Chromebooks may get the ability to run custom, concurrent VMs

So let me preface this post to say that I’m not 100% sure what this will mean, but there’s direct evidence that Chromebooks will be able to run multiple virtual machines (VM), possibly at the same time. Don’t confuse VMs with Linux containers in this case: Crostini already supports multiple containers within a single VM, which is the preferred method.

Here’s a code snippet indicating that this feature is coming and the title says it all:

Essentially as I understand it, the code change supports multiple listening ports between Concierge in Chrome OS and Maitrde inside a VM to execute commands securely. This could allow for multiple VMs to run at the same time and suggests that custom VMs will be supported. Currently in Crostini, you have to use the Termina VM, which Google created, per the official Crostini docs:

Based on the code snippet, which clearly mentions a custom VM in the test results, it appears that other VMs will be allowed to run on a Chromebook. Does that mean you’ll be able to install VirtualBox¬†or some other VM software, perhaps to run Windows or some other OS?

Frankly, I don’t know and I can’t tell with the limited information in the code commit. There’s an associated bug with the change but it’s only viewable internally by the Chromium team.

Clearly, though, the Chromium team wouldn’t be modifying and then testing code for custom VMs for no good reason. And keep in mind that running a VM uses more hardware resources than running multiple Linux containers inCrostini: These all use the same kernel and other hardware resources available to Chrome OS.

I’m sure there are plenty of readers smarter than me that can figure out the pros and cons of this change, as well as what it could enable on a Chromebook, so chime in the comments if you know!

7 thoughts on “Chromebooks may get the ability to run custom, concurrent VMs

  • March 4, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    The references to maitred imply a VM similar to Termina, if not a second instance of termina, which may only be “custom” in that it’s running different containers.

    Perhaps they are working on one of these use-cases:

    * You have work and personal Google accounts and want to log into them both at the same time and use and use Linux apps in both, with GUI integration working in both. Right now you can you only run Linux apps in the first login session.
    * You want to create multiple instances of termina to more securely compartmentalize code or data, but with with GUI integration for both. Right now you only get GUI integration in the first VM.

    • March 4, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      Good thoughts, Mark – you could be right!

    • April 2, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      I no longer think this is about supporting multiple Chromebook users at the same time. That’s a logical, incremental feature addition that people would expect to be added over time– hardly something to keep secret.

      Considering the private bug report here, I presume this is something grander. I think Kevin’s hutch is more likely: Something to do with VirtualBox or another popular VM solution or some way to run Windows apps.

  • March 4, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve downloaded and installed VirtualBox without issue. It’s the running another OS via VirtualBox that causes the issue :\.

    Could this be a new iteration to project campfire?

    • March 5, 2019 at 8:12 am

      You have VirtualBox running under ChromeOS?

      • March 5, 2019 at 1:29 pm

        @Jorge Yep. I went to VirtualBox’s website, downloaded the Debian package for the software, moved the downloaded package into the Linux Apps folder, right clicked and installed using Linux.

        Like I said, I can run VB without issue, but trying to install and run a virtual OS it crashes.


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