How to install Linux apps on a Chromebook without ever touching Linux

Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to be a guest on the This Week in Google video podcast. And of course, whenever that happens, I use that opportunity to talk about Chromebooks, hoping to inspire a wider audience of Chrome OS users.

Some of the discussion led into installing Linux apps on a Chromebook, which the other hosts thought might be a barrier to entry for the many people who aren’t familiar with Linux.

That’s a valid point but amazingly, none of the hosts knew that you can install certain Linux files natively in Chrome OS, without any need to be in the Linux environment.

Here’s that particular section of the show:

You can hear the shocked reactions when I explained the native Chrome OS install process. That actually surprised me since the feature I’m talking about has been around since August of 2018.

I suspect many other Chromebook users aren’t aware of this simple Linux application installation process so I’m resurfacing the method.

There is one very large caveat: The program you want to install must be available as a .deb file to download. If it isn’t you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and learn a little Linux. And I do mean very little, but that’s another post for another time.

If your app can be downloaded as a .deb file, then use Chrome OS to download it, like you would for any other file.

Next, open the Chrome OS Files app, find the file you just downloaded and right click it. You should see an “Install with Linux (beta)” option appear. Click that and you’ll see information about the application.

Click the “install” button and your Linux app will install without you ever touching the Linux command line.

Chrome OS will also provide notifications during the installation process. And you should even see a Launcher shortcut for the application installed to start up your app. Easy peasy!

15 thoughts on “How to install Linux apps on a Chromebook without ever touching Linux

  • February 21, 2020 at 11:50 am
    Permalink

    No! Of course I didn’t know this! And I thought that I’d been following Chrome OS developments rather closely over the last three years, or more. I’d venture to say that virtually no one knows this. This makes me both very happy and a tad furious. Furious because I can’t believe that Google marketing is so inept as to fail to shout this feature from the rooftops. I’ll tell you, had this been Microsoft’s feature, it would be in your face every time that you looked up.

    Reply
    • February 21, 2020 at 12:32 pm
      Permalink

      WHAT?!? You’re usually in the know quicker than I am! 😉

      Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 11:58 am
    Permalink

    Of course, this won’t work on Chromebooks that do not have Linux (Beta) available to them, which includes some very good Chromebooks like the Asus Flip C302. And a number of .deb files fail on installation because of unmet dependencies for which you have to go out to the internet and find and install one by one (try installing Easyabc.deb and you will see what I mean). But the bottom line for me is that people do not have to be afraid of Linux. Linux is the only way to get real programs on a Chromebook that will run without an internet connection. If you have learned enough about Windows or MacOS to be proficient in using your computer, it is not that difficult to learn just enough Linux to install programs with a real Linux desktop such as Ubuntu with crouton. Even Google says that crostini is intended for developers to use for programming. The whole world of ordinary user programs becomes available with crouton with a desktop that will soon become as familiar as Windows or Mac. To me, this is a no-brainer, once you get over the claim that somehow crouton is not “secure enough,” even though it is miles ahead of Windows security.

    Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 12:26 pm
    Permalink

    I too heard the podcast (while driving) and was about to replay the salient section since it made the Linux installation process seem so simple. Imagine my surprise to receive your post this morning!

    I am a complete outsider to Linux and its processes: so to start, here’s the right newbie question – where do I find the sort of .deb file you refer to?

    Reply
    • February 21, 2020 at 12:35 pm
      Permalink

      Glad you caught the show, John! So you’ll want to do a web search for the application you want to install. Sometimes, the app page shows the Linux command line instructions for installation, in which case, you can give those a try in your Terminal app. (Don’t be scared, you can’t really mess anything up!) But developers also package their apps into a file for specific Linux distros. For Linux on a Chromebook, you want the .deb file, not an .rpm or other file. Here’s an example for the Atom text/code editor I’ve used in the past on Linux: https://atom.io/

      Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 1:54 pm
    Permalink

    Still looks way too complicated to me. eg. i had a look at an app that has many different dl options and I have no idea what to choose. On this page it asks the user to select which architecture you have.
    https://packages.debian.org/buster/transmission-remote-gtk

    I’d still say that Linux is way out of reach for the average user.
    Ir would be nice to see a real simple, brief, beginners guide though.

    Reply
    • February 21, 2020 at 4:13 pm
      Permalink

      I hear you on the beginner’s guide, although I’ve already written up an introduction to the command line post, which includes installation procedures. Might be time to revisit that too. In the case of the link you have, yes, you do need to know which architecture your Chromebook has. It’s basically going to be one of two: amd64 if you have an AMD or Intel-based 64-bit Chromebook and arm64 for an ARM-based 64-bit Chromebook. Older machines could still be 32 bit, but I think these two cover most current devices. I clicked the amd64 link and was provided a list of sites to download the .deb file for this app.

      Reply
      • February 21, 2020 at 4:26 pm
        Permalink

        It might be good to point out at this stage that 1) for the most part, installing from the command line is one single command (two if you do an update first) and that handles all the dependencies for you. And more relevantly to this post, selects the correct architecture for you as well; and 2) if you use the right click method, yes it’s simpler and more “GUI” but you are leaving behind some of the smarts of resolving dependencies and selecting architectures (because you’re circumventing apt and going direct to dpkg)

        Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 3:38 pm
    Permalink

    Kevin, maybe you should do a podcast on getting Software Centre out Aptitude installed, to provide a simple GUI based marketplace. One moment of pain, and get the “it’s too hard, I can’t even hello myself” moaners over the hump. You should also cover getting Flatpaks installed and Flathub.

    Reply
    • February 21, 2020 at 4:14 pm
      Permalink

      Good suggestions, Colin! Added to my “to do” list.

      Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 6:59 pm
    Permalink

    I usually go all in with Crouton, but being able to just install Inkscape or GIMP… Nice!

    Reply
    • February 21, 2020 at 7:16 pm
      Permalink

      Try:

      sudo apt-get install software-center

      To install the GUI app store!

      Reply
  • February 21, 2020 at 8:19 pm
    Permalink

    So, Google team has been working so hard with Crostini project. Why not Google do something to convert all those file types into .deb file system?

    Reply
  • February 23, 2020 at 5:06 am
    Permalink

    As is stated above it doesn’t take much effort to be able to grasp Linux on Chrome OS and get some really useful applications installed on your chromebook, but it is easy to become ‘lost’ quite quickly if it doesn’t quite go to plan. When doing installation guides; don’t forget how to uninstall, in case the application isn’t what you wanted after all, or how to extricate yourself if it fails to install and you get reams of error messages in Terminal (try installing using a Snap package), which can look like a disaster to the uninitiated; not so bad if you were brought up on MSDOS, but scary if you’re only experience of installations is Android! I think crostini is great, the Android/Linux combo finally gave me a viable alternative to Windows.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.