Chromebooks used to be a browser in a box, but not any more

Chromebook Pixel

When the CR-48 launched what seemed an eternity ago, it was literally a browser in a box. And the early Chrome OS continued this persona. But now the platform that has become a staple in the education arena and, to a lesser extent business is evolving into a desktop operating system.

No, this is not the recent addition of Android apps. Although the implementation is good, with developers even considering Chrome OS when writing these apps, I am of course referring to the ability to install and run Linux apps. After all, Chrome OS is itself a Linux distribution.

Linus Torvalds has in fact won. You can now buy a Linux computer anywhere. As a computer science student this is great news and for the anyone that wants to use their Chromebook for more than browsing and mobile/web applications.

I am well known for my use of Chromebooks, however, I didn’t plan it this way. I purchased an Asus c202 about a year ago, as an experiment which I thought would last three months. But over the past year more and more features have appeared. Linux apps are the latest addition, although the 2GB of RAM struggles now, it allows me to use any Linux app. Of course, this does impact performance and a Chromebook with 2GB of RAM will certainly struggle. Bear this in mind when you choose your next Chromebook.


Instanity: IDEs and even editors like Sublime can now run on a Chromebook.

Using Chromebooks for real development

I have been successfully coding Python applications with it, and that includes testing the best text editors of them all, Sublime Text. It feels right at home on Chrome OS as does that IDLE development environment.

Installation is easy if you are familiar with Linux terminal as by default after installing a Linux back-end on ChromeOS you are only provided with a terminal. From here on, Chrome OS behaves much like a Debian distribution. using apt-get and even DEB packaged files.

The good, and the bad

Here’s the bad news. Many older Chromebooks might find it a struggle, as they are designed well, for Chrome apps. So do bear that in mind. Its ok for IDEs and some simple applications. But don’t try using your school Chromebook using wine and playing Call of Duty on it.

Because Linux applications are installed inside a sandbox, they effectively run in a separate runtime environment. This allows the ChromeOS to maintain its excellent security, for a performance premium.  You will notice that files created are kept in a “Linux Files” directory. This sadly means you can’t use your Linux apps to work directly with your Google Drive. That would be useful certainly as my Chromebook has 16GB of storage.

It is interesting how ChromeOS is evolving at an increasing rate, getting more and more out of these low cost “low powered” machines. I imagine specs of future Chromebooks will reflect this, certainly Google’s own PIxel devices.

How the competition will react is interesting, certainly as Microsoft, for the first time in its history is embracing open source software and has vowed to “protect” Linux from any future patent wars. A contrast from its past.

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