Want to run a full Linux desktop installation on your Chromebook without leaving ChromeOS? This change will give you access to both full operating systems running side by side so you can switch between them with keyboard shortcuts.
You can already use a “crostini” partition to run different Linux apps with ChromeOS. This method forces users to rely primarily on the command line without the added functionality that a full Linux desktop environment provides. So installing an entire Linux distribution — desktop and all — might be a better option for you.
A few years ago, I used a halfway house to run the KDE desktop on a Chromebook in a Crostini environment. However, that method was buggy. Earlier, I toyed with running GalliumOS from a USB drive to turn a Chromebook into a Linux box without removing ChromeOS.
Crostini, Google’s umbrella term for building Linux applications in ChromeOS, installs a command line version of the Linux OS for running Debian Linux apps on supported Chromebooks.
The built-in Crostini partition lets Chromebook users run Linux apps like Android apps in a virtual-machine-like sandbox running on top of ChromeOS.
An alternative approach involves using croutons. It provides the environment for a full Linux installation, desktop and all. Crouton is a set of scripts that automatically installs the components that make up the Chromium OS-centric chroot generator. The word “chroot” is geekspeak for “change root”.
In theory, Chromebook users should be able to use the chroot utility to install most Linux distributions. However, those Linux communities require someone to create scripts based on where each distro stores its files.
As of now, the chroot utility script available for Chromebook caters to Debian Linux and Ubuntu Linux distros. Installing Linux distros on some Arm-based Chromebooks may not work. Expect better results using a Chromebook running an Intel processor.
Crouton installs the current Ubuntu Xenial release and your choice of four desktops — LXDE, Unity, Xfce, or Gnome — depending on the commands you enter. See details in the Step Four section.
I installed the Xfce desktop and preferred its feature set and configuration options. Although I own several newer and more powerful Chromebooks, I did the installation on the Asus Chromebook Flip model C213S.
First released in July 2017, it runs Intel Celeron CPU N3350 on 4GB of RAM. The unit never bogged down under the stress of running ChromeOS with multiple open browser tabs, Android apps in separate windows, and multiple Linux apps under Crostini.
Set up the preliminaries
It’s safe and reliable to install a full Linux distribution on your Chromebook using the instructions below. It is completely reversible.
Before you begin, we recommend that you back up your existing Chromebook setup. You can restore it with a powerwash or a recovery USB stick. See Google’s help files for details on doing both procedures here.
But generally, all you need to do is go to the Settings menu and toggle off the Linux partition if something unexpected happens. This will remove all traces of the incorrect Linux installation, and there will still be intact ChromeOS waiting for you.
To start, make sure you’re running a current version of ChromeOS. To check the Chrome OS version or update a Chromebook’s operating system, go to Settings > About Chrome OS. Then make sure Linux Partitioning is turned on in the Advanced Settings menu.
Getting Ready for Crouton Alternatives
The built-in Crostini partition cannot handle the Linux desktop. It runs Linux commands through the Command Line Interface or CLI and launches installed Linux apps by clicking on their launcher icons.
Crouton, as in “Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment”, is beyond that limit. Basically, you have to replace Crostini with Croutons.
Don’t rush this process. Double- and triple-check that you’re following the directions exactly.
It’s unlikely that a misstep will harm the core operation of the Chromebook. But a mistake will generate an error message. If it does, redo the failed step until it works.
Be patient while the process progresses. It will take time to download and install the files. The internal hardware of the Chromebook and the speed of your Internet connection are factors.
The installation should take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete, provided you get everything right.
Step 1: Set up Developer Mode
Close your Chromebook. Then turn it back on by pressing and holding the Esc, Refresh, and Power keys simultaneously. Release all three keys once the prompt for powering on appears on the screen.
When the Chromebook screen is fully displayed, it will show the recovery process screen instead of the ChromeOS screen. Select Advanced options and then select Developer mode. Or you can press Ctrl+D.
Next, you may see a message asking you to verify the operating system. If so, press Enter.
Then use the arrow keys to scroll down to Advanced options and choose Developer Mode or just press the Ctrl and D keys. The Chromebook should now start in developer mode.
note 1: From this point forward, every time you turn on the Chromebook, it will load into the OS verification warning screen. There is no problem. Just wait 30 seconds for the device to automatically start in ChromeOS or press Ctrl+D to boot immediately.
note 2: You can disable a Chromebook’s developer mode state at any time. do this:
- First of all, turn it off. Then press the power-on button or lift the clamshell lid from its closed position.
- When the Chromebook boots up and displays the OS verification message, press the Space bar.
Your Chromebook will be factory reset and returned to its standard configuration. Very easy!
note 3: After reset, you will need to go through user setup for the first time. This is where the above mentioned backup files come in handy. If you had the desktop feature enabled in your previous configuration, you’ll need to reset those flags again to access the desktop. But all your Chrome browser tools and settings will be installed.
Step 2: Download Crouton
This part of the process is quick and straightforward. Download the Crouton file to build the Crouton environment. This will create a pure Linux environment on the Chromebook.
Follow this link to download the crouton files.
Be absolutely sure that you point this to your Chromebook’s Downloads folder and not your Google Drive storage.
Step 3: Completing the Installation
Shut down the Chromebook and restart it. Remember, the Chromebook just won’t load into the expected ChromeOS web browser screen. Instead, it will display the Developer Mode screen. Just press Ctrl+D keys. When the screen updates, press Ctrl + Alt + T to open the Chrome OS terminal and press Enter.
Now type the word “shell” (without the quotes) and press Enter.
important: Be sure to enter the command exactly as shown. Omitting or adding spaces not indicated will result in error messages.
Next, enter or paste this command in Terminal to download the Crouton text file to automatically convert it to an executable file:
sudo install -dt /usr/local/bin -m 755 ~/Downloads/crouton
You can encrypt the chroot partition with a passphrase for added security. Add -e to the end of the installation command before executing it.
Be aware, however, that this will require that you type in the encryption password you created each time you enter the chroot environment.
Step 4: Choose Your Desktop Pleasure
This is where you have to decide which desktop environment you want to run Ubuntu Xenial. The main command to enter in the terminal is:
sudo crouton -t XXXX
Press Enter. Or, if your Chromebook has a touchscreen, use the following instead:
sudo crouton -t touch, XXXX
Replace XXXX after -t with the desktop you want to install (all lowercase).
As the installation nears completion, you will need to set a password every time you want to enter the Linux distro.
Don’t worry about the UNIX reference here. Simply create a password and repeat it at the next prompt.
Croton User Tips
Congratulations! You have successfully changed the configuration of your Chromebook to run a full Linux distribution and desktop. Familiarize yourself with these basic procedures to ensure a hassle-free Linux experience on your Chromebook.
I. To login to the Linux distribution, follow these steps:
- When you turn on the Chromebook, press Ctrl+D on the first screen (OS verification off).
- press Ctrl+Alt+T
- Type: shell and press Enter
- Type: sudo enter -chroot startXXXXX and press Enter
important: Do not use XXXXX. Instead, enter the name of the installed desktop in lowercase, with no space after the word “Start”. For example:
sudo enter -chroot startxfce4
sudo enter -chroot startgnome
sudo enter -chroot startlxde
sudo enter -chroot startunity
Second. Cycle between Chrome OS and Linux desktops without rebooting your Chromebook.
The keys involved differ slightly depending on the architecture of your device:
- For arm-based machines, use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Forward and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Back.
- For Intel-based machines, use Ctrl+Alt+Back and Ctrl+Alt+Forward; Then Ctrl+Alt+Refresh. (I didn’t have to use the refresh shortcut on my Intel-powered Asus Chromebook.)
How to Remove a Crouton Installation
If you decide that having a full Linux installation on your Chromebook isn’t for you, you can easily remove it. One method was mentioned above, hitting the space bar when the OS verification screen appears. Here’s another option:
Press Ctrl+Alt+T to enter the ChromeOS shell. Then enter this command:
Press Enter. then type:
sudo delete-chroot *
Press Enter. then type:
rm -rf /usr /local/bin
Chromebook restore options
If something goes wrong along the way, you can restore your Chromebook by retrieving backup files stored on Google Drive. But this method only works if you have already configured your device to automatically back up.
Enter recovery mode by pressing and holding the Esc + Refresh keys simultaneously. Then press the Power button and release it.
Many variables can affect the way a Linux distro loads. These include the make and model of your Chromebook and interim updates to the Crouton installation files that interfere with these current directions.
If you’re unable to enter the chroot partition or load Ubuntu, search the Internet for help, as your Chromebook’s manufacturer or even Google’s support won’t be able to answer your questions.
GitHub is the starting point for researching a solution.
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