The ability to use Linux on a Chromebook is going to be the norm from this year forward but now at least eight much older devices are gaining that capability too. Code changes associated with the change were first spotted under the 'KernelNext' project codename earlier this year. But that change is now rolling out to no fewer than eight devices.
Among Chrome OS gadgets receiving the update are three Chromebox PCs, one Chromebase all-in-one, and four Chromebooks. The first and likely biggest of those updates is already shipping now for Google's Pixel Chromebook. Acer's C670 Chromebook 11 and Chromebook 15 — codenamed Paine and Yuna — as well as Dell's Chromebook 13 7310 and Toshiba's Chromebook 2 — codenamed Lulu and Gandof will see the update soon too.
For alternative Chrome OS hardware, Acer's Chromebox CXI2, the ASUS Chromebox CN62, and the Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox — Rikku, Guadu, and Tidus — are included in the list. Finally, Acer's Chromebase 24 — codenamed Buddy — rounds out the list.
Users will need to be on a Beta Channel of Chrome for this update. That's easy enough to accomplish for those that don't mind a few bugs. It should appear on the Stable Channel by Chrome OS 77 and no later than Chrome OS 78 by most accounts.
What does the incoming update do?
As the KernelNext designation implies, the underlying alterations are associated with updating the Linux kernel for some Chrome OS hardware. That is, at least in part, what makes the codenames here so pertinent. The commonality among those gadgets can be found in their Broadwell-based boards. That is what separates at least some of them, from other devices with the same branding.
The update to the kernel will also change the codename found in the build information listed on the Chromebooks themselves too. After the update, the addition of "-kernelnext" to the end of the model designation should make it easier to tell whether or not the device in question has been updated.
That can be found in Settings under the "About Chrome OS" section found at the left-hand side of the page.
The update should arrive over the air just like any other. Once the kernel has updated, users on those Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, or Chromebase can access, download, and install Linux apps.
Since the update appears to be experimental, two flag settings will need to be activated first. The process for doing that is straightforward. The flags menu itself can be found by navigating to the 'chrome://flags' URL in Chrome. Users need to search for "Enable VMs on experimental kernels" and "Enables VM support on devices running experimental kernel versions" via the on-page search tool.
Using the drop-down menu to switch both of the settings from "Default" to "Enabled" before restarting will turn on Linux. The settings for that can then be found in the Settings application.
The advantages of running Linux on a Chromebook
Presently, the ability to run Linux apps on Chrome OS is an imperfect feature. That's because there are still plenty of caveats such as not being able to record input audio. There are also plenty of benefits to being able to run the Linux apps on a Chromebook.
Among the most prominent positives associated with the apps is Google's recent decision to push the platform for developers. As of I/O 2019, as hinted above, all new Chromebooks are going to have access to Linux apps primarily for that reason. That all started with the ability to run Android Studio via Linux, meaning that Chrome OS users can now develop experiences for the world's most popular mobile OS.
Aside from development, Linux enables users to access a much wider variety of creative tools and productivity suites. There are already a ton of those available in the form of web apps or Android. But the change can, with a short learning curve, open up the possibilities much wider too.