How to Run a Full Linux Desktop in a Browser Tab on Your Chromebook

Crouton is the best way to run Linux alongside Chrome OS on your Chromebook. Now it’s even better — you can run that Linux desktop in a browser tab.

This isn’t official Google software, but the extension itself was created by David Schneider, Crouton developer and Google employee. It’s as close as you’re going to get!

How It Works

This method requires a full Crouton installation. The Linux system isn’t actually running in a browser tab. It’s running on your Chromebook’s system as it is with Crouton. The browser tab just provides a “window” to that Linux desktop so you don’t have to switch back and forth with keyboard shortcuts.

It’s a bit like VNC or another remote-desktop solution — but better. The browser tab runs software that connects to the desktop Linux system running in the background and makes it available to you in a typical Chrome OS window.

This still requires the usual Crouton installation process — it just means that Linux system can be used much more easily and in a more integrated way afterwards.

This method also adds a few more bonuses. Your Chrome OS clipboard will synchronize back and forth with your Linux system (known as a “chroot”) and links you click in the Linux environment can be loaded in standard Chrome OS browser tabs.

Install Crouton on Your Chromebook

First, you’ll need to have Crouton installed. This involves enabling Developer Mode on your Chromebook and then running the appropriate command to download and install the Linux desktop software you want to use.

Follow our guide to installing Linux on your Chromebook with Crouton if you need more details. Be sure to install the “xiwi” or “extension” target of Crouton. For example, run the following command to install the Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty) Linux system with the Xfce desktop and support for running in a browser tab:

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -r trusty -t xfce,xiwi

Wait a while for the script to download and install the Linux software after running the command. Provide a username and password when prompted, and check the official documentation if you need help with anything else.

Install the Browser Extension

Your Crouton Linux system should now be installed. Typically, you’d launch it from the terminal and then switch between it and your Chrome OS desktop with specific keyboard shortcuts. That’s more convenient than rebooting to switch between the two environments, but the browser extension here makes it even more convenient.

Install the Crouton Integration extension from the Chrome Web Store on your Chromebook. Next, start the Linux system by opening a shell and running the appropriate command. For example, if you installed the Xfce desktop, you could press Ctrl+Alt+T, type shell and press Enter, and then type sudo startxfce4 and press Enter.

Do whatever you like with the Crouton tab or window. You can have the Linux system in a full-screen browser tab, or put it in a window and move it wherever you want on your screen. The Linux desktop can be resized on the fly — just by resizing the window

If you have a large enough screen, you could even use split-screen mode, viewing your Linux desktop on one half of the screen and Chrome OS applications and browser windows on the other half.


Full desktop Linux systems open up a lot of possibilities, from using powerful developer tools and standard UNIX commands to playing games like Minecraft and the many games available on Steam for Linux. Web developers could even use this trick to run Firefox directly on their Chromebooks in a browser tab so they can see how their websites render in a different browser. Now all of it can be done right on the Chrome OS desktop without all the switching back and forth.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.