Chromebooks are in some ways the perfect work machines: They boot up quickly, they’re lightweight and battery efficient, and they’re able to offer great levels of security. Perhaps the biggest compromise that you need to make when choosing a Chromebook over a traditional Windows laptop is that you are giving up the ability to run native Windows software. Lots of software has an alternative version that will work on Chromebooks, but if you rely on a specific bit of Windows software for work, and it has no version you can use on a Chromebook, you’re somewhat tied into sticking with Windows. At least for the time being, but this could all be changing in the future, thanks to a new partnership between Google and Parallels.
Parallels specialize in making virtualization solutions, essentially making a computer act in some regards like another type of computer. Their “Parallels Desktop for Mac” tool has been very popular for around 15 years, letting users on Intel-powered Mac computers run a Windows or Linux virtual environment, and making Windows or Linux applications able to run inside MacOS. It’s a popular solution for users that want to use a Mac computer, but also want to be able to run a particular piece of software with no native Mac version available.
This new partnership between Parallels and Google aims to bring similar functionality to ChromeOS, letting users run native Windows software on the operating system powering Chromebooks. The announcement specifically gives Microsoft Office as an example of the type of Windows software that users will be able to run with this functionality, but hopefully, it would support all sorts of different kinds of Windows software.
Initially, this new compatibility with Windows software is specifically targeting enterprise users, business customers that use a large number of Chromebooks in their workforce, with very particular software needs related to their business. It is entirely possible that down the line this functionality will make its way to standard consumers, but Google has prioritized the highly profitable enterprise sector for now. Depending on a variety of technical factors, Google and Parallels may need to tweak the Windows virtual environment to increase compatibility with a broader range of types of software on a case by case basis, where bugs and technical issues need to be ironed out gradually as more software is tested with this system, so a gradual rollout would be logical.
Currently, the fact that Chromebooks have no compatibility with Windows software is perhaps one of their biggest shortcomings, but if Google can successfully build a solution to this problem, it would make switching from Windows to ChromeOS a lot more viable for a lot of users, so this new development is going to be interesting to see unfold as it begins testing during Fall 2020.
The announcement is a little light on detail, but whatever way you look at it this is an exciting development. How real-world performance shakes out, and just what types of software it will be compatible with, are still largely up in the air, but we’re going to be watching this one closely to see what comes from it. Typically these kinds of virtual environments aren’t great for offering robust graphics performance, and most Chromebooks only really have modest graphics performance in the first place, so it’s perhaps unlikely that this will be a viable option for gaming or other GPU intensive tasks, but for productivity and less demanding software, on paper, this could be a brilliant solution.
Is incompatibility with Windows software a significant barrier for you considering switching to a Chromebook? Are there any particular pieces of Windows software that you’d love to see running on a Chromebook? Let us know in the comments.