Google is working on ARCVM, a new way to run Android apps in Chrome OS

Over the last few years on many devices Chromebook you can install Google Play and run Android apps. It gave Chrome OS the ability to become something more than just not a very popular operating system based on the popular browser. But now Google has decided to make its desktop OS some significant changes concerning its support Android apps that can finally allow the use of one long-requested feature.

History Android on Chrome OS

About four years ago, Google has developed a way to run Chrome browser Android apps called Android Runtime for Chrome (ARC). Initially, the technology was created with an eye on the Chrome OS, but later the developers found that it can be used to run Android apps in Chrome on any desktop platform.

Although the ARC of the first generation and worked quite well, Google wanted to create something more useful and more sharpened by Chrome OS. Thus, the company started developing the next generation of ARC, called ARC++. The new version of ARC is more deeply integrated with Android Runtime for Chrome OS, allowing to put in things like Google Play. That is why today the Android apps work on Chromebook devices.

Create ARC++ is made possible in part because of Chrome OS, like Android, based on Linux kernel. To ensure a high level of security, ARC++ actually works in the so-called “container” which is a way of isolating fragments Android from the rest of Chrome OS. Although ARC++ in this form up and running, the Chrome team has acknowledged that they have room to grow and develop its technology.

Using different methods we are trying to isolate our development from the main system, but in the end, ARC has direct access to many system functions and interfaces, so the random error to occur in your code ARC can greatly affect the whole system.

If you want to learn a little more about ARC++, there is a great visual explanation of the process of its connection to Chrome OS from David Reveman, who once was a member of the Chrome team and has since moved into a Fuchsia.

Linux on the Chrome OS — not the same Linux

Last year Google announced that it is going to take great effort to make Linux applications available for installation and use on Chrome OS (which is a project of the Crostini), but, of course, this was much easier said than done. If you thought that Chrome OS is based on Linux, which means that it should be relatively easy to run Linux applications, don’t jump to conclusions, as everything is much more complicated.

To run Linux programs on Chrome OS, the Chrome team decided to create a virtual machine (or VM) to run Debian (a Linux distribution) and to integrate this VM with Chrome OS. Yes, they could use the existing technology of virtual machines like QEMU or VirtualBox, but thought about it and decided that it is better to create specialized tools from scratch. Created, and called them “crosvm” and “Termina”.

Reasons for using a virtual machine was a lot, but the most obvious was the security. Direct access to the Linux kernel, Chrome OS creates more opportunities for contamination malware, or even viruses.

On Android Google controls the ecosystem of apps through Google Play, which usually means that applications can be trusted. But if you want to download apps from third-party sources, you need to put your device into developer mode as it was it allowed to make such a device potentially unsafe things.

On Linux, where Google does not have this level of control, it was impossible to be limited only by trusted applications. The use of virtual machine solves this problem, because if you install a malicious app, you can simply shut down the virtual machine, delete and recreate it, without affecting the Chrome OS itself.

Create a virtual machine that is integrated with Chrome OS to Linux feel at home as Chromebook, is also not without difficulties. For example, recently the development team has put a lot of effort into Chrome OS it was no problem to run more graphically intense Linux programs and maybe even games.

Implementation ARCVM

In General, Google does not plan to make any changes to the source code of Android apps on Chrome OS. However, as it became known, the Chromium team is making every effort to support Android applications on Chrome OS was more similar to support Linux applications.

All of these efforts boil down to technology ARCVM (short ARC Virtual Machine), which, based on the available evidence, uses the results of the project Crostini to run Android using a virtual machine Termina. Clicking on the virtual machine when running Android on Chrome OS will be able to use the same functions for safety and will also support the ability to easily reset if something goes wrong.

Proper insulation of Android apps from Chrome OS in General will give Google the ability to download Android applications without having to log in to developer mode. The ability to load Android apps has long been requested by users Chrome OS, as many applications marked as “incompatible” with the Chromebook, really work on it just fine. In addition, it would also allow to install Chrome OS third party app stores such as Aptoide.

If Google do something, the developers of Android apps will be able to install Android Studio on a Chromebook, create your app and test it on the device without entering in developer mode. Given the recent steps of Google towards a more “safe design” with a Chromebook, it seems the most likely stimulus for the development of ARCVM.

However, as in the case of other unfinished projects, found in Chromium, there is a probability that the project ARCVM can be completely minimized, and Campfire at the time. After creating a working prototype, the development team will need to weigh the pros and cons to understand whether it outweighs the increased security and the ability to download third-party applications the impact they can have on the performance of the cheaper devices Chromebook family.

Since work on ARCVM is still ongoing and is in no way confirmed the project, it is impossible to say when, if ever, we will see it live on our devices. We can assume that the announcement will happen either at the end of this year or during the launch of Q Android on Chrome OS.

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