Chromebooks are, by definition, laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS operating system. But that doesn’t mean you’re limited to running web apps on a Chromebook.
In recent years Google has added support for running Android apps and Linux apps. And soon you may be able to run Windows software as well. Heck, you’ll be able to install a complete Windows operating system and run it inside of Chrome OS.
In June Google announced a partnership with virtualization software company Parallels to bring Windows apps to Chromebooks, and the folks at The Verge got an early look at this upcoming feature. But that feature is only going to be available to Chrome OS enterprise customers. What about the rest of us?
It turns out there may be another way to shoehorn Windows onto a Chromebook.
According to Moneta, this works because Chrome OS already supports virtual machines running inside of containers — that’s how Linux applications are able to run on Chromebooks. He was able to install Windows inside a container in the space where a GNU/Linux distribution would normally live.
Moneta also notes that there’s support for hardware acceleration because the Chromebook Flip C436 uses a Linux kernel that supports KVM, or Kernel-based Virtual Machines. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to replicate this experiment on any old Chromebook.
First of all, the Asus Chromebook Flip C436 s a relatively recent device. Second, it’s a relatively powerful device (by Chromebook standards), with a 10th-gen Intel Core “Comet Lake” processor and at least 8GB of LPDDR3 memory and 128GB of PCIe NVMe solid state storage.
When Kevin Tofel from About Chromebooks tried to install Windows in a virtual machine on an older Acer Chromebook Spin 13, it wouldn’t work… possibly because that laptop has an older Linux kernel without KVM support.
Meanwhile, The Verge notes that the official Windows 10-on-Chromebook experience coming to Enterprise users will also require relatively high-power hardware. That probably means Chromebooks with Intel Core i5 or faster processors and 8GB to 16GB of RAM.
At launch, users will be able to boot an entire Windows 10 environment inside of Chrome OS while using Parallels. But eventually the plan is to allow users to launch individual Windows apps in their own windows rather than showing a full Windows desktop. That way you’ll be able to easily flip between Windows, Linux, Android, and Chrome apps and browser tabs or arrange them in side-by-side windows.
These aren’t the first efforts to bring Windows applications to Chromebooks. CodeWeavers ha been offering a version of its CrossOver tool that allows you to run some Windows on some Chromebooks since 2017.
But CrossOver isn’t a full Windows installation. It’s a Windows compatibility layer that makes it possible to install and run some Windows programs without installing Windows. And it’s not 100-percent compatible with all Windows apps.