Chrome OS started out as an operating system designed to work primarily online, and the dev team has slowly begun adding more offline features. These include offline HTML5 apps such as Gmail or Google Drive, which can take your input as if they were online and then sync the data later to the cloud, to receiving support for C++ applications through the Native Client plugin.
Earlier this year, Google made the major announcement that Chrome OS would start running full Android applications, although only a handful would be supported initially.
Now, we get the news that a Google intern has made it possible to run Linux directly in a Chrome OS window. This will allow users to run any kind of Linux application (such as Skype, for example) from a Chromebook.
Francois Beaufort, a Chromium evangelist, made the announcement in a Google+ post:
"Google Intern has added support to run Crouton¹ in a Chrome OS Window. Thanks to a 4,471 lines patch², fearless people can now run their favorite Linux distributions on their Chrome Devices in a nice window without jumping between Virtual Terminals as before."
There have been ways to either install Linux on a Chromebook machine and dual boot both operating systems, or run both at the same time using a tool called Crouton. The latter is actually being used here as well, but this time setting it up is much simpler than before.
All you have to do is put the Chromebook in developer mode (the equivalent of a bootloader unlock for a Nexus phone), install the new Crouton extension, download the Crouton tool and then type a simple command. After that you'll be able to use any Linux distro you want inside a Chrome OS window.
Chromebooks are already highly popular in the education sector, and they're slowly taking off in the consumer market as well. The growth has been slower in the mainstream market because either Chrome OS doesn't support the apps people need right now, or users believe they might need a certain app in the future that Windows or Mac OS has but isn't available on Chrome OS. The easier support for full Linux applications should make that gap between application support much smaller, and it should thus make Chromebooks more appealing to those reluctant consumers.