Camera access for Linux on ChromeOS can be very close


Four long years. This is how long I have been following this bug report. With every Canary update, the first thing I check is whether or not I can access a camera through the Linux container on my Chromebook. Unfortunately I still can’t access a webcam through Crostini, but I have every reason to believe that may change soon. For starters, the original bug report/feature request is still open. If Google had no intention of bringing camera access to Linux, the developers would have labeled this “wontfix” and moved on. Four years later, this bug has been tracked by 230 users. It seems clear to me that Google understands that this is a necessary feature.

A project member assigned to the bug even commented on setting an expected milestone date. This is just a target date for the feature to go live in ChromeOS. There’s no mention of this actual milestone date, but the fact that it’s being discussed means there’s a roadmap for adding camera support to Linux on ChromeOS. Additionally, an internal bug issue tracker is attached to this public feature request. This is private and accessible only by Google and authorized members of the project. More information is probably available in this bug report, but we’ll probably never see it.

Either way, none of that matters. The issue still persists and it looks like Google is working on bringing camera access to Linux on ChromeOS. If the ongoing movement on the bug report isn’t enough to reassure you, I discovered something yesterday that sealed the deal. For me, at least. I received a new Poly Studio P5 webcam in the mail for review and when I plugged it into my Chromebook I was greeted with a message I had never seen before.

Remember that my Chromebook is in Canary Channel build 107 and has some experimental features enabled. That said, I plugged the Poly P5 webcam into my Chromebook and was prompted to log in to Linux or Bruschetta. (Bruschetta is the next 3rd party VM feature) Unfortunately clicking “Connect to Linux” still didn’t give me access to the camera through Crostini, but this is a new toast notification and it has piqued my interest.

I know what you may be thinking. “It’s just a generic notification” and I would tend to agree. It is not uncommon for a USB device to pass device-specific data to the host device. Yet I had never seen a USB device, let alone a camera, give a Linux-specific login prompt. So I did my due diligence and collected a variety of USB devices all over the office. Mice, keyboards, storage drives and even two webcams from other OEMs. Not one of these devices prompted me to receive the notification I received with the Poly P5 camera. Intriguing yes but why?

I have a theory. The webcam in question here is a Poly P5. If you’re unfamiliar with Poly, you may have heard of parent company Plantronics. The company has been manufacturing industry-leading headsets and portable communications devices for over sixty years. Some of you may remember advertisements for Plantronics headsets where you could order a trial headset to use for a limited time without risk. From commercial airlines to call centers and even Bluetooth mobile headsets, Plantronics is the boss in this particular space. For this reason, countless companies rely on Poly headsets for employees who spend most of their time on calls.

Due to Plantronics’ dominance in the industry, many telecommunications platforms and software are deeply integrated into Poly hardware. This means that when you buy Poly devices, they work seamlessly with whatever video or calling software you use. This all links back to another work in progress I discovered on the ChromeOS flags page. A flag has been added specifically for Poly Bluetooth headsets.

Now, this flag has absolutely nothing to do with webcams, but it does indicate that Google is working to specifically target support for Poly hardware. A theory reinforced by the fact that Poly has an ever-growing list of Works with Chromebook devices already available on the company’s website. The P5 webcam happens to be one of the devices on this list. It’s just my instincts talking, but I feel like camera support for Linux on ChromeOS can be rolled out as an enterprise-only solution at first. That’s not to say it won’t eventually be a standard feature, but from the bug report comments, it seems like educators and business types are the users pushing hard for this feature.

It’s just a theory, but one thing is for sure, I have a Poly camera and plan to keep a close eye on this feature. If and when it goes live, you’ll be the first to know. Hopefully it won’t take much longer as most of the pieces seem to be in place already. Stay tuned and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on this and more.


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