I have been waiting for more than a year and a half to write this article. It seems like a lifetime ago since I penned my theory about what Google was doing with containers and Chrome OS. Since then, the Crostini Project has brought Linux apps to millions of Chromebooks and in doing so, opened up a new world of opportunity for an operating system that was once considered little more than a browser. While most devices released in the past two years come out of the box with support for Linux apps, there is one platform that has suffered a great injustice at the hands of Crostini.
Intel’s Skylake processor were once looked upon as the future of Chrome OS. Debuting in the Samsung Chromebook Pro and ASUS Chromebook Flip C302, the U-series CPUs were supposed to offer major performance boosts and longer battery life. Sadly, the “future” felt a lot like the past as Skylake didn’t feel like a massive improvement from the previous Broadwell processors. Still, the Pro and the Flip C302 were the heralds of a new generation of devices. Many would argue that Google’s Pixelbook would never have existed had to door not been kicked open by Samsung and ASUS. Their impressive CES announcements set them up as the poster children of what was to come for Chrome OS.
So, when the Crostini Project made its way to Stable Chromebooks, it was just expected that Skylake devices would be at the front of the line even though Kaby Lake Chromebooks were arriving at roughly the same time as Linux apps. Alas, that was not the case. Developers clearly stated that devices on Linux kernel 3.14 would never get Crostini but Chromebooks on version 3.18 were left out in limbo until the “kernelnext” project began it work.
Kernelnext is an experimental project that intends to bring older Linux kernel on Chrome OS to the much-newer version 4.19. It is currently behind a flag and only works on select devices but when enabled, #enable-experimental-kernel-vm-support will add Linux (Beta) to supported devices. While we have seen work being done on Skylake and kernelnext, we have yet to see any signs that the feature has actually landed on a physical device. That is, until today.
I was poking around Reddit, looking for user issues related to Chrome OS 81, when I stumbled upon a thread that caused me to do a double-take. Crostini on Caroline (Samsung Chromebook Pro) working! As you may have guessed, this post was the result of a user enabling the experimental VM flag. I grabbed the Samsung Chromebook Pro we have at the office to see if I could confirm the update but was quickly let down when I realized that one important piece of the puzzle was missing. As you can see in the Reddit thread, the user states that his Pro is on the Dev Channel version 82 and hadn’t taken the update to 83. Well, Chrome OS 82 technically no longer exists. It was abandoned when Chrome OS was paused due to recent events. At some point, Dev Channel on the Pro has been rolled back to 81 and the VM flag has no effect on that version. So, I moved our Pro to Canary which is now on version 83. No dice. It looks like whatever magic was happening was happening specifically in Chrome OS 82.
I reached out to the Reddit user for some more confirmation of Linux on his Pro and he was happy to provide me with the screenshots below. You can see the updated Linux terminal that arrived with Chrome OS 82 Dev. The more-telling evidence of the update is in the picture on the left. Under the detailed build information, you can see the Platform line now says “caroline-next” instead of just Caroline. u/lordmorphous also reported that the kernel version in his system information was now 4.19 when it had previously been 3.18.
For users that have been waiting for what feels like a lifetime, this is a good indicator that “kernelnext” could be arriving for the Samsung Chromebook Pro in the very near future. The good news doesn’t stop there, however. I dug around the repository and it looks like this same feature is being pushed to Cave and Chell very soon. That just happens to be the ASUS Flip C302 and the HP Chromebook 13 G1. These Chromebooks were the best around when they made their debut and they still offer a lot of power and capability. Bringing Linux apps to the Skylake platform will be a welcome and awesome addition.