As crazy as it sounds, it has been two years since Google released Linux app support to the Stable channel of Chrome OS. While the Crostini project is still technically in “Beta,” the Debian 10 container has added an entirely new level of functionality and capability to what was once considered little more than a “browser in a box.” While there are plenty of cool things that you can do with Linux apps on Chrome OS, one of the widest adoptions has come from the developer community. There are scores of IDEs and other developer tools available directly from the Debian repository or direct downloads and they install and run perfectly on Chrome OS.
Google exhausted a lot of time, energy, and resources to bring the full Android Studio experience to Chrome OS but that’s not the only game in town. Android app development is a massive ecosystem. However, it pales in comparison to other popular IDEs that are used for a wide variety of development. As a matter of fact, a recent survey from Stack Overflow polled nearly 90,000 developers about what technologies and environments they use. Being focused specifically on mobile apps, Android Studio came in at number seven on the list with 16.9% of the user base. Number one on the list at just over 50% was Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code.
VS Code has risen to popularity because of its lightweight footprint, cross-platform capabilities and versatility. VS Code is flexible and supports a variety of popular languages. Thanks to the addition of Linux apps, Microsoft’s free source code editor has been available for Chromebooks for quite some time. The only exception, apart from devices that don’t support Linux, is ARM-based Chromebooks. While there are some community-built derivatives that have been built specifically for the ARM architecture, official support has been absent until now.
The September update to Visual Studio Code quietly added official support for ARMv7 and ARM64 in the Linux build of the editor. What’s more, Microsoft went out of their way to point out that this update includes ARM Chromebooks and that’s a big deal. Android Studio is a relatively bulky and very power-hungry application. Google recommends no less than a fanned Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and the required 4GB of storage needed for the program. In comparison, VS Code requires a mere 1GB of RAM and a processor with a base frequency of 1.6GHz or better. That’s getting down into the Pentium Silver range which costs significantly less than a U-Series CPU and consumes less power. VS Code also asks for a minimal 200MB of disk space which is awesome for Chromebooks that have minimal disk space.
I don’t know that I’d recommend coding full time on an older ARM Chromebook but you most certainly can download and try out the editor if you want to. The new Linux build includes support for newer 64-bit ARM processors than include the MT8173 found in the Acer R13 or the MT8183 the powers the Lenovo Duet and a number of upcoming devices. To download, head over to the VS Code downloads page and grab the version for your device. Once you have it, open your Files app and right-click on the .deb file. Select “install with Linux” and wait for the process to complete. When the installation is done, you will find the Visual Studio Code icon in your app launcher. You can also launch the editor from the terminal by simply typing code and hitting enter. This is yet another powerful tool in Chrome OS’s ever-expanding toolbox. With more-powerful ARM devices headed our way in the near future, full VS Code support is a welcome addition to the ecosystem.