tech

Chrome OS to run Steam starting with 10th Gen Intel Chromebooks

Once live, Chromebooks, starting with devices that have the 10th Gen Intel processors, should be able to play real games.

We will have to wait and see if Google wants Chromebook owners to switch from Crostini to Borealis or if both these Linux installations can coexist.
We will have to wait and see if Google wants Chromebook owners to switch from Crostini to Borealis or if both these Linux installations can coexist. (Steam)

Google has been working on bringing Steam support to Chrome OS for a while now and reports have it now that Chrome OS will run Steam and it is going to start with Chromebooks. For almost over a year now, Chrome OS has supported Linux apps under a project called Crostini.

Crostini runs an entire Linux distribution under its hood in a virtual machine - much like a developer running an Android emulator on the desktop. Adding to that, there is a new project within the Chromium open-source code, under the name Borealis and based on some code changes, Borealis seems to be related to the virtual machines for Chrome OS.

According to reports, Borealis is another full Linux distribution which is based on Ubuntu (Crostini is based on Debian). And much like the existing Linux apps support, it is expected that Borealis will integrate itself with Chrome OS rather than being a desktop experience.

There is one key difference between Borealis and the normal installation of Ubuntu though - Borealis includes a pre-installed copy of Steam. And this falls in like with what Google’s director or product management for Chrome OS, Kan Liu, said at CES 2020 - that Steam gaming support would be based on Linux.

Steam’s developers, Valve, have been very proactive in making gaming on Linux a reality and their largest contribution to this is the development of Proton. Proton is a ‘compatibility layer’ that helps Steam on Linux run games that were originally built for Windows. And while Proton is meant to work on all varieties of Linux, Steam’s installation instructions mention that Ubuntu is the recommended variety for gamers.

We will have to wait and see if Google wants Chromebook owners to switch from Crostini to Borealis or if both these Linux installations can coexist. The latter seems unlikely since these require additional storage spaces.

What is sure though is that Chrome OS’ Steam support will appear first in Chromebooks. A code change found in Chromium Gerrit shows that Google is testing Steam support as ‘hatch-Borealis’ and ‘Hatch’ is the case codename for Chromebooks with the 10th Gen Intel processors. Hatch-based devices range from high-end Samsung Galaxy Chromebooks to affordable Lenovo Flex 5.

Once live, Chromebooks, starting with devices that have the 10th Gen Intel processors, should be able to play real games. Valve’s Proton should ensure that these machines run support games built for Linux as well as some Steam games that were only meant to work on Windows.