We’ve been doing a lot of tinkering around Chrome Unboxed as of late. With a recent update to the Linux container on Chrome OS, a number of Chromebooks can now leverage QEMU/KVM to run secondary operating systems via a virtual machine. All of this can be done locally on your Chromebooks internal storage and it’s actually quite easy to do. In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve installed a full version of Windows 10 Home as well as a number of different Linux distributions. We have had some requests to see the actual process in action and how different operating systems perform in the VM environment. So, today we’re going to take a walk through installing a Linux distro that has been arguably the most popular for two years running.
There’s no sure-fire way to determine the most popular Linux distro by user base as most distributions are available a free downloads from their respective communities or creators. However, DistroWatch is the go-to website to see the popularity of most of the major Linux distros. For the past two years, Debian-based MX Linux has been the hands-down people’s champion. This is based solely on page hits for the distro on DistroWatch’s website but many users consider this the legit basis for ranking OS popularity. That said, I decided that MX Linux would be a great choice for this video which will be the first in a series of Linux distros on Chrome OS. Check out the walk through and you can scroll down the page to grab all the commands you’ll need to try this out for yourself. While you’re watching, this would be a good time to get your Chromebook set up with Linux apps. You can find that tutorial here.
Okay. Before we dive in, I failed to mention one thing in the video and it’s very important because it will determine whether or not your device can run the Virtual Machine Manager. I mentioned an updated to the Linux container. Not all devices have this update, yet. The update was to the Linux kernel being used inside the Linux container, a.k.a. Crostini. That kernel may or may not be the same kernel version on your Chromebook. So, you’ll need to check the kernel version from the Linux terminal, not a crosh shell. To do this, open your Linux terminal and type
uname -r and hit enter. From what I can tell, you will need at least kernel version 4.19 or newer to use QEMU and run a VM. My device, for example, has kernel version 5.4.57. If you’re good to go, let’s get down to it.
First, you’ll need the .iso image for MX Linux. There are a handful to choose from but I went with the latest stable build for this project. You can grab that from SourceForge here. Download that file and then, move it to the Linux folder in your Chrome OS files app. Once that’s finished, it’s time to install the Virtual Machine Manager, QEMU and additional components needed to run the VM. You can install everything at once with the commands below. Just paste the entire command into your Linux terminal. (Right-click to paste.)
sudo apt install qemu-kvm libvirt-clients libvirt-daemon-system bridge-utils virtinst libvirt-daemon virt-manager -y
This installation will take a few minutes but once it’s finished, you should see the Virtual Machine Manager in your Chrome OS app drawer. If you don’t see it, just open your launcher and type “virtual” in the search bar. Open the VM manager and click the icon directly below “file” to create a new VM. 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. MX Linux 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. If you plan on installing MX Linux and actually using it on a regular basis, I recommend giving it as much of your resources as you can. When the VM is not running, it won’t matter anyway. Last, select the amount of storage you want to give to the VM. I’d go with at least 20-25GB to leave room for applications. Click forward and then finish. In a couple of minutes, you’ll be greeted by the MX Linux boot screen where you can set up the OS for use as a live image or you can choose to go ahead and install it on your device. I’m going to spend a few days working in MX Linux as I am not that familiar with the distro. After that, we’ll bring you another video of the OS in action so you can see just how well a Linux distro runs in a VM on Chrome OS.