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Here’s how you’ll be able to run Windows apps on Chromebooks

By on July 31, 2020 0

Earlier this month, Google announced a partnership with Parallels that will bring a software solution for Windows apps to Chromebooks. Details were scarce at the time, but thanks to The Verge’s interview with Cyrus Mistry, the band’s product manager for Chrome OS, there’s more information.

At first, Parallels Desktop will run in Chrome OS with a full Windows 10 experience, and eventually only the Windows apps you want or need might be available.

Image courtesy of The Verge

This differs from how Linux apps run on Chromebooks, which run in containers inside a virtual machine created by Google for security purposes. There doesn’t seem to be any container involved in the Parallels solution, just a pure VM. This could improve performance by removing one of the two layers found in the Linux implementation of Chrome OS, while maintaining Chrome OS security.

Indeed, this approach does not compromise security, one of the three pillars of Chrome OS (speed and simplicity are the other two), according to Mistry:

This should give businesses the best of both worlds. This is exactly what they wanted, a secure terminal that was really easy to manage.

When it comes to target audiences for Windows apps on Chromebooks, consumers don’t seem to be one of them; at least not initially.

Mistry told The Verge that Parallels Desktop can come with Chrome Enterprise devices, for example. Resellers will be able to bundle Parallels Desktop with Chromebook Enterprise devices, and IT admins will be able to easily enable access to Parallels for Chromebooks enrolled with the Chrome Enterprise upgrade. That doesn’t mean mainstream consumers will never have the ability to run Windows apps when needed on a Chromebook, but don’t expect day one availability.

And that could be a good thing, especially for consumers with entry-level devices or even some mid-range devices. While no hardware requirements for the Parallels Desktop solution were announced, Mistry says you need a Chromebook “for power consumption.” I would say Core i5, or maybe an i3, in your Chromebook and at least 8GB of memory.

There will be brackets between Windows files in Chrome OS and Parallels Desktop from the sounds of it, similar to how you can download a Linux installer file in Chrome OS and then install it in the Linux container . If you download a Word document in the Chrome OS Files app, for example, double-clicking it can start Windows in the Parallels virtual machine and open Word. The less friction here, the better, in my opinion.

Finally, this reminds me of the Windows 10X conference last week. I noted that those who said it would be a real competitor to Chromebooks were missing a few points, the main one being that if Windows 10X doesn’t run desktop Windows apps at launch, why would anyone buy it at instead of a proven platform like Chrome OS? Microsoft plans to support Windows desktop or Win32 apps eventually on Windows X, but that’s not the plan when the devices launch next year.

Chromebooks, however, will support Windows desktop apps this fall, even before the launch of Windows 10X devices with a hobbled app environment. So the Parallels partnership brings even more of a challenge to Microsoft’s plan to fight Chromebooks, at least if Google and Microsoft stick to their current schedules and plans.