Four long years. That’s how long I have been tracking this bug report. With every Canary update, the first thing I check is whether or not I can access a camera via the Linux container on my Chromebook. Sadly, I still can’t access a webcam via Crostini but I have every reason to believe that this could soon change. For starters, the original bug report/feature request is still open. If Google had no intention of bringing camera access to Linux, developers would have marked this “wontfix” and moved on. Four years later and this bug has been starred by 230 users. It seems clear to me that Google understands that this is a feature that is needed.
One project member assigned to the bug has even commented about setting a projected milestone date. That is simply a target date for when the feature should go live in ChromeOS. There’s no mention of that actual milestone date but the fact that it’s being discussed means that there is a roadmap for adding camera support to Linux on ChromeOS. Additionally, there is an internal bug issue tracker attached to this public feature request. This one is private and only accessible by Google and authorized project members. More information is likely available in that bug report but we’ll likely never see it.
Anyway, none of that matters. The issue is still alive and well and it certainly appears that Google is working on bringing camera access to Linux on ChromeOS. If the ongoing movement on the bug report isn’t enough to set your mind at ease, I discovered something yesterday that sealed the deal. For me, at least. I received a new Poly Studio P5 webcam in the mail for review and when I plugged it into my Chromebook, I was greeted by a message that I had never seen before.
Remember, my Chromebook is in the Canary channel version 107 and I have some experimental features turned on. That said, I plugged the Poly P5 webcam into my Chromebook and was prompted to connect to Linux or Bruschetta. (Bruschetta is the upcoming third-party VM feature) Unfortunately, clicking “connect to Linux” still did not give me access to the camera via Crostini but this is a new toast notification and it piqued my interest.
I know what you may be thinking. “This is just a generic notification” and I would tend to agree. It isn’t unusual for a USB device to pass device-specific data to the host device. Still, I had never seen any USB peripheral, let alone a camera, give a Linux-specific connection prompt. So, I did my due diligence and grabbed a variety of USB devices from around the office. Mice, keyboards, storage drives, and even two webcams from other OEMs. Not a single one of these devices prompted me with the notification that I received with the Poly P5 camera. Intriguing yes but why?
I have a theory. The webcam in question here is a Poly P5. If you aren’t familiar with Poly, you may have heard of the parent company Plantronics. The company has been making industry-leading headsets and handheld communications devices for more than sixty years. Some of you may remember commercials for Plantronics headsets where you could order a trial headset to use for a limited time at no risk. From commercial airlines to call centers and even Bluetooth mobile headsets, Plantronics is the boss in this particular space. For this reason, countless companies rely on Poly headsets for employees that spend most of their time on calls.
Because of Plantronics’ dominance in the industry, many telecommunication platforms and software are deeply integrated with Poly hardware. This means that when you buy Poly devices, they’ll work seamlessly with whatever video or call software you’re using. This all ties back to another work in progress I discovered on the ChromeOS flags page. A flag was added specifically for Poly Bluetooth headsets.
Now, this flag has absolutely nothing to do with webcams but it does indicate that Google is working to specifically target support for Poly hardware. A theory reinforced by the fact that Poly has an ever-growing list of Works with Chromebook devices already available on the company’s website. The P5 webcam happens to be one of the devices on that list. This is just my gut talking but I get the feeling that camera support for Linux on ChromeOS may roll out as an enterprise-only solution in the beginning. That’s not to say that it won’t eventually be a standard feature but based on the comments in the bug report, it appears that educators and business types are the users seriously pushing for this feature.
This is all just a theory but one thing is for sure, I have a Poly camera and I plan on keeping a close watch on this feature. If and when it goes live, you’ll be the first to know. Hopefully, it won’t be much longer since most of the pieces already seem to be in place. Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on this and much more.