How to Run Linux Apps on a Chromebook Without Opening a Full Linux Window

If you’re looking to get a little more versatility out of your Chromebook, installing Crouton to get a full Linux desktop is a great way to do it. But you don’t have to access the full desktop every time you want to run a Linux app—you can do it right from Chrome OS, too.

What You’ll Need

Before we get started, here are a few things you’ll need first:

Got all that? Great. Let’s get started.

Step One: Install Xiwi

If you have Crouton set up to run in a separate window or Chrome tab, then you already have Xiwi installed and you can skip to the second step. If not, then you’ll need to install it first.

To do this, open the Chrome OS terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T. Or, if you have Crosh Window installed, just launch that. Type “shell” at the prompt.

From there, run this command to install Xiwi:

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xiwi -u -n xenial

Where “xenial” is the name of your chroot. This will pull the latest version of Crouton and install Xiwi. It’ll take a few minutes, so kick back and let it do its thing.

Step Two: Launch Your App

With Xiwi all set up as part of your Crouton installation, you’re ready to launch your app. For this example, we’re going to keep it simple and just use GIMP, but you should be able to launch pretty much anything that’s installed in Crouton this way.

Again, open a Chrome terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T or the Crosh Window extension. Type “shell” at the command.

Now, instead of launching the full Linux experience with the normal “startxfce4” command, you’re just going to enter the chroot from the command line using the following command:

sudo enter-chroot

Input your sudo password and decrypt your chroot (if it’s encrypted, of course). Now that you’re in the chroot, enter the following command:

xiwi gimp

After a few seconds, GIMP should launch in its own window on the Chrome OS desktop. This gives it a much more native feel inside of Chrome OS. I dig it.

Alternatively, you can combine the two commands into one, like so:

sudo enter-chroot xiwi gimp

And if you’re not into running the app as a window, but would rather launch it in a browser tab, you can do that with the -t command.

xiwi -t gimp

And again, all in a single command, that’d be:

sudo enter-chroot xiwi -t gimp

Pretty useful, huh?

One Final Note

This is all pretty straightforward, but there’s one thing you’ll need to note here: properly shutting down your application. While you can just close the window, I’d recommend cleanly shutting down the app with the native function—in the case of GIMP, using the File > Quit menu. This actually sends the kill command, cleanly shutting down the application completely.

This rule generally applies to all Crouton installations. When you close it, do so with the Log Out command—don’t just close the window.

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.