Don’t expect to record audio or have Skype video chats using Linux for Chromebooks any time soon

I’ve been paying close attention to the efforts bringing both sound and camera access to Linux apps in Project Crostini on Chromebooks. A few recent internal comments over the past few weeks make it pretty clear: Don’t expect, for example, to record audio or have a Skype video chat in Linux any time soon. It appears that the Chromium team is taking a very measured approach when adding these features into Crostini.

On the audio side, the first step will add stereo playback only. That means no microphone access at that point for recording audio. When asked about audio recording in the bug to track audio support, a developer from the team offered this reply:

The first version will be stereo playback only. Microphone access will come later, we want to make sure the access controls are just right before we allow untrusted code to use the microphone.

The focus on security makes sense. I’d rather have a completely trusted system for the Linux container to access hardware components on a Chrome OS device.

Once microphone access does arrive, you should be able to have audio chats in an app such as Skype or Hangouts within the Linux container. Video chat though? That appears to be even further out on the calendar, although there’s no definitive timeline or release date.

I say that because of another dev team comment; this one from a more recently reported bug. Someone installed Skype for Linux on their Pixelbook and pointed out that the app can’t access the microphone — as noted above — nor the camera.

Here’s the Chromium dev team member’s response:

we’re working on audio support already (issue 781398). camera support isn’t on the roadmap atm though, and prob will be a few releases before we look into it.

camera will probably be more work as i don’t think we have any way of virtualizing or muxing streams (like we can with audio).

The “camera support isn’t on the roadmap” is most telling and the “prob will be a few releases before we look into it” bit means this could be several months out since Chrome OS gets a major update roughly every 6 or so weeks.

That’s a bit disappointing, but again, the measured approach is because of security: If Crostini was a fully independent Linux instance in a dual-boot situation, both the audio and video would be far easier to support. Since Crostini runs in a sandboxed container for security purposes, implementations have to consider total system security.

I was looking forward to these features, mainly because I use Skype and Audacity for recording two podcasts a week. It sounds like I’ll be using a different machine for that at least until winter is over.

12 thoughts on “Don’t expect to record audio or have Skype video chats using Linux for Chromebooks any time soon

  • November 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm
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    GalliumOS solves all these ills

    Reply
    • November 25, 2018 at 12:23 pm
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      Not in the Linux container of Chrome OS it doesn’t. 😉

      Reply
  • November 25, 2018 at 12:27 pm
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    I don’t think this is totally right because if Debian packages gonna be added then you can install desktop Skype easily

    Reply
    • November 25, 2018 at 12:30 pm
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      I’ve installed Skype, Audacity and other A/V packages in the Linux container; sound / camera does not work because the hardware for them isn’t yet supported in the container for security reasons. It’s not as simple as using a driver or a command to enable them in this implementation.

      Reply
  • November 25, 2018 at 12:40 pm
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    Skype for Android would work.
    Isn’t it working?

    Reply
    • November 25, 2018 at 12:43 pm
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      Yes, it works in Android. This post is about audio/video in Linux on a Chromebook.

      Reply
  • November 25, 2018 at 7:44 pm
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    The challenges here stem from the Linux side as much as the Chrome OS side.

    Android already has a mechanism to request permission to use the mic and webcam.

    The deb file format doesn’t have a permission system like that. So how to safely grant untrusted code access to the microphone and webcam?

    Chrome developers could decide to give you permission to declare that an entire container is “trusted”, but that’s not a great solution. Users would likely grant global permission once and forget about it.

    Ideally, you would be able to grant permissions per-package, but it’s not clear how that would be done.

    I appreciate that Chrome developers are taking time to consider a secure solution for this.

    Reply
    • November 25, 2018 at 9:04 pm
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      +1 to everything you said, Mark!

      Reply
  • November 26, 2018 at 9:52 am
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    Crostini imo is pretty useless. If you need another Linux (remember, chrome os IS already Linux since it uses a Linux kernel and Linux is only a kernel) distro on your CB just put it in a developer mode and dual boot with Debian on an external USB 3 while still having chrome os on the internal disk. Best of both worlds.

    Reply
    • November 26, 2018 at 9:55 am
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      Why do you think Crostini is useless? Because some of the hardware access is missing? Also, Developer Mode opens up a security hole that sort of defeats one of the main advantages of Chrome OS, no?

      Reply
      • November 26, 2018 at 11:05 am
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        Dear Kevin,
        I believe this over-obsession with security is WAY exxagerated. I assure you (by having been using linux exclusively since 1999 and now dual booting in dev mode in my acer cb3-431) nothing will happen differently in dev mode. You will ONLY have much more power and freedom in your hands. And as someone once sadi, “those who are willing to sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither”. Have a good day.

        Reply
        • November 26, 2018 at 11:47 am
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          This might surprise you, but I generally agree with you. However, my personal preference is not to open up a *potential* security hole or threat vector if I don’t need to. And with Crostini I don’t need to sacrifice Verified Boot, the TPM, etc…. I’m still not sure why Crostini is useless though. Sure, a full and independent Linux distro has more functionality at the moment. But I’m heading to class shortly where I can turn in my Java apps that I coded in IntelliJ Idea on my Chromebook using Crostini while I was running other web apps and such in Chrome OS in the same workspace. It’s very useful to me. Useful to everyone? No, I wouldnt say that, nor would I say the contrary statement that it’s useless for everyone. It all depends on our use cases. Thanks!

          Reply

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