Why containers could finally bring Linux apps to Chrome OS

The move could make Chrome OS a more powerful tool for developers and enterprises.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Chrome OS appears to be adding support for Linux apps on the next version of the OS.
  • Adding Linux to Chrome OS could give the platform a major competitive advantage among developers and enterprise users.

Google Chrome OS may be based on Linux, but it has never allowed users to run traditional desktop Linux applications. That may be about to change thanks to containers: A comment on the Chromium Gerrit named "New device policy to allow Linux VMs on Chrome OS" was recently discovered, suggesting that the next version of the OS will offer the ability to run a number of new applications while keeping security enabled.

The specific code in the comment adds a "Better Together" menu in Chrome OS settings, according to Android Police. The code allows IT admins to turn the feature on or off as needed.

In the past, users who wanted to access Linux on Chrome OS used Crouton, a script that sets up a chroot of Ubuntu or Debian Linux on top of Chrome OS, Android Police noted. However, this approach requires enabling Developer Mode, which turns off most of the OS's security features, and is obviously not ideal.

SEE: IT pro's guide to working smarter with Linux (Tech Pro Research)

The ability to use non-Chrome applications inside a container on a Chromebook would allow users to access platforms including Microsoft .exe files or MacOS video editing software, according to Chrome Unboxed, giving Chrome OS a major competitive advantage in the market. Further, enterprises could roll out large numbers of devices with fewer infrastructure security concerns.

The move could also help Chrome OS become easier for developers to use, and open up a range of software, including GIMP and LibreOffice. However, it makes the Chromebook—designed with simplicity in mind—more complicated, as noted by Android Police. With app data and files spread across two file systems already, Linux container support would only add another layer.

It appears that Google is targeting the feature for Chrome OS 66, which will be released on April 24, Android Police noted. Linux containers may be announced at Google I/O 2018 this May, Chrome Unboxed predicted.

Also see

Image: CNET

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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