For many years of my life, a Chromebook was my only laptop. And as much as I absolutely adore Chrome OS, there were times when I just needed Windows software. And now, thanks to Parallels, the future I longed for can become a reality. For some, at least.
Today, Parallels is launching on Chrome OS, bringing a fully virtualized Windows environment to Chromebooks. But here’s the catch: It’s only for Enterprise users. So unless you have a Chromebook through your employer, you probably won’t get to experience this. That doesn’t mean it’s not an exciting revolution for Chrome OS users on the whole, though, as the very existence of Parallels on Chrome OS could mean big things for the consumer platform, too.
You might be wondering why this is only available for Enterprise users. I was also curious about this, but after seeing a demo of it directly from Parallels, it suddenly became more clear. Parallels for Chrome OS is currently managed entirely from the G Suite Admin console, so it has to be enabled for each user by the admin. From there, companies share the Windows image that users can download.
It Runs Locally for Full Offline Compatibility
Once the image has been downloaded, however, this virtualized Windows environment runs locally. That means it’s fully available offline and all changes made within the OS are saved directly to the device. Windows will also suspend and resume instantly when the window is closed.
While Windows will run side-by-side with Chrome OS in a resizable and scalable window, it’s not entirely seamless. For example, if you’ve ever used Parallels on macOS, then you’re probably familiar with Coherence—the feature that allows users to run Windows apps directly in macOS as if they were native. Parallels on Chrome OS doesn’t get that granular—it’s Windows or Chrome OS. But you can’t combine the two that intimately.
You can, however, run Windows fullscreen on a virtual desktop so you can easily switch between Chrome OS and Windows with a four-finger swipe on the touchpad. That’s about as seamless as you’ll get between the two, but honestly, it’s pretty damn slick.
Files, Folders, and the Clipboard Are All Shared
Windows also directly integrates with the Chrome OS file system. You can share folders from Chrome OS with Windows directly from Chrome OS’s file manager. Similarly, a new entry will be created with Windows folders—Docs, Pictures, Desktop, etc.—within the Chrome OS file manager. It’s pretty seamless and makes your folders and files readily available to either OS at any time.
Beyond that, the clipboard is also shared between the two operating systems, so you can copy something in Chrome OS and share it with Windows or vice versa. It’s little touches like this that extend the usefulness of Parallels on Chrome OS beyond what I originally expected, and I’m happy to see it.
But wait! It gets better. You can configure links in Windows to open natively in Chrome OS. So if you’re in a spreadsheet or Word document with a link but don’t want it to open in Edge, the system can handle that. Similarly, you can also configure specific types of files—like xlsx files, for example—to always open in Windows, even when clicked from the Chrome OS file manager.
The mouse and keyboard also flow seamlessly between the two operating systems.
It’s Useful, but the Cost of Entry Is Steep
This all sounds great, right? Yep. But there’s a catch (aside from the Enterprise-only thing): The requirements are brutal. Parallels recommends at least an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, 128 GB SSD or higher, and a whopping 16 GB of RAM to get the best experience.
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but that’s a tall request for most Chromebooks—hell, I can only think of a few off the top of my head that come with 16 GB of RAM. And they’re all at least $1000.
And that’s on top of the $69.99 per user license from Parallels itself. Oh, and the Windows 10 licenses. At that point, I have to wonder what sort of enterprise is deploying $1,000+ Chromebooks instead of just buying Windows machines outright. But maybe I’m just being cynical.
Ultimately, I have to wonder what’s really in it for enterprise companies here. But that’s a different question for a different day, and one that I’m perhaps not even the best to answer because I don’t manage an enterprise that has to deploy dozens (or more!) computers to employees.
What I can say is this, however: Parallels on Chrome OS is everything I could’ve wanted. And in that regard, I’d be happy to pay $69.99 for the software and whatever a Windows license goes for these days—if I could only get this for myself.
Alas, here’s to hoping. That’s the future I want.