Linux apps on Chrome OS in 2021: a complete guide
Chrome OS is incredibly powerful and versatile, running on a variety of hardware and can run a variety of applications as well. In addition to running Android apps from the Play Store, it is also possible to run full Linux apps. For many users, the basic functionality of the Chromebook is fine. However, if you want an app or service that your Chromebook doesn’t immediately offer, Linux apps may be for you.
What exactly can you accomplish by running Linux applications? Chrome OS by default is a cloud computing platform, which leaves out some desktop apps you might see on a Mac or PC. For example, if you need to run Photoshop natively, that’s not possible on your Chromebook. Video editing is also quite difficult by default on Chrome OS. Both of these problems are solved by Linux applications.
Also, if you are a developer, you definitely need Linux for coding tools. While not all Chromebooks support Linux apps (there are some basic system requirements), most modern Chromebooks will have this option available. In this guide, we explain precisely how to enable and install Linux apps on your Chromebook and browse the best Linux apps available on Chrome OS.
How to activate Linux apps on Chrome OS
As mentioned earlier, you first need to verify that your Chromebook supports Linux apps. To do this :
- Open Chrome OS settings (by clicking the time box in the lower right corner of the desktop, then clicking the gear-shaped Settings icon).
- Click on the Advanced tab and select Developers.
- Turn it on Linux (beta) option seen in the menu below. Currently, Linux is in beta testing on Chrome OS (as it has been for the past three years), but Google has announced that it will be exiting beta soon.
- Follow the onscreen prompts to install Linux on your Chromebook. During the installation process, you will choose a user name for the Linux environment. The username can be just about anything, so don’t worry too much about that. You will also need to decide how much storage is available to dedicate to Linux, but this can be changed later. The installation will take a few minutes, so a little patience is needed at this step.
- Once the installation is complete, you will see a terminal window like the one below. You are now ready to download and install Linux applications.
How to download and install Linux apps on Chrome OS
There are two fairly easy ways to download and install Linux apps on your Chromebook. If you’re a command line veteran, Terminal offers a quick method to install any app you want. However, if you prefer point and click, this is also possible for many applications. Let’s take a look at the two options.
Install Linux applications using Debian (.deb) files
The easiest way to install Linux applications is to use the Debian extension file. You can find this installation package on the Web page of the most popular Linux applications that interest you. Slack is one of the most popular Linux apps, which is a complete team communication tool. If you go to the Slack Linux download page, you will 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, Chrome OS 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 applications, but sometimes a Debian file may not be available for an application you want.
Install Linux applications from the terminal
Using terminal commands is not that familiar to most Mac and PC users. The command line interface is at the heart of Linux productivity. For applications without Debian downloads, you can use quick commands to easily install them. Before you start, it’s worth updating Linux using:
sudo apt-get update
You can now install some applications. Suppose you want to install the popular Photoshop replacement GIMP? Just run the command:
sudo apt-get install gimp -y
You will notice that a wall of text scrolls towards the bottom of the command line – this is normal during installation. At the end, GIMP will be placed in your Linux applications folder inside the launcher. While using the command line isn’t too much work, it can sometimes be annoying for Google for the exact name of the program you need. You must enter the name precisely in the command line, otherwise this approach will not work.
Updating Linux Applications
Every now and then you will need to update your Linux applications. Unlike apps on Android or iOS, you need to manually check for these updates. Conveniently, Linux allows you to simultaneously check for updates of all your installed applications. To do this, open the terminal and type:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
This dual command will check all your apps for updates and then proceed to download the ones that are available.
Uninstalling Linux Applications
You may also decide that you no longer need certain Linux apps on your Chromebook. Uninstalling applications is also done from the command line. For example, if you want to uninstall GIMP, you need to open the terminal and type:
sudo apt-get remove gimp
It really is that simple. You can repeat this process for each app you want to uninstall.
Best Linux apps for Chrome OS in 2021
sudo apt-get install gimp -y
GIMP is a complete photo editing suite, similar to Photoshop but without the hefty price tag. If you’re a graphic designer transitioning to Chrome OS, you’ll find GIMP to be a must-have tool. Features and file types are precisely aligned with what you would expect from other photo editing software. There are many advanced tools such as layers, lasso, and plenty of brushes to satisfy advanced users. If you need a photo editing app on your Chromebook, this is the only solution.
sudo apt install -y libreoffice libreoffice-gtk3
Microsoft Office is the king of word processing on PC and Mac, but your Chromebook comes with Google Docs as the default word processor. Maybe you would like a more robust program for editing documents and spreadsheets? If you need all the features 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 can easily continue working as usual on your Chromebook.
Visual Studio code
If you’re going to be using your Chromebook to code apps, Visual Studio Code is a great code editor. Along with support for several popular coding languages, you get autocomplete functionality and Git support for version control. With a sleek user interface, optional extensions, and theme support, this is a robust code editor that developers need on Chrome OS. Frequent coders may also consider choosing a nice docking station for their Chromebook, to improve their productivity.
sudo apt-get install audacity -y
For creators, you might need a nice app to record or edit audio. This is an advanced audio editor and recorder which comes in handy when you want to play with various audio files. Audacity has many features that allow you to create your own unique tracks or remix other songs. There are also many plugins available for Audacity that 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 Chrome OS device.
sudo apt-get install kdenlive -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, switching to Chrome OS can be a little scary. Fortunately, Kdenlive is a good video editing program for Linux that can run on your Chromebook. Those of you who are used to using Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro will be adopting the intuitive interface in no time. It should be noted that while Kdenlive works well on Chrome OS, you will need a Chromebook that is powerful enough to take full advantage of this app.
These are our favorite apps to get you started with Linux on one of the best Chromebooks. There are countless other Linux apps that can improve your Chrome OS experience as well. Perhaps the most exciting part of activating Linux applications is exploring all the new possibilities. Linux has something for everyone, whether you need productivity apps, professional editing apps, or just want to enjoy media on your Chromebook.
Now that we’ve shared our favorites, please sign up with your favorite Linux apps on Chrome OS in the comments below.