We now have a closer look at how Parallels will bring Windows to Chrome OS in the coming months but for the general consumer, it simply won’t be an option. In the latest release from Parallels, the company clearly states that this collaboration with Google is meant solely for Chrome Enterprise customers. The means you’ll have to have a managed device that shipped with the Chrome Enterprise upgrade. No biggie. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It recently surfaced that Chrome OS devices with a certain Linux kernel in the container can now leverage VMs to install and run alternative operating systems locally on your Chromebook. I’m still not 100% positive of which kernel version is required but I do know that 4.19 and newer appears to work. One thing to note is that the kernel version in the container may not be the same as the version in your Chrome operating system. For example, my Comet Lake Acer Chromebook 713 uses the 4.19 kernel but the Linux container is rocking the 5.4 kernel.
Anyway, after experimenting with Windows 10 on my Chromebook, I moved on to try out some more native solutions. Linux distributions to be exact. Chrome OS itself isn’t a Linux distro, per se, but it is built on the Linux kernel and the subsystems share a lot in common. Crostini, the Linux container on Chrome OS, is built with Debian 10 and runs quite well if you don’t mind not having a desktop environment. With that in mind, I set out to find some popular Linux distros that have a relatively small footprint in the hopes of finding a better desktop experience than was delivered by Windows 10. That led me to Elementary OS which I have absolutely fallen in love with as a secondary OS. You can see how I installed the Ubuntu-based OS here. I left the floor open to suggestions from readers about what OS I should try next and I received some great input. SteamOS was on the list and I will be tinkering with that later today but the one that caught my eye was Pop!_OS. I’m still relatively new to the wide variety available across the various Linux distros and according to the comment, Pop!_OS is a bit more refined that Elementary. So, I thought I’d give it a shot and I must say, I am thus far impressed.
In case that last sentence didn’t give it away, I was able to successfully install Pop!_OS on my Chromebook. What is Pop_!OS? Pop!_OS, like Elementary, is an Unbuntu-based OS developed by System76. The company produces Linux-based laptops with a focus on gaming and productivity. For those reasons, Pop!_OS features full AMD and NVIDIA GPU support and a clean, out of the way interface with a custom GNOME desktop. Pop!_OS comes with a store preinstalled that is called the Pop Shop and in it, you’ll find WINE, Lutris and PlayOnLinux for gamers wanting their Windows titles and more on Linux. Installing Pop!_OS works exactly like the other operating systems I’ve tested out. So, without further ado, let’s walk through setting up this Linux distro on Chrome OS.
First things first, you need to make sure your Chromebook or Chrome OS device supports Linux apps. If you don’t know, you can find a list of supported devices here. The easiest way to tell is by making sure Chrome OS is updated to the latest version and look for Linux (Beta) in the settings menu. If you made the cut, we can move on to the next steps. If you’re new to Linux on Chrome OS, check out this Command Line article on getting set up and up-to-date. Once that’s complete, head over to System76 and grab the .iso file for Pop!_OS. Got it? Great. Open up your Chrome OS Files app and drag the Pop!_OS .iso into the Linux folder. This isn’t necessary if you have your Downloads shared with Linux but it does make it easier to find when we fire up the installation.
Next up, we’re going to install Virtual Machine Manager and the required dependencies to run a virtual machine. To do this, open the Linux terminal in your Chrome OS app launcher. I keep mine pinned to my shelf for quicker access. In the terminal, paste the following commands all on one line and hit enter. You can paste by right-clicking anywhere inside the terminal. That will take a couple of minutes to install and when it’s done, you should be able to find the Virtual Machine Manager in your app launcher. It should show up by searching or you can find the Linux folder in the app launcher which is the default folder for Linux packages.
sudo apt install qemu-kvm libvirt-clients libvirt-daemon-system bridge-utils virtinst libvirt-daemon virt-manager -y
Ok, now that you have launched Virtual Machine Manger, click on the icon below the File menu to create a new virtual machine. You should see an option for “Local install media.” Select that and click forward. Now click browse and then, select browse local. You should see your .iso file that you placed in the Linux folder. Select it and hit open. At the bottom, you should see a prompt to choose the OS you are installing. Pop!_OS won’t show in the list so uncheck the auto-detect option and type “generic” to find the generic install option. Select that and click forward. Next, you will select the amount of RAM and CPU cores you wish to use. I have been giving the VM 6GB of RAM and all four of my CPU cores. My i5 can technically use hyper-threading but Google has nerfed that ability inside the Linux container so that’s a no-go. Last, you will select the amount of disk space you’d like to give Pop!_OS. I user around 40GB so that I have room to test and experiment with Linux applications inside the VM. I would recommend at least 15GB.
Click forward and then select finish to begin the installation. You will be walked through some basic setup for keyboard, timezone and language and prompted to set a root user password. Remember that. You’ll need it when you’re installing packages from the Pop Shop. I’ve noticed that the installation of .iso files in Virtual Machine Manager sometimes hang. If that happens, simply force reset the VM and it should start over or pick up where you left off. In just a few minutes, you’ll be greeted with a full-blown, Ubuntu-based desktop environment that has some very unique and useful features. One thing to note. If you power off your Chromebook and return later to start your VM, you may get a message that it is not connected. Just click on the “generic” VM, click open and then, in the window that pops up, click the “virtual machine” file menu and click run. I have a lot more to discover inside of Pop!_OS but I have been very happy with the performance. It is definitely a different animal than Elementary OS. Both distros look and run great on Chrome OS and which one you prefer is entirely up to you. I’m looking forward to trying out even more distros in the future. Stay tuned. (Side note: We did try installing GeForce Now via Lutris. Lutris and WINE worked perfectly. Unfortunately, GeForce Now couldn’t detect any GPU drivers. So, no Geforce Now, for now.)