Rock Linux on your Chromebook with this handy file manager

Chrome OS’s Files app is clean, simple, and does exactly what it needs. You can find your downloads, create new folders, access Google Drive, and manage your Android storage. Linux, on the other hand, can seem a little intimidating if you’re trying to see where your files and folders are. For those old to Linux, browsing the file system from the terminal is a snap. However, users like myself who are still getting to know the Chromebook’s “secondary” operating system can use a little help figuring out exactly where things are right. A great example is when you need to navigate to a specific folder in the Linux container in order to edit a file or maybe move items. If you don’t know where to look, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, most Linux distributions have some form of file manager to help you out.

The Linux container on Chrome OS is built on Debian 10, aka Buster, and the built-in repository hosts a number of file managers that users can install directly from the Linux terminal. While there are a lot of choices, I tested a handful of popular file managers to see which one worked best on my Chromebook. I first looked at Thunar which is a very popular package used on a variety of distributions. While I like what Thunar offers, it didn’t work well in the Linux container. Icons often did not load and clicking in a folder often caused the application to crash completely. So I switched to other options. After testing three other managers, I landed on Nemo.

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Nemo

Nemo is a fork of the popular Nautilus file manager and is the official Cinnamon desktop file manager designed for Linux Mint. Nemo is located in the Debian 10 repository and you can install it with a simple command which you can find below. Open your Linux terminal on your Chromebook, paste the install command, and press Enter. When prompted, select “y” and enter to run the installation. It will take a few minutes, so go get some coffee or a snack.

sudo apt install nemo

Once the installation is complete you should have a new application in your launcher called “files” which has the Linux penguin as an icon. Alternatively, you can launch the file manager by typing nemo into the Linux terminal and pressing Enter. So what can you do with your new Linux file manager? That’s a very good question. For the general user, Nemo can be very useful in helping you find where your Linux files are installed. If you need to point the terminal to a specific file but don’t know where it is, open Nemo and start digging. Let’s say you search for the executable command for Nemo, open the file manager and search for “nemo”. You can then quickly identify which folder it resides in and where that folder is nested. This information is needed if you want to edit files or move them from the terminal.

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Once you find the file or folder you are looking for, you can right click on it to view its properties. As you can see in the image above, the executable file for Nemo resides in the “bin” folder inside the “usr” folder. To access this folder from the terminal, all you have to do is type cd /usr/bin and press Enter. You are now working on this file. You may notice that my Nemo File Manager has a bold red bar at the top that says “Elevated Privileges”. It is because I opened Nemo with root privileges. By default, File Manager does not open with top-level administrator access. This is to prevent users from accidentally deleting the manager’s file system. Having said that, you can delete files in Nemo without root privileges, but there isn’t much else you can do. Think of it as “read-only” access, but make sure you don’t right-click to delete something.

If you know what you are doing and want to open Nemo with root privileges, you will need to do it from the terminal. First, you will need to give the package access to the host. This is due to the containerized nature of Linux on Chrome OS. Then you will open Nemo with elevated permissions using the sudo order. To do this, run the following commands in the terminal, one at a time.

xhost +
sudo nemo

You can now move files and folders around the file system and that includes the Chrome OS Files app if you’ve shared your Downloads folder with Linux. Another handy tool in Nemo is the ability to set the default application to open a file. To do this, navigate to the file you want to access and right click on it. Select “open with another app” and from there you can select all the available apps. For example, I can right click on an image and open it in my Chrome browser. You can change the default application or reset the system to default. It’s a very useful tool and a great way to get familiar with Linux if you’re new to it like me. If you are a Linux guru, tell us which file manager you are using. We would love to test it out and see how it performs on Chrome OS.

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Donald E. Hollingsworth

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