It might not be Google’s operating system, but Chrome OS is really shaping up to be the one operating system that will rule them all. It can already run software from Android and Linux in addition to its own native web-based Chrome apps, and it will soon be adding what could be the most important app set for users. Full Windows apps are coming to some Chromebooks, but these will run through a third-party solution and only for a small number of Chrome OS users.
This solution is Parallels’ virtualization software that for years has allowed Windows applications to run on Macs. Unlike open source WINE software, virtualization pretty much creates a layer, a virtual Windows machine so to speak, between the Windows application and the underlying real operating system. It guarantees better compatibility with foreign applications, in this case Windows applications, but at the cost of certain performance.
Parallels, however, also offers the ability to access applications remotely, by running Windows applications on a remote computer which Chromebooks can then access through the web. Being a cloud-centric platform, it almost seems to suit Chrome OS, but the latency could be a killer. Fortunately, Android Police Corbin Davenport says that Parallels will run its virtual machine directly on the device itself.
Being able to run Windows programs on Chromebooks is certainly exciting, but unfortunately it won’t be something the general public will enjoy. This partnership between Google and Parallels only covers Chrome Enterprise, customers they believe will benefit the most from running Microsoft Office on Chromebooks.
This feature, however, could be a double-edged sword of Chrome OS. The lack of notable native apps has always been one of the platform’s weaknesses and it got around that by supporting Android, Linux, and soon Windows apps. At some point, however, some might start to wonder if investing in Chromebooks and Chrome OS will be worth it if they are running non-Chrome OS apps anyway.