Here, in the land of mobile technology, worlds collide more than ever. Up is down. The left is the right. And the lines blur everywhere you look.
As we speak, Microsoft is getting ever closer to releasing its first self-made Android phone – one that could turn out to be the most interesting Android device we’ve seen in ages. And now, to balance out this “freezing hell” moment, Google has announced that it is preparing to bring Windows apps to his Chrome OS platform.
Take a minute to understand. Microsoft, the “never Google” desktop champion, is looking to Google’s mobile operating system to find its future. And Google, the company that has long called Windows and its ecosystem an artifact of “legacy” computing, is finding a way to let you proudly run Windows software on its cloud. Publish– Windows platform.
What an era.
All philosophical wonder aside, however, Google’s move to integrate Windows apps into the Chrome OS environment has some pretty massive practical implications, both for those of us who already use Chromebooks and for those who have so far avoided this bandwagon.
Biggest effect of all – the really wild thing about Google introducing native-like access to Windows apps for Chrome OS? Once this change hits, there will be virtually no buts left – no asterisks as to why a Chromebook might not be suitable for one situation or another.
Chrome OS limitations have been shrinking for years. And with this move, they will be all but erased, at least at the corporate level.
Chrome OS, Windows, and the Always Blurred Lines
Before we dive too deep into the state of Chrome OS and what Google’s new Windows software support might mean, let’s break down what’s really going on here, because it’s not exactly straightforward. Earlier this week, Google and a company called Parallels announced plans to allow businesses to “seamlessly add full Windows apps” to their designated company Chromebook devices.
The details are decidedly vague at this point, and it almost feels more like the announcement of a pending announcement than anything concrete. But we can read a little between the lines to understand what is going on.
First, tellingly, Google itself is referrer to the ability to run Windows apps on a Chromebook as “legacy app support” – a nice little (and I imagine carefully constructed) communication touch to emphasize that this is just a bridge to the past, not the road to the future as Google envisions it.
In reality, however, we all know that some business scenarios depend on traditional computer software – whether specialized or general purpose – to function. And the simple reality is that up until now, running these kinds of programs on a Chromebook has been a hassle to do.
Interestingly, it was not impossible. Parallels itself, the very company involved in this new effort, already has a product called Parallels Remote Application Server which “allows you to use Windows or Windows apps” on a Chromebook using a Chrome extension and a continuous network connection. It’s a form of virtualization, for the tech nerds among us, and it’s something that exists on Chrome OS for a while.
A less specialized tool called crossing has also allowed anyone to run Windows programs on a Chromebook for quite some time now, without the need for expensive licenses or complex setup. And then, of course, there’s always Google’s own Chrome Remote Desktop service, which allows you to remotely connect to an individual Windows computer (or other traditional platform) and then use it as if was right in front of you.
But all of these solutions are troublesome in one way or another – either requiring a persistent remote connection and associated lag probability, in most cases, or just generally doesn’t work very wellin the case of CrossOver.
So what sets this new effort apart is the fact that it seems is not it require one of the layers of complexity on which these old answers relied; Instead, as explained to me, the setup would bring direct, native access to the kinds of “legacy” Windows apps that business users might want right on a Chromebook, without the need for virtualization workarounds. remotely disordered. This would mean, at least in theory, that apps would be easier to use, more consistent in performance, and able to work offline, so more or less like any other local program.
Above all, we do not yet know exactly what apps will be available – Google and Parallels continue to call out Microsoft Office, in particular, but I’m told other “legacy enterprise Windows apps” will also be included – and we don’t yet know what the specific cost involved will be or even when this whole system will appear (“someday this fall” is the most specific thing we’ve heard).
But hey, what we To do knowing is more than enough to come to a seemingly crazy conclusion.
The “everything” platform
With Windows apps in the mix, Chrome OS is truly positioned to become the “everything” platform. I mean, think about it: Chromebooks already run a variety of web apps as well as their fuller Progressive Web App cousins. Add to that Chrome OS’ native Android app support, and for the vast majority of casual computer users, virtually any need can be met. Consider the availability of linux apps, too, and there really isn’t much most people would want to do on a Chromebook that they couldn’t.
The persistent exception is in the enterprise, where companies often need specialized software that is only available on a traditional platform like Windows. Or perhaps a company intends to stick with Microsoft Office as the organization-wide standard and doesn’t want its employees to rely on the web or Android equivalents for these programs.
Well, soon the Chromebook will be able to do it all. It will run virtually anything imaginable, including enterprise-specific blocking elements, and it will do so in a low-cost, low-maintenance, low-security-risk environment designed for large-scale management. ladder.
For businesses, this means the intriguing option they may have considered but couldn’t. enough justify before will suddenly be viable. For Google, that means the lucrative market it’s trying to crack with Chrome OS will suddenly be accessible. And for regular individual Chromebook users, that means the platform could suddenly start to see a huge new injection of large-scale interest – which has the potential to trickle down and lead to even more hardware diversity and software development in all areas.
For now, Google says the Parallels Windows support system will be a company-specific thing, but it’s not hard to imagine that it will eventually make its way to other markets, including, maybe -to be one day, individual devices. And even if it doesn’t, the effect of a new influx of large companies potentially on board with Chrome OS can only have a positive effect on the platform and the ecosystem around it.
Two years ago we saw evidence of an internal Google project to let Chromebooks dual boot and offer users the confusing choice of running Chrome OS or Windows on the same single system. Despite months of development, the the project was eventually abandoned before it even takes off. The chapter has remained a bit of a baffling mystery in the Chrome OS community – a weird example of Google trying to do the unthinkable, then giving up before achieving its goal.
What we see now could, on some level, explain what happened. Allowing users to switch between Chrome OS and Windows would be a complicated and messy experience that would only underscore the lingering limitations of Google’s cloud-centric vision. It would force you to choose between two environments and go back and forth depending on what you were doing. More than anything, if you needed that capability, it would remind you that, hey, you might be better off using a Windows laptop – because why bother with that clunky in-between?
Introducing Windows apps directly into the Chrome OS environment fulfills the same basic need in a much neater and more user-friendly way. It keeps Chrome OS and all of its platform-wide benefits at its core, then adds in the elements Windows that some business users still need. Chromebooks are truly evolving into “everything” machines – platform-defying devices that can handle just about anything without all the heft of their legacy predecessors.
While Google is effectively integrating Windows into its ecosystem and Microsoft is on the verge of integrating Android into his world, things are about to get very weird – and for those of us on the outside, that just might end up being a very good thing.
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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]