CNET tests the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Chromebooks are laptops designed by Google to run its Chrome OS desktop operating system, a close cousin to Android. Since the two platforms are closely related, the company has been able to get Android apps running within Chrome OS, and the next step may be to add Linux apps as well -- if Google can come up with a good way for users to browse what's available.

Chrome OS previously allowed you to install Android and Chrome OS apps from the app launcher tool that searched as you typed, but the feature was removed in favor of a new touch-optimized system whose details are just starting to emerge. 9to5Google reported this week on a new addition to a test version of Chrome OS that indicates an APT search function will be coming in a future public release.

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APT stands for Advanced Package Tool; the apt command on Debian-based distributions of Linux (like Chrome OS) can be used to install, remove, find, and shop for available apps. In particular, the apt search command can get detailed descriptions of apps that you look for by name. While apt doesn't ordinarily search as you type, Google could easily add a layer within Chrome OS to perform that extra task.

The upshot is that, when the app launcher-based search function returns, it may now include Linux apps, as well as the Android and Chrome OS app capabilities that we saw before the entire function was removed in Chrome 70.

On the other hand, as 9to5Google notes, apt is limited to searching within pre-selected app catalogs known as repositories or "repos." Regular Linux lets you add and remove whatever repo is compatible, but the historically locked-down Chrome OS may not give users this latitude. In that event, your repo on Chrome OS will be limited to whatever Google decides is appropriate.

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Since repos can contain bleeding-edge test versions of various apps, being able to manually add them could lead to unexpected bugs and security holes. While that's something that Linux veterans are accustomed to, opening that up to all Chromebook users may be risky.

If you're intent on using Linux apps on a Chromebook, some models can replace Chrome OS with regular Linux altogether, while some Chromebook-specific Linux distributions allow the two to co-exist in a system known as dual booting. However, Chromebooks don't use a standard keyboard layout, so your shortcuts may vary from one model to the next.

Since this is a prototype update to Chrome OS, there's no release date, and the feature may still get shelved. We'll keep our eyes peeled for more info.

Takeaways

  • Google engineers are testing a way to integrate Linux apps into an app search function for Chrome OS, which is derived from the open-source operating system.
  • The platform's app launcher tool used to feature app installation, so it's possible that this function will return with support for Linux apps as well as Android and Chrome OS apps.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.