confirmed its success, enter this command to launch the Linux desktop environment:

sudo enter-chroot startxfce4

This is by no means the end of your Chromebooks Linux installation adventure; but as of this writing, it should at least give you a working Linux desktop environment on your Chromebook.

Cameyo for Linux + ChromeOS for a user-friendly Linux experience

Clearly, installing Linux on a Chromebook isn’t for the average user. Or the faint of heart. To bring Linux apps to ChromeOS in a way that’s truly as easy for IT as it is for users, Cameyo for Linux is the most economical and seamless solution.

With Cameyo for Linux now a part of our suite of VAD solutions, organizations are able to give all their users access to all of their apps from all their devices. It doesn’t matter whether the apps are coded for Windows, Linux, SaaS or as internal web apps, and the same platform agnosticism is true for the user’s device. It’s a complete liberation from the traditional limits of the operating system.

And with Cameyo’s digital workspaces, there’s none of the complexity of virtual machines and classic remote desktop deployments. Nor is there fine print that forces users to download special Android apps or proprietary cloud desktop clients. When we say universal access to apps from any device, we mean it. So now you can feel confident about adopting cost-effective Chromebooks and efficient Linux infrastructure without compromise and concessions.

To get started with Cameyo for Linux, simply sign up for your free trial. That will give you a hands-on feel for what VAD can do and how it can empower both remote and in-house users with access to all their apps. Alternatively, you can schedule a demo and have a Cameyo engineer take you through the ins and outs of VAD and why the vast majority of users (and IT staff) will prefer it to a dedicated Linux installation.