Some MediaTek Chromebooks Will Be Getting Linux Apps Soon

Some Chrome OS devices built around MediaTek chipsets will be among the next to receive support for the Crostini Project and Linux applications, based on a recently spotted addition to the Chromium Gerrit Code Review. The now merged commit points to the 'oak' reference board which, associated with the quad-core MediaTek MT8173 SoC, and enables the use of "kvm_host," noting that security measures to allow the feature are in place and that it works on those systems. The test includes the run-through of a virtual machine test for Linux on a build codenamed 'Hana', which has previously been associated with Lenovo's N23 Yoga Chromebook.

Background: Linux applications are among the most important additions to Chrome OS since Android application support was first added back in 2016. Prior to that, the operating system was commonly viewed by many as an overpriced way to use Google's internet browser and not much else. Although the platform now provides a robust library of mobile apps that can accomplish just about anything a user might want to get done, not all of those are optimized for a laptop or convertible laptop format. That's setting aside adjustments made to better suit for Chrome OS itself, which has, until the recent announcement of Google's Pixel Slate tablet, not been highly optimized for touch inputs. With the introduction support for Linux applications running in containers on top of the OS starting with Chrome 69 in September, Google is positioning its system to compete more readily with full desktop platforms like Windows and macOS.

The test Chromebook in question is one of just a handful which happens to be based on the MediaTek MT8173 chipset. Among those are at least four other Lenovo devices. Those are the Lenovo Chromebook 300e and Lenovo Chromebook Flex 11 and the company's much more recently revealed C330 and S330 Chromebooks. The latter two devices, in particular, are geared more toward the more affordable end of the Chrome OS spectrum, with prices starting at well below the $300 mark. However, that's hardly surprising since budget-friendliness is a trait that's been associated with MediaTek hardware for quite some time. Acer's Chromebook R13 and two lesser-known devices, the Poin2 Chromebook 11c and Poin2 Chromebook 14 are built on the oak reference board as well. Since this is a change to the reference board rather than specifically to the Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook, the change will likely make its way over to most, if not all, Chromebooks built on oak.

Impact: Bearing that in mind, not every MediaTek-powered Chrome OS device will necessarily see support for the apps. The Chromebook R13 built by Acer, for example, is already two years old at this point. Regardless, it seems as though the underlying goal is to ensure that as many users as possible, who either can't or don't want to drop more than $400 for a new Chrome OS gadget, will have access to a more 'desktop-like' experience. Moreover, that will likely be a smoother experience than offered at comparable prices for other platforms and built on similarly specced hardware, given Chrome OS's lightweight nature. For now, there's no indication as to when the apps will be enabled on the stable side of things either, but that will likely be much sooner now that support is being actively worked on.

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