Chromebooks have had Linux support for such a long time by now, you'd be forgiven if you forgot that Linux has only ever been in beta testing for all these years. At I/O 2021, Google has announced that that's about to change with the next version of Chrome OS, 91. Linux is finally losing its beta moniker.
Chrome OS first introduced support for Linux about three years ago, and it's been a wild ride. While the OS itself is technically build on top of Linux (just like Android), it isn't able to run traditional Linux apps by itself. Even before Google introduced the official Linux container, people were going around this limit with a script (crouton) that added Ubuntu or Debian on top of Chrome OS. After its introduction, Google's official solution quickly gained traction, but it was still pretty limited in the beginning. Only a few select Chromebooks supported it, and things like sound and graphics were broken, severely limiting the utility of the subsystem. But those were the early days, and while it took Google some time, Linux apps almost feel right at home on Chrome OS now.
Google is planning a lot more for Linux going forward. It wants to introduce improved GPU acceleration by supporting the Vulkan API, a low-overhead interface for 3D graphics — meaning, you can expect much better game support going forward. That's important because Google wants to work with Steam to make Chromebooks a top destination for (casual) gamers, and having capable graphics in place is the underlying first step. It's possible that this Vulkan integration is slated to arrive with Chrome OS 91, too, but that's yet to be confirmed.
Another step is a new Linux virtualization environment better suited for Steam in the form of Borealis, a new Ubuntu-based virtual machine Google is working on. It's further out than the Vulkan API, though, and it might take a lot longer until it hits the first few devices.
During its What's new in Chrome OS keynote, Google announced a few more features coming for Linux, too. Right now, when you update your Chromebook to a new Chrome OS version, your Linux container takes a few minutes after reboot to update itself. That will no longer be the case in Chrome OS 91 — the Linux container will be updated at the same time as the rest of the OS.
Google also confirmed during I/O that Android 11 is now rolling out to Chromebooks, a process that already started a while ago as we covered.
Chrome OS 91 is slated to arrive as early as this month, so you can expect the update to hit your Chromebook within the next week or two.
Be sure to check out our roundup of the best Linux apps for your Chromebook if you're now finally ready to pull the trigger on enabling the environment.