Update: It turns out this article was based on faulty evidence. Chrome Unboxed saw the Open with Windows Application option because they had Crossover installed on their Pixelbook.

While it’s already possible to use Crossover or WINE to run Windows apps on some Chromebooks that support Android apps, there’s currently no evidence that Google is planning to bring native support for the feature to Chrome OS.

The original article continues below (with the text stricken out). I was going to delete it, but I didn’t want to delete all of the associated comments.

Huh. So you know how Google is developing a tool called Crostini that makes it possible to run desktop Linux applications on a Chromebook without leaving Chrome OS? It looks like one of those apps is going be WINE… which is an open source compatibility layer that lets you run Windows apps on Linux.

In other words, you could soon be able to run at least some Windows applications on a Chromebook.

As pointed out by Chrome Unboxed, it looks like parts of the framework are already up and running on Google’s Pixelbook. If you right-click on any DOC, PDF, or other document file and click “open with,” one of the options you’ll see is “Windows Application.”

But how am I supposed to install a Windows application on a Chromebook? The icon next to the text provides a clue: it’s a wine glass. More specifically, it’s the logo for the WINE project.

So far all you’ll see is the “open with” dialog box. You can’t actually open documents with a Windows application. But it sure looks like Google is working on a way to let you do just that.

Based on what we know about Crostini and WINE so far, here’s how it would probably work:

  • You can use Crostini to install Linux apps in a containerized environment. Once you launch a Linux app, it opens in a window just as if it were a native Chrome OS app. For now you can’t actually move data in or out of the container, which means you can’t do things like save a picture from Chrome and edit it in GIMP. But I suspect that’s something Google is working on.
  • WINE, which stands for WINE Is Not an EMULATOR, is a utility that makes it possible to install and run some Windows applications on a Linux device. Not all Windows applications work, but people have used WINE to install software such as Adobe Photoshop, iTunes, Microsoft Office, and plenty of games.
  • If WINE can run via Crostini, it should be possible to install any compatible Windows applications and run them on a Chromebook without exiting Chrome OS, enabling developer mode, or using a resource-intensive hardware emulation or virtualization tool.

While it’s not surprising that WINE works in Crostini, I am a little surprised to see Google add “Windows Applications” to the open with context menu. It suggests this could be a feature that’s built directly into future versions of Chrome OS, allowing users to run all sorts of apps on a Chromebook, including:

  • Chrome apps
  • Android apps
  • Progressive Web Apps
  • Linux apps
  • Windows apps

Pretty much the only thing missing are iOS and macOS apps.

Oh, and storage space. There are probably a few reasons these features are showing up first on Google’s Pixelbook. First, it’s a Google product, so of course it’s what the company’s developers are testing new software on.

But second, it’s one of the most powerful Chromebooks available, with 7th-gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor options, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, and 128GB to 512GB of storage.

In other words, it has plenty of space for a lot of documents, files, and programs.

Up until recently, one of the key selling points of Chrome OS was that it was a lightweight, cloud-centric operating system that didn’t require a lot of local storage. That allowed PC makers to sell dirt-cheap Chromebooks with as little as 16GB of built-in storage. That’s fine for a device that’s mostly used for web browsing, but it doesn’t seem like nearly enough space for a computer that can run Android, Linux, and Windows applications.

I don’t know if Google will only offer Crostini/Linux/Windows app support on high-end Chromebooks that meet minimum speed, RAM, and storage baselines. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see a lot more Chrome OS devices shipping with more than 16GB of storage.

Google’s annual developer conference begins May 8th. There’s a good chance Google will have something to say about Crostini and the future of Chrome OS during this year’s Google I/O.

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9 replies on “Update: Nope (It sure looks like Chromebooks will support some Windows apps soon)”

  1. I’m happy that my 2 Chromebooks are completely independent from Microsoft’s ‘monopoly’ and don’t run ANY Windows software. That’s the whole point of having a Chromebook.

    1. Independent of Microsoft’s monopoly and dependent on Google’s monopoly….hahaha !

  2. Most Chromebooks have so little storage that running most Windows applications is pretty pointless. Imagine using a PC with only 16GB of free storage before you installed anything.

  3. Wine for Android is also a thing. I haven’t read the Chrome Unboxed piece but it would not be the first time they have jumped to some wild speculation that didn’t pan out.
    What I really would like Google to do is put together a nice management experience for these apps and Chrome OS in general. I’d like to be able to abstract from the particular hardware a little. Make an ‘image’ of Chrome OS and xyz Android apps and xyz Linux (or whatever) containers and be able to manage those in the cloud and install or backup a particular ‘image’.
    That way I can still get a new device and with a couple clicks have it set up just as I like, just as my old device. This portability of Chrome OS is a great feature and they should endeavor to maintain it as much as possible.
    Aside from new devices this is a great boon to business users who travel internationally and worry about border searches in different locations with regard to sensitive business data. What I mean is the right of border agents to search devices without due process.

    1. To clarify I don’t mean keep a particular version of Chrome OS. Just whatever the current version is as far as that But keep settings and which apps (Android, Container) I want auto-loaded onto my system.

  4. That was a mistake from the original article author, Crossover was automatically restored after they powerwashed their Chromebook. ^_^;

  5. I hope this won’t make Microsoft abandon x86/x64 apps quicker for the controlled UWP environment.

    1. UWP is as open as win32 as a platform.

      There isn’t any policy or technical restriction, anyone can create or distribute UWP apps as they wish.

  6. I’ve never used Chrome OS, but it seems like most common Windows document types can be opened in Linux, macOS, and Android within native applications for each OS. So I imagine Chrome OS has its own native support for opening most common Windows documents. So I’m not really sure what the point of this is.

Comments are closed.