Series: Linux on Chrome OS

This article is part of our Linux on Chrome OS series.

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Linux application support on Chromebooks is pretty great. 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 which apps to try out, we have a few suggestions here.

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, follow the instructions here.

GIMP

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.

GIMP can only access files in the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome OS Files app. If you want to edit an image from an external drive or the Downloads folder, you'll have to copy it to the Linux folder first.

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 -y flatpak

Then run this command to download and install Gimp:

sudo flatpak install https://flathub.org/repo/appstream/org.gimp.GIMP.flatpakref -y

Once it's done downloading, Gimp will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer. To access files from the 'Linux apps' folder in Chrome OS, go to File > Open (or press CTRL-O), and click the folder on the left that corresponds to your Google account name.

LibreOffice

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.

LibreOffice can only access files in the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome OS Files app. If you want to edit a file from an external drive or the Downloads folder, you'll have to copy it to the Linux folder first.

How to install

LibreOffice can be installed with this Terminal command:

sudo apt install -y libreoffice libreoffice-gtk3

This installs two packages — LibreOffice itself, and the plugin that makes LibreOffice fit in with the Chrome OS Linux theme. Once the packages are done installing, multiple LibreOffice apps will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer.

WPS Office

LibreOffice is my personal favorite choice of office software on Linux, but there's another popular option that works great on Chromebooks: WPS Office. WPS is developed by Zhuhai-based Chinese software developer Kingsoft, and it looks and operates very similarly to newer versions of Microsoft Office. It comes with a word processor, a presentation editor, a spreadsheet program, and a PDF editor.

WPS can't open as many document formats as LibreOffice, but it can handle Microsoft Office files. The Linux version is community-developed.

WPS Office can only access files in the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome OS Files app. If you want to edit documents from an external drive or the Downloads folder, you'll have to copy it to the Linux folder first.

How to install

Go to the WPS Office Community downloads page and click on the .deb link under the latest release. After the download completes, open the Downloads folder in the Chrome Files app, and double-click on the .deb file to install it. WPS Writer, WPS Presentation, WPS PDF, and WPS Spreadsheets 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.

Visual Studio Code can only access files in the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome OS Files app. If you want to edit a file from an external drive or the Downloads folder, you'll have to copy it to the Linux folder first.

How to install

On the Visual Studio Code download page, click the '.deb' button. After the download completes, open the Downloads folder in the Chrome Files app, and double-click on the .deb file to install it.

Once the installation is finished, a Visual Studio Code icon will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer.

Transmission

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.

Transmission can only access files in the 'Linux apps' folder in the Chrome OS Files app. If you want to open a .torrent file, you'll have to copy it to the Linux folder first. By default, Transmission saves files in a 'Downloads' folder inside the 'Linux apps' folder.

How to install

Transmission can be installed with this Terminal command:

sudo apt install -y transmission-qt

Once the package is done being installed, Transmission will appear in the Chrome OS app drawer. If you see a message about connecting to a remote or local server, just click OK.

So there you have it - the best Linux apps to try out on your Chromebook. Until Google irons out the remaining issues with GPU acceleration, games and other graphically-intensive applications aren't very usable on Chrome OS, but these apps should at least make your Chromebook a bit more powerful.

We've updated the installation instructions for each app and added WPS Office.