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My first Chromebook was a netbook running Chromium OS. This was five years ago, back when Chrome OS only ran as a single maximized window. Much has changed since then. Chromebooks have made their way into schools. They’re popular enough to entice people away from cheap Windows PCs.
But what if you want to just try it out first? If you’re interested in Chrome OS but already have a computer, it would be nice not to have to go buy one. Enter Cub Linux.
What is Cub Linux?
Cub Linux is a Linux distribution that imitates the Chrome OS experience, but with fewer limitations. The project was born as Chromixium OS, when developer RichJack kicked off the project on the Ubuntu user forums in September of 2014. The first stable build arrived in April the following year.
Toward the end of 2015, Google requested a name change. The new name, Cub Linux, came from combining “Chromium” and “Ubuntu.”
Installing Cub Linux
If you’ve installed an Ubuntu-based distribution in the past decade, you know what to expect here. For newcomers, the process is simpler than you may think. Like most modern Linux distributions, you can try before you buy (not that you have to spend any money). For instructions on how this process works, here’s a handy guide.
Does it Really Look Like Chrome OS?
At first, yes. A clock and status indicators rest in the bottom right. An app drawer lines the bottom left with a search icon alongside Chromium and the Files app, with shortcuts to Gmail, Drive, and YouTube in between.
When you click on any of the shortcuts, they open the website in a Chromium window. Pages work as you would expect. YouTube starts streaming videos right away. Docs, Sheets, and Slides let you work offline. The Chrome Web Store can install additional web apps.
The search icon pulls up the app drawer. Unlike the latest releases of Chrome OS, Cub Linux does not launch a window in the center of the screen. Instead you get the older launcher that Google recently retired.
The Ubuntu installer icon is the biggest tell from the beginning that this isn’t a genuine Chrome OS experience. That said, this shortcut goes away after you install Cub Linux.
Yet once you start clicking around, the illusion fades. Chromium uses system title bar and borders by default. On your typical Linux distribution, I agree with this setting. With Cub Linux, I find unchecking this box provides a more pleasant visual experience. It may not fully match the default interface, but that’s nothing the right Chrome theme can’t fix.
Cub Linux uses XFCE as its desktop environment. The default theme is very basic. The solid white contextual menus are akin to Chrome OS, but they ultimately looks less polished.
The three indicators let you adjust the sound, configure your internet connection, and manage XFCE’s power settings. They look okay.
What Makes Cub Linux Different?
Cub Linux may mimic the minimalist Chrome OS desktop, but make no mistake — this is a full Linux desktop. You have access to the complete Ubuntu ecosystem. You won’t find the Ubuntu Software Center, but Synaptic comes included. You can also add PPAs to install applications that aren’t available in Ubuntu’s repositories.
This means you have full access to your favorite desktop applications. Install LibreOffice. Edit images with GIMP. Listen to podcasts with Vocal. Play games with Steam. Cub Linux may look like Chrome OS, but it’s a significantly more powerful workstation.
An Ideal Blend
Cub Linux does an admirable job mixing the simplicity of Chrome OS with the complexity of traditional Linux. The default experience points users towards web apps and the Chrome Web Store. You can put Cub Linux on someone’s Chromebook and, while they would notice a few visual differences, it probably wouldn’t affect their workflow.
More advanced functionality is tucked away behind the right-click menu. From there you can access full system settings and launch any installed applications.
The pre-installed software mimics Chrome OS. There’s a calculator, text editor, image viewer, audio player, and archive manager. There’s also a BitTorrent client, since this is an internet-focused distribution.
Traditional applications do not appear in the main app drawer. That area is reserved exclusively for Chrome web apps. You can, however, pin traditional applications to the dock.
Is Cub Linux for You?
Chrome OS doesn’t come with the complexities of other platforms. For many people, this is a plus. For others, Chromebooks are simply too minimalist.
Cub Linux serves as a great compromise. It allows people who appreciate the Chrome OS interface to enjoy it without giving up their traditional apps. And it allows others to effectively get a Chromebook without having to spend the money on one.
Cub Linux is also a quick way to set up a Linux computer for a non-savvy user. Ubuntu looks downright complex by comparison. Someone can use this desktop without realizing there’s more than Chromium available on their computer.
What do you think of Cub Linux? Should Linux distributions mimic commercial desktop environments? Is Chrome OS worth copying? Is this the ideal distribution for new users? Hit the comments section below!