The first Chromebooks were never designed to run desktop software. Heck, they were never meant to support Android apps, but now you can run both of them. Most modern Chromebooks offer built-in tools for switching between Linux and / or Android.
In this guide, we are going to show you how to activate the Linux Beta. If your Chromebook doesn't have the Linux Beta option, we'll show you how to forcefully install Ubuntu XFCE instead.
Note that Chromebooks are not known for large storage capacities. Therefore, there is a limit to the number of programs you can install. Most Chromebooks tend to have low-end hardware too. So don't expect this to be your Linux portable slot machine. The integrated Linux tool from Google is actually intended for developers. However, you can use it to install any Linux-based software if you are familiar with terminal commands.
Those with the more ambitious can install Windows on a Chromebook, but the process is far more complicated.
Use Linux (Beta)
Most Chromebooks now include Linux mode (beta). Linux is essentially installed in a container so you can run Linux-based desktop software in Chrome OS. The Play Store and its associated Android apps work the same way.
If you're not sure if your Chromebook supports the Linux beta, check out Google's official list. If it doesn't, the next thing you can do is use Crouton and install Ubuntu XFCE, which is explained in the second half of this guide.
This section is based on Chrome OS 89, which has made some important changes since version 88, including the way you access the Linux beta. Note that there is no built-in Linux storage. Therefore, all software must be called up using terminal commands.
Step 1: Click the Self's system clock, then select the gear icon that appears in the menu. This will open the Chrome OS settings.
Step 2: Select the developers listed on the left.
Step 3: Click the Power On button that appears to the right of the Linux Development Environment (Beta).
Once Linux is installed on your Chromebook, a Debian-based terminal window should appear on the screen. This allows you to use commands to install desktop software and other Linux-based tools.
Step 4: With the Linux Development Environment (Beta) section still open, if you need to use your Chromebook's built-in microphone in the desktop software, click the switch next to Allow Linux to use your microphone.
Step 5: With the terminal still open, enter the following:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
This will update all packages with new versions if available.
Step 6: Restart your Chromebook when prompted.
As usual, the beta version of this mode is prone to bugs and other issues. If you run into problems, you can try running the update command again and restarting to see if that fixes your problems. Also, since all of the Linux apps you have installed run in the same container, it is important that you make sure that there are no security issues with the installation.
Install Ubuntu XFCE
In this section we switch the Chromebook to developer mode and install Ubuntu XFCE with Crouton (short for Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment), which was developed by Google hardware developer David Schneider. We chose Ubuntu XFCE as our Linux distribution because it is lightweight, functional, and perfect for maintaining the long battery life and portability of a Chromebook.
If you've got files on the Chromebook's local storage that you don't want to lose, back them up to the cloud, an installed SD card, or another computer. By compressing groups of files, you can put them back where you want them to be after installation.
You also want to have a recovery image on hand in case something goes wrong. You can download software directly from Google that will make this process easier. Depending on the connectivity of your Chromebook, all you need is a flash drive or SD card.
Activate developer mode
Step 1: Press and hold the Esc + Refresh buttons, then press the Power button.
Step 2: The Chromebook will restart and go into recovery mode. Press the Ctrl + D keys to open the OS verification screen.
Step 3: Press Enter to enter Developer Mode. This will delete all local data (not on the SD card, if inserted).
Note: Later, you'll need to type Ctrl + D every time you restart the Chromebook.
Step 4: The Chromebook will erase all data, restart in developer mode, and reset Chrome OS. When prompted, reconfigure Chrome OS as you did when you first purchased the device.
After resetting Chrome OS, you can now use Crouton to install Ubuntu XFCE.
Use Crouton to install Ubuntu XFCE
Step 1: Download the Crouton file from the Crouton GitHub page. You can also find detailed instructions, troubleshooting tips, and forums that explain problems and tricks to keep things running smoothly.
If you're unsure what to download, click the link in the Usage section in the main directory. A crouton file will be downloaded to your Chromebook's Downloads folder.
Note: It is recommended that you install the Crouton extension which, according to notes, "offers significantly improved integration with Chromium OS".
Step 2: Press the Ctrl + Alt + T keys. This will open the Chrome Shell Terminal (Crosh).
Step 3: Enter shell.
Step 4: Type the following command and press Enter:
sudo sh ~ / Downloads / crouton -t xfce
If you installed the extension, use this command instead:
sudo sh ~ / Downloads / crouton -t xfce, extension
Step 5: Wait for Ubuntu XFCE to download and install on your computer. Notice the command you'll need to start Ubuntu XFCE later.
Start Ubuntu XFCE
Step 1: Press the Ctrl + Alt + T keys. This will open the Chrome Shell Terminal (Crosh).
Step 2: Type the following command and press Enter:
sudo enter-chroot startxfce4
The system displays a black screen for a minute and then starts the Linux desktop. If you are not familiar with Linux, keep in mind that it takes a little more effort to do this than Windows or MacOS, especially when you first start up.
Example Linux software
There are many benefits to installing Linux on your system, but some are particularly relevant to Chrome OS users. The following programs provide features that your Chromebook can handle but don't fall into the Chrome OS ecosystem, or they offer features that you wouldn't have if you were using your Chromebook offline.
steam: Valve's digital storefront and surrounding community are fantastic. Fortunately, your Chromebook can play any games in your library that natively support Linux. However, as always, check the system requirements as the Chromebook hardware is usually on the low end. Our separate guide explains how to transfer Steam to a Chromebook.
VLC: The VideoLAN client supports dozens of audio and video formats as well as a number of useful functions for streaming and playback on the network. Installation couldn't be easier – it even comes with some major distributions – and is open source if you want to try compiling the software yourself.
GIMP: The GNU Image Manipulation Project (GIMP) is free image manipulation software that provides a large number of tools normally reserved for Photoshop and other premium software. In addition, the active user base is constantly working to solve problems and develop new tools and features.