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Windows apps coming to Chromebooks

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

A plan to make native Windows apps available on Google Chromebook for the first time could be a game-changer, says one IT provider to the education sector who is seeing growing demand for the entry-level laptops.

In a surprise move announced last week, Google’s vice president of the Chrome OS operating system, John Solomon, said that Covid-19 had highlighted the need for any business role to be a cloud worker.

“The features and benefits of Chrome OS that we used to think were additive suddenly became mandatory and business-critical,” wrote Solomon on the Google Chrome Enterprise blog.

“Our new partnership with Parallels brings legacy application support, which includes Microsoft Office desktop apps, to Chromebooks,” he added.

Previously, Windows apps, such as the Office productivity suite, has only been available no Chromebooks via virtualization from a remote server, meaning the apps can only be used when the Chromebook has internet connectivity. Even then, performance can be patchy.

Running in parallel

Parallels made its name allowing Apple Mac users to run Windows apps and has turned its attention to Google’s Chromebooks with analyst suggestions that Fortune 500 companies will increasingly add them to their device fleet.

For Nathan Kaa, of Pinnacle IT, an Umbrellar partner that supports a number of schools mainly in the Manawatu region, the move could overcome the one major drawback with Chromebooks – lack of access to native Windows apps running on the devices.

“That’s always been the bugbear with the Chromebooks, especially at the high school level,” he says.

“Hopefully you’ll be able to save your documents into your Google Drive or Google Classroom. When you get your assignment you just open up Office on your Chromebook.”

Google and Parallels are targeting a September quarter launch of the service, which will be available for Chromebook Enterprise users. That will include many businesses that have deployed Google Apps and Chromebooks as well as schools managing hundreds of devices. There’s no word yet on whether the functionality will be extended to individual Chromebook users.

Solomon noted that Google had seen 109 per cent growth in unit sales of Chromebooks in the last year. Kaa was seeing similarly strong uptake of Chromebooks, particularly at primary school level. 

“There’s been a huge uptake in that area. On the high school side, it’s been a sort of 50-50 type split, Chromebooks and laptops,” he says.

The Chromebook was conceived as a cheap device with the Chrome OS a lightweight operating system designed to offer support for mainly cloud-based applications. They are affordable, priced from $350 – $600.

Up to the task?

A Chromebook isn’t designed to run resource-intensive apps, such as video and graphics editing software, which are usually still installed on Macs and Windows computers in schools. But what about native Microsoft apps like Word and Excel?

“You would expect that a Chromebook should be able to run those fine,” says Kaa.

“I guess it’s gonna come down to how it’s all bundled, how Parallels are going to work it.”

Most schools had access to licences for Microsoft Office, but how they would be used in the new ChromeOS environment was still to be clarified.

Kaa spent many long days helping out schools ramp up their use of Google apps during the lockdown as they adjusted to running lessons remotely. Chromebooks were hastily delivered to children at home and he saw an uptick in the use of Classroom, Google’s free platform to help teachers create, distribute, and grade assignments. 

“Some had never even seen it before,” says Kaa. “The schools are now actually saying, this is really good.”

Use of Classroom had continued post lockdown as schools realised the benefits of offering lessons, classwork and collaboration in digital form.

“Jane down the road might be sick at home. But she can still access the homework and be in touch.”

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

Pinnacle IT Ltd

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Supplier of quality IT services to small to medium businesses and schools large and small.

Umbrellar

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The Cloud, Done Right. Umbrellar is New Zealand’s only dedicated Azure & Azure Stack Managed Services specialist. That’s why successful New Zealand companies of all sizes choose us to transform their businesses.

Microsoft

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Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.

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