(Credit: CNET)

When Chromebooks first came out, you were limited to a small selection of apps, all made by Google. Over time, the company has opened up Chrome OS to accommodate third-party Android apps, and it's recently added support for regular Linux apps as well. However, it turns out that a number of Chromebooks have a version of the operating system that's simply too old to be compatible with this new batch of software.

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Spotted by Android Police earlier this week, the no-go list includes:

  • AOpen Chromebase Mini (Feb 2017; tiger, veyron_pinky)
  • AOpen Chromebox Mini (Feb 2017; fievel, veyron_pinky)
  • ASUS Chromebook C201 (May 2015; speedy, veyron_pinky)
  • Acer C670 Chromebook 11 (Feb 2015; paine, auron)
  • Acer Chromebase 24 (Apr 2016; buddy, auron)
  • Acer Chromebook 15 (Apr 2015; yuna, auron)
  • Acer Chromebox CXI2 (May 2015; rikku, jecht)
  • Asus Chromebit CS10 (Nov 2015; mickey, veyron_pinky)
  • Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA (Jul 2015; minnie, veyron_pinky)
  • Asus Chromebox CN62 (Aug 2015; guado, jecht)
  • Dell Chromebook 13 7310 (Aug 2015; lulu, auron)
  • Google Chromebook Pixel (Mar 2015; samus)
  • Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebook (May 2015; tidus, jecht)
  • Toshiba Chromebook 2 (Sep 2015; gandof, auron)

Basically, if the Chromebook in question is using version 3.14 or older of the Linux kernel, you're probably out of luck. You need kernel 4.8 or newer to support the container system used to run Linux apps in Chrome OS.

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Google's own 2015 model of the Chromebook Pixel is tentatively on this list, but Google developer Mike Frysinger said yesterday, "[T]here remains an undecided gap in between into which lulu & samus fall." Since Google makes the Pixel laptop itself, and the software that runs on it, they have relatively few restrictions if they decide to "backport" Linux app support to this model.

What about running Linux directly on a Chromebook?

This may be an option as well, depending on your unit's make and model. Our sister site ZDNet has a detailed guide on getting that to work.

Keep in mind, though, that Chromebooks tend to not have very much storage capacity, because you're intended to use cloud storage instead. It's sometimes possible to swap out the Chromebook's storage device with a roomier one, but most of these laptops have adopted a unibody design that makes getting inside pretty difficult.

Still, if you want to give it a shot, there are several regularly maintained versions of Linux that are specifically designed to operate on a Chromebook -- and you can always go back to Chrome OS if you decide that you don't like it.

The takeaways

  1. Google is opening up Chrome OS so that regular Linux apps can run on it, but many older Chromebooks have a version of the OS that's too old to be compatible with the new feature.
  2. There are several versions of Linux that can replace Chrome OS altogether, though they may not be compatible with your specific Chromebook, and you may encounter storage space limitations.

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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.