Google I/O 2018 didn’t have much news surrounding Chrome. Whether our expectations were too high or if the platform just didn’t need much attention right now is best left for another article. But what they did announce is huge — Chrome OS will be able to securely run native Linux apps.
When the announcement is running high-performance Linux programs on Chrome, you don’t mind it being the only big one.
A short mention in the “What’s New in Android Development Tools” session is where we get most of the official information. Android Studio 3.2 Beta for Linux will be able to run on the Pixelbook because the beta channel of its software supports running Linux apps securely. Not a lot there to go on, but an announcement that could change the way a lot of people use Chrome OS as well as change how developers think when it comes to supporting those of us that do.
We also saw some great tools for developers to make better PWAs. Those are Progressive Web Apps and you can see one in action by visiting gmail.com through the Chrome browser on your phone. When it comes to features, a dedicated app may be better, but having a great experience for visitors without asking them to install anything is important, too. PWAs can do just that, and now they are easier to build thanks to Google’s new tools.
Other tools for web development were updated with requested features and applications like Lighthouse (a debugging tool) will also mean a better web with fewer issues.
Running Linux applications on your Chromebook is as big or bigger than running Android applications. Yes, I said it and I really mean it.
Android apps gave Chromebook users a lot of the small utilities and entertainment apps that just never made it to the Chrome Web Store. I use Slack — a group communication service — as an example because it’s a thing I use every day. I can open a website in a tab on my Chromebook and it works, but I don’t get the control over notifications that I need. Without a Chrome app, this was the only way to use a Chromebook every day for me. Now that I can use the Android App for Slack, I can decide how I get notified and by who and at what times. Little things that mean a lot. Many Chromebook users have a similar story and depend on one or more Android apps.
With the ability to install Linux applications, that list expands to cover the final hole in Chrome for a lot of us — professional content creation and production apps. Linux programs on Chromebooks mean I can use GIMP (an image editor that matches Photoshop feature for feature) or Darktable (a Lightroom replacement) or Ardour (a Digital Audio Workstation) and FluidSynth (a software synthesizer and MIDI sequencer) for audio production. Yes, I’ll need beefy hardware but that’s true for this type of work on every platform — you’re not going to like using Ardour on a MacBook Air.
We’ll learn more about how Linux meshes with Chrome as it rolls out to users, but it’s OK to be excited right now. I am.
Not a lot in terms of new features. But existing ones were refined and that’s great.
We see new animations, notifications are styled as native Chrome notifications, a professional audio mode (I’m excited to check that out), and tweaks to multi-window mode(s). Because of how Android is part of Chrome through a native container, Chrome doesn’t need much adjustment here. Neither does Android, and small refinements are going to be where much of the work goes from here out.
For users, the biggest pain points have been the way apps handle the big screen and access removable storage. New Android development tools will make writing apps that scale across any size screen easier and we hope developers take advantage of them. As for removable storage access, we hear that will be solved in a Chrome update very soon.