Slowly but surely, Google is bringing support for Linux applications to Chrome OS. Even though the feature is primarily aimed at developers, like those who want to get Android Studio running on a Pixelbook, there are plenty of apps that can benefit normal users. We already have a guide about installing Linux apps on Chrome OS, but if you're not sure what to try, this post may point you in the right direction.
This isn't a simple compilation of the best Linux apps, because plenty of those exist already. Instead, the goal here is to recommend solutions for tasks that cannot be adequately filled by web or Android apps. For example, serious photo editing isn't really possible through the web, and options on the Play Store are limited, but Gimp is perfect for it.
This guide assumes you have already set up the Linux container on Chrome OS. If you haven't, we have instructions here.
For years, one of the main arguments against Chrome OS has been the lack of a professional-level photo editor like Photoshop. While you can try to install Photoshop through CrossOver for Chrome OS, there's something that will work much better — GIMP (GNU Image Manuplation Program).
GIMP is undoubtedly one of the best free image editors available, and certainly the best one for Linux. Just like with Photoshop, there is a learning curve, but GIMP is an incredibly powerful tool. You can use multiple image layers, draw with various brushes (including with a stylus, if your Chromebook has one), blur parts of an image, and much more. GIMP can open and save many different types of files, including XCF, JPEG, PNG, PSD, WebP, BMP, and others.
How to install
The version of GIMP in the Debian software repository is several major versions behind (v2.8, at the time of writing), so it's best to download the Flatpak release. If you don't already have Flatpak set up, run this command in the Terminal:
sudo apt install flatpak
Then run this command to download and install Gimp:
sudo flatpak install https://flathub.org/repo/appstream/org.gimp.GIMP.flatpakref
When asked to confirm the installation, press 'Y' on the keyboard, then press Enter. Once it's done downloading, a Gimp icon will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer. After you open it for the first time, I recommend turning on the single-window mode, if it's not already enabled — just select 'Single-Wndow Mode' from the 'Windows' menu.
Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online are definitely the easiest ways to edit documents on a Chromebook, but they can't open every file format. They also have limited functionality offline, and require uploading each file you want to work on.
LibreOffice is an open-source office suite that works on a variety of desktop platforms. It includes a word processor (Write), a spreadsheet program (Calc), a presentation editor (Impress), and a vector graphics editor (Draw).
LibreOffice supports a massive amount of file formats, including documents from Microsoft Office, WordPerfect, WPS Office, StarWriter, Apple Pages/Keynote/Numbers, and others. Simply put, LibreOffice is the VLC of documents.
How to install
LibreOffice can be installed with this Terminal command:
sudo apt install libreoffice libreoffice-gtk3
This installs two packages — LibreOffice itself, and the plugin that makes LibreOffice fit in with the Chrome OS Linux theme. When asked to confirm the installation, press 'Y' on the keyboard, then press Enter. Once it's done downloading, multiple LibreOffice icons will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer.
There are plenty of email applications for Android, but the vast majority of them don't work well on large screens. If you need a desktop-class email client with a clean interface, Geary is probably the best choice.
Geary is an email application developed by the GNOME project. It includes keyword search, support for multiple accounts, a conversation view, and more. Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, and anything that uses IMAP are supported.
The only major problem with Geary is that it cannot show notifications on Chrome OS. That might change in the future as the Linux container continues to be improved, but for now, you will not get alerts for new messages. Also, if you use Gmail, read this.
How to install
Geary can be installed with this Terminal command:
sudo apt install geary
When asked to confirm the installation, press 'Y' on the keyboard, then press Enter. Once it's done downloading, a Geary icon will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer.
Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code is my personal favorite code editor. It has a ton of great features, including auto-complete for popular languages, debugging, an integrated Terminal, support for Git (review diffs, stage files, etc.), and more. You can add even more functionality through optional extensions and themes. New updates come out about once a month.
How to install
On the Visual Studio Code download page, click the '.deb' button. After the download is complete, copy the .deb file to the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome Files app, and double-click on it. You should see a popup about installing the application in Linux — just click the Install button.
Once the installation is finished, a Visual Studio Code icon will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer.
Transmission has always been my personal favorite BitTorrent client. If you need more options than what the handful of torrent clients on the Play Store can provide, Transmission is the answer. It uses very few system resources, has a wide array of options, and is very fast.
How to install
Transmission can be installed with this Terminal command:
sudo apt install transmission-qt
When asked to confirm the installation, press 'Y' on the keyboard, then press Enter. Once it's done downloading, a Transmission icon will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer. If you see a message about connecting to a remote or local server, just click OK.
There is some other Linux software I wanted to include here, but they didn't work well in my testing. You can install Steam, but the Linux container on Chrome OS doesn't yet support graphics acceleration or sound, so most games are unplayable. I also tried Wine, but Windows apps didn't add an icon to the app drawer, like they do on actual Linux distributions.
Once sound and graphics acceleration start working under Chrome OS, there will be plenty more applications and games worth running.
We've updated the installation instructions in this guide, and switched out GitHub's Atom editor for Visual Studio Code.