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How to enable Linux on your Chromebook (and why you should)

Want to get more from your Chromebook? Add Linux support!
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Vantage - Drone Services/Getty Images

Chromebooks are outstanding options for so many types of users...students, grandparents, children, or anyone that needs a reliable, simple-to-use laptop. But for those who need a more traditional operating system, is that even an option? My answer: a resounding yes.


Also: The best Chromebook laptops right now

A few years ago, Google made it possible to add Linux support to ChromeOS. By doing this, anyone could install Linux apps on their Chromebook and take advantage of traditional GUI software and even make use of the command line interface.

For any Chromebook user who'd like to be able to run more standard applications, this is a great way to expand ChromeOS. And, because it's Linux, there are tons of software that can be installed. For instance, if you prefer a regular email client, you can install the likes of Thunderbird or Geary. Want a different browser? Install Firefox. Need an image editor? Install GIMP. You can even install a full-blown office suite like LibreOffice.

Adding Linux support to ChromeOS makes so many things possible. For example, you can install Docker and develop containers. 

Below I'll show you how to add Linux support to your Chromebook and how to install your first application.

Also: How I revived three ancient computers with ChromeOS Flex

How to enable Linux on ChromeOS

What you'll need: All you'll need to make this work is an up-to-date Chromebook. Unlike when Linux support was first released you can be on any of the ChromeOS channels (official, dev, or unstable). 

1. Open Settings

Click on the System Tray and then click the gear icon near the top right.

The Chrome OS system tray popup menu.

The ChromeOS Settings window is easily accessed from the System Tray popup.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. Locate the Developers section

In the Settings app, scroll to the bottom until you see the Developers section.

The Chrome OS Settings application.

The Developers section in the ChromeOS Settings app.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Turn on Linux development environment

Click Turn on for Linux development environment. In the resulting window, click Next.

The Chrome OS Linux development environment install wizard.

The Linux development environment install wizard.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

In the next window, make sure you're OK with the username, and then either customize the Disk size or accept the 10GB default and click Install.

The username and disk space configuration window for the Linux development environment on Chrome OS.

The username for your Linux environment is set here.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Once you click install, the process will begin and can take anywhere from 2-20 minutes depending on the speed of your network connection and the power of your Chromebook. 

Also: The best Chromebooks for students (and how to choose the right one)

Once the installation completes a terminal window will open, to indicate a rousing success.

The Linux terminal window running on Chrome OS.

Huzzah! The Linux development environment has been added to ChromeOS.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How to install your first app

Let's install the Geary email client. To do this, update apt with the command:

sudo apt-get update

Once apt is updated, install Geary with:

sudo apt-get install geary -y

When the installation completes, you can open Geary from the ChromeOS launcher.

The installed Geary app in the Chrome OS launcher.

Geary has been successfully installed on ChromeOS.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that, dear friends, is how easy it is to add Linux support to your Chromebook. Do this and install all the apps you need to expand the options of ChromeOS.

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