Best Linux Distros for Chromebook and Other Chrome OS Devices
Chromebooks strike a good balance between power and affordability but they’re not the most versatile machines out there. At least not in their base form. Just as their name suggests, one of their biggest selling points is the Chrome OS, which comes pre-installed on every device. While there are several differences between a Chromebook and a MacBook or Windows laptop, the unique operating system is by far the most distinguishing feature.
But Chrome OS has a number of drawbacks that make it unsuitable for certain types of users, such as the fact that it consists of little more than the Chrome browser and that it won’t let you download applications locally. Chrome OS only works with web apps and that tends to limit its usefulness in many situations. The good news is that you can uninstall Chrome OS and replace it with Linux. That way, you can take advantage of Chromebook’s low price tag and Linux’s incredible flexibility at the same time.
Of course, Linux comes is many shapes and sizes and not every distro is suitable for Chromebooks. But don’t worry about having to test a whole bunch of distributions until you find the perfect one because we already did that for you. With that in mind, in this article we’re going to share with what we believe to be the best Linux distros for Chromebook in 2020.
1. Gallium OS
- Created specifically for Chromebooks
- Integrated Chrome OS driver support
- Very fast and lightweight
Unlike regular Linux distros for laptops, Gallium was designed specifically for Chrome OS devices. So what makes it so special? First off, the distro is based on Xubuntu, a very fast and lightweight Ubuntu derivative that comes bundled with a decent amount of useful apps. Right off the bat, this is an improvement over what’s included with Chrome OS by default and since this is Linux we’re talking about, the number of additional apps you can grab from various repositories is almost endless.
In order to keep things lightweight, Gallium OS comes equipped with the Xfce desktop environment. But if you need an OS that boots even faster, you can easily replace Xfce with LXDE instead. Mind you, speed shouldn’t be too much of an issue anyway because Gallium OS has better performance than most other Linux distros for Chromebook. That’s mainly because Gallium’s kernel was stripped of unnecessary modules but also because of a couple of special features, such as the ability to use Zram for swap, which is faster than swapping to disk.
Another important feature worth pointing out is the integrated Chrome OS mouse driver support. Thanks to this driver, Gallium OS feels identical to Chrome OS in terms of navigation. The distro is also very good at improving the battery life of your Chromebook and supports fixes for issues and bugs that only affect Chrome OS devices. Gallium OS works out of the box on most Chrome OS devices but there are a few exceptions like the Sector 5 E1 Rugged Chromebook, Viglen Chromebook 11, and Samsung Chromebook Plus.
- Storage requirements: 3 GB
- Latest stable version: 3.1
2. Void Linux
- Based on the monolithic Linux kernel
- Can build software packages from source
- Doesn’t rely on systemd
While not necessarily created with Chromebooks in mind, this all-purpose distribution can easily handle any sort of device. Void Linux is a bit of an anomaly since it isn’t based on any existing distro but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting. The developers behind Void created the distro from the ground up using the monolithic Linux kernel. The package manager is equally unique, as are many of the software packages you can find in its repository. The package manager is probably one of Void’s most appealing features thanks to its ability to build packages from source using a system known as XBPS.
There aren’t quite as many packages to choose from when compared to the Ubuntu or Arch repositories but the devs are adding new ones all the time. Void Linux hasn’t been around for as long as other distributions but it managed to gain a lot of popularity in a short time precisely thanks to its dedicated dev team. The user community is fairly large as well and has its own subreddit where you can always find people willing to help with whatever issue you may have.
Void Linux is known to be more stable than a lot of other distros despite the fact that it features a rolling release schedule. Another thing that allows Void to stand out from the crowd is the proprietary init system known as “runit”, which replaces systemd. The distro is a pioneer in a couple of other areas as well. Most famously, Void Linux was the first distro to ditch OpenSSL in favor of LibreSSL. That was considered a bold move at the time but it turned out to be the right choice given that many other distros ended up making the switch shortly after.
- Storage requirements: 1 GB
- Latest stable version: 20191109
3. Arch Linux
- Great choice for developers and programmers
- One of the most customizable distros out there
- More than a dozen officially support desktop environments
Arch Linux can be a tough sell for some people because it’s not exactly user-friendly. But since you’re looking into the best Linux distros for Chromebook, we going to assume that you’re not a novice when it comes to operating systems. There are certain Arch-based Linux distros out there that are easier to work with if you’re using a regular computer, but for Chromebooks we recommend sticking to the original. Arch Linux is currently ranked at number 1 on DistroWatch and has been for quite some time. That should give you an idea of just how much people love the distro.
This is a very lightweight distro that only comes with the kernel and terminal, giving you full control over your operating system and giving you the freedom to install only the components you’re going to need. The thought of working with terminal commands may seem intimidating if you’re used to the simplicity offered by Chrome OS, however, it’s not as difficult as you may think. Arch has a massive community of users that are always ready to help and there’s also a comprehensive guide on the official website that will teach you everything you need to know about getting started.
We suggest you start by grabbing the Pacman package manager and a desktop environment if you don’t want to spend too much time working with the terminal. There are a dozen or so desktop environments that are officially supported along with several more than were created by the community, so you’re definitely spoiled for choice here. If you need a modern-looking option, Cinnamon, MATE or KDE Plasma are all great options. Meanwhile, minimalistic environments like Xfce and LXDE are better suited for speed and performance. Or you could simply install a window manager instead of a desktop environment. With Arch Linux the sky is the limit.
- Storage requirements: Less than 1 GB
- Latest stable version: 2020.07.01
- Lightweight version of Ubuntu Stable
- Feels immediately familiar if you’re a Windows user
- Arch theme combined with Papyrus icons give it a unique look
The aptly named Lubuntu is one of the best lightweight Linux distros for Chromebook that still looks and feels like a traditional desktop experience. Just as its name indicates, this is toned down version of Ubuntu that works on pretty much any type of device thanks to its modest hardware requirements. The distro comes with the LXDE desktop environment by default and a handpicked selection of light applications to ensure minimum impact on your system.
What’s great about Lubuntu is that it manages to look quite modern in spite of its small size. The biggest reason for that is the built-in Arc theme, which gives the LXDE desktop a much needed facelift. On top of that you’ve also got the Papyrus icons that complement the theme very nicely. You might need to do a bit of tinkering in order to achieve the perfect look, but the effort is well worth it since you can get Lubuntu to look almost identical to other operating systems you may already be used to, including Windows.
Lubuntu is heavily reliant on Ubuntu stable for updates but doesn’t have quite the same level of support since this is a community-managed distribution. Still, the Lubuntu community has its own forums and pages on all social media platforms so there are plenty of places where you can ask for help when needed. For the most part, though, you shouldn’t run into any issues with Lubuntu because it was designed from the ground up to be very user-friendly.
- Storage requirements: 1 GB
- Latest stable version: 20.04
5. Solus OS
- Very good option for beginners
- Features a proprietary desktop environment
- Comes pre-packaged with many useful apps
Solus OS is another Linux distro built entirely from scratch but differs from most of its peers in one key areas – ease of use. That makes it not just one of the best Linux distros for Chromebook but also ones of the best distros for beginners. The operating system is a particularly good choice for users who are looking for an experience that’s similar to the one you get on Windows. If you’re looking for something different, on the other hand, Solus can easily provide that as well since it offers four different desktop environments to choose from. The only downside is that all of them are fairly resource-intensive.
The most lightweight version of the operating system would have to be Solus MATE, which comes with a desktop that you’re probably already familiar with if you’ve ever used Ubuntu or Linux Mint before. Gnome and Plasma are two other popular desktops, however, these are primarily designed for modern hardware. Last but not least you have Solus Budgie, which provides the most unique experience and arguably the most features right out of the box. Although these days Budgie is used by Ubuntu, Arch, Manjaro, and several others distros, the desktop environment was originally created for Solus OS. If you want the most genuine Solus experience, Budgie is the way to go.
One of the best things about Solus OS is that you don’t have to worry about terminal commands or anything like that when installing new software. The operating system has a very intuitive Software Center that allows you to easily download, install, and manage all the apps you need. If you need any, that is, because Solus comes bundled with quite a few of them from the get-go. The downside of including everything you need right off the bat is that the operating system will take up a decent chunk of your storage space. Chromebooks are notorious for having little storage, but if you can spare the space, you definitely won’t regret using it to install Solus OS.
- Storage requirements: 10 GB
- Latest stable version: 4.1
- Customized derivative of Chromium OS
- Easier to install compared to similar distros
- Still in the development at the time of writing
NayuOS is a project that wants to give users an authentic Chrome OS experience but without any of its drawbacks. This operating system differs from others on this list as it is not based on a Linux distribution but rather Chromium OS, the development version of Chrome OS. But since Chromium OS itself is a Linux distro created by Google, we figured it would fit on this list just fine. At its core, NayuOS is a derivative of Chromium that brings some interesting improvements to the table, most of which are primarily aimed at developers.
One of the main advantages of using a Chromium-based OS instead of other Linux distros is the installation process. As some of you probably know already, removing Chrome OS and replacing it with most Linux distros can be a pretty complicated process that requires a certain degree of technical know-how. Installing Chromium is a much simpler affair that only requires a bootable USB stick a few terminal commands. Once you’re running Chromium, it only takes a couple of extra steps to install NayuOS on top of it.
Since NayuOS is still in development as of this writing, we recommend carefully reading all the documentation available on the official website before you attempt to install it. The OS doesn’t support all Chromebook models just yet and has a few other limitations. But, unlike Chrome OS, it can already run certain applications locally. And because it counts as open-source software, you can also write your own applications using Python if you’re a coder. NayuOS isn’t the most stable option out there at this stage but we think it’s still worth keeping an eye on it regardless because the developers have very ambitious plans for its future.
- Storage requirements: Less than 1 GB
- Latest stable version: 0.79
7. Phoenix Linux
- Spiritual successor to Cub Linux
- Looks almost identical to Chrome OS
- Still in the early stages of development
If you’ve been looking into Linux distros for Chromebook in the past you might be familiar with one called Cub Linux. Although discontinued less than a year after its initial release, Cub Linux quickly gathered a cult following thanks to its strikingly similarity to Chrome OS, both in terms of appearance and functionality. Phoenix Linux is a continuation of that project that popped up a couple of years ago. Just like Cub Linux, Phoenix does its best to mimic Chrome OS as much as possible in order to provide a familiar experience to users who are switching from one operating system to the other.
Interestingly enough, Phoenix Linux seems to be a one-man project, at least for the most part, and the man behind it is the creator of Feren OS. But while Feren attempts to replicate Windows and Mac, Phoenix focuses entirely on being the Linux equivalent of Chrome OS. Openbox is the centerpiece of the operating system but you can expect a few other applications to come pre-installed. The user interface is just as intuitive as that of its predecessor, with most of the apps and settings you’re going to need being conveniently located in the bottom bar.
We placed Phoenix Linux at the bottom of our list because it is still heavy under development, and thus quite unstable. The first Alpha version of Phoenix was released shortly after the operating system was announced while the second one came in March of 2018. The project is technically still alive but there haven’t been any new updates since then. Feren OS was last updated just a couple of months ago, however, so it looks like the developer is currently focused on that project for now. But hopefully we’ll get to hear more about Phoenix Linux in the near future because it shows a lot of promise from what we’ve seen so far.
- Storage requirements: 1 GB
- Latest stable version: Still in Alpha
Chromebook vs. Regular Laptop
Most people who are thinking about buying a portable computer usually get either a MacBook or a Windows-powered laptop, but Chromebooks are a good third option to consider as well. So what exactly are the advantages? Well, there are quite a few. Here’s a quick summary of the most important ones:
Whether you’re buying a car or a can of beans the price is always one of the first things to consider. And when it comes to portable computers, Chromebooks are hands down some of the most affordable devices in that category. There are of course some expensive models out there as well but, on average, a decent Chromebook will only set you back about $300 to $400.
Chromebooks are designed with security in mind and come equipped right of the bat with anti-malware protection. Admittedly, you can’t benefit from the security features included with Chrome OS if you replace with a different operating system. Unless of course you switch it with Linux, which is famous for being the most secure operating system out there.
If you get any Chromebook made in 2017 or later you’ll be able to run Android apps on your device with no hassles. A lot of other operating systems don’t include a feature like that but most of the distros on this list do offer it, along with many other features that Chrome OS doesn’t have.
Good battery life is essential for portable computers and you can expect your Chromebook to last for quite a while before it runs out of juice. These days you can find Windows laptops that have good battery life as well but those are usually more expensive than a Chromebook.
This isn’t necessarily a big deal for everyone but all new Chromebooks come with 100GB of free Google Drive storage that can come in handy in certain situations.
Chromebooks come equipped with SSD drives and Chrome OS itself is a very lightweight operating system, so the load times tend to be pretty fast. Pair it with Linux, however, and you can expect the device to run at lightning speeds.
One of the best known facts about Linux is that the operating system was designed with performance and portability in mind. Coincidentally, those are two of the main features offered by Chromebooks as well. That’s why it makes perfect sense to install a Linux distro on your Chromebook as it only enhances the portable computer’s already impressive capabilities. Linux does come with a couple of drawbacks that you don’t have to worry about with Chrome OS, however, the pros far outweigh the cons in our opinion.
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