Googlers on the Chrome OS repository are working to make finding and installing Linux applications more straightforward, based on recent changes spotted in the commits. The newly added code points to an experimental feature and associated flag setting that is being built out to enable searching for the desktop apps directly from the Chrome OS launcher's Omnibox.
The tool is centered around the use of Debian's APT, which stores a cached list of applications in on-device repositories. Those repositories are limited on Chrome OS primarily because the Linux app portion of the system is still designated as a beta feature. If this feature makes its way forward to the user-friendly stable channels, new repositories will probably be added to widen the variety of available software.
Linux apps would then be installable from the launcher itself, with the system downloading and installing the appropriate portions of the repositories for the chosen apps to work.
Making Linux more accessible
There's no guarantee the change will ever be pushed to Chromebook users or be turned on by default but it could make the apps more accessible in a couple of ways. The current process for installing apps is not going to be a straightforward process for most users despite recent improvements to that. Finding apps can be even more of a chore.
When Linux apps were initially made available in Chrome OS, the system essentially depended on users' ability to find and turn on the feature. That wasn't necessarily an intuitive process, requiring flag settings to be activated and installation files to be moved to a specific location for installation.
Turning on a flag to activate Linux apps on Chrome isn't required anymore and there are other changes incoming to make managing installation easier. Google is working to make the system's file management more open, for example. That should make it easier to install the apps from anywhere but doesn't address a larger problem.
Linux applications can also be somewhat difficult to find for some users and there isn't a unified format for the apps either. Chrome OS is able to install apps with the "DEB" file format. Not every app available in that format is going to perform well either because of how new the Chrome OS environment is and a lack of optimization.
By adding a search function, users will be better equipped to find and install applications even if they have no idea what any of that means. Finding desktop applications could actually be made a better and easier process than on competing operating systems since it would only require a search without opening a dedicated storefront or opening up a browser.
The change would also be in line with how searching for apps works on Android using Google Search either on the web or in-app.
Better functionality …maybe
The world of Linux applications could easily bring Chrome OS up to the same level as Windows or Apple machines in most respects. With the noteworthy exception of dedicated gaming — and neither Apple or Linux is very well suited for that either — the software would enable users to accomplish almost any task they could on other systems using Chrome OS.
Changes to make all of that happen may not happen for quite some time though, following more recent changes to the commit. The flag tied to the Linux app search feature hasn't been changed but the underlying changes being made to the Omnibox have been marked as a prototype feature. It has also been indicated that isn't intended to be reviewed yet and that means the incoming functionality might take several updates before its ready if it ever is added.