I’m honestly not sure if the Linux environment on Chromebooks is actually being embraced by the masses but the fact remains that “Crostini” adds an entirely new level of productivity and capability to the Chrome operating system. In March of last year, Google updated the Linux container on Chrome OS from Debian 9 to the current Debian 10 release which is codenamed, Buster. If you have a Chromebook and you’re using Linux, this is likely the version of Debian Linux that you are leveraging. The update to Debian 10 brought a variety of features such as better kernel support, newer package versions, and a number of “under the hood” changes.
Today, I was tinkering around in the Canary Channel on an 11th Gen Tiger Lake device when I saw a new Crostini-related flag and it’s very good news for those tracking the next release of Debian Stable. Debian 11, a.k.a, Bullseye, isn’t technically slated for a full release until later this month but Google is already preparing the Chrome OS Linux container for the upgrade. The new flag will actually allow users to pick which Debian version they want to run on their devices.
Debian version for new Crostini containers
New Crostini containers will use this debian version – Chrome OSchrome://flags
At first glance, I thought this was the same Crostini flag that was added last year when Debian Buster was first being tested. I clicked the dropdown menu and much to my surprise, I was greeted with options for Stretch (Debian 9), Buster (Debian 10), and Bullseye (Debian 11). So, you know me, I had to give it a try. After switching to Bullseye and destroying my Linux container, I restarted the terminal and my first run at this didn’t look promising. I couldn’t even type in the terminal. So, I tried again. The second time around, trying to update or upgrade packages left the terminal just sitting there thinking but it wouldn’t do anything else. I was almost ready to concede that Google’s servers simply weren’t serving the Bullseye image at this time.
To be thorough, I restarted my device and tried one last time. Much to my delight, running
sudo apt update reported that the container was pulling code from https://deb.debian.org/debian bullseye InRelease. I am, in fact, now running Debian 11 on my Chromebook in the Canary channel. This won’t bring any earthshattering upgrades to the overall Linux experience on Chrome OS but Bullseye does bring a handful of new features and of course, more current kernel support. This will also bring newer versions of popular Linux packages which means you won’t have to tinker around in the terminal to get the latest version of some applications. For a full list of what’s new in Debian 11, check out the release notes from Debian.org.
I’m still testing and therefore not positive if the update is related but after upgrading to Debian 11, I was able to finally get vkcube running on Chrome OS for the first time. Luke Short and I have been fiddling with this for quite some time as full Vulkan support is one of the keys to getting Steam running natively and sufficiently on a Chromebook. My next steps will be to revert back to Buster and see if Vulkan is being leveraged by Linux and then I’ll give Steam a go and see if the Proton compatibility tool can use Vulkan. If so, Steam gaming is very, very close to being ready for prime time. Stay tuned for my results.