15 February 2014

Windows apps and desktop are coming to Chrome OS, thanks to Google and VMware

Chrome OS Screenshot
Chrome OS desktop
Google, acknowledging that “many of our customers still use traditional desktop applications” has teamed up with VMware to bring the Windows desktop and apps to Chrome OS. Apparently 21% of commercial laptop sales in the US last year were Chromebooks and with Windows XP soon to be retired, Google and VMware think it’s prime time you make the jump to Chrome OS.

The setup goes something like this: You (or rather your company’s IT admin) installs the VMware Horizon DaaS server. Horizon (which costs thousands of dollars) is basically a big server that runs virtualized instances of Windows. Then, when a user wants to use a Windows desktop or app, they simply connect to the server and request one of those instances. In this case, that connection is made using VMware View and as of 2011, there’s an HTML5 version of VMware View that works in all major browsers, including Chrome OS. (In the photo above you can see an early beta version of VMware View logging into Windows 7 on a Chromebook.)

The HTML5 viewer is surprisingly good, especially over a high-speed LAN but you probably won’t be using it to play fast-paced games on your Chromebook. The main use-case here is giving employees access to legacy applications old, sometimes bespoke Windows programs that are very difficult to upgrade or migrate. This solution could also allow you to use high-performance applications like Photoshop on your wimpy, low-spec Chromebook.

Beyond platform agnosticism, the biggest benefits of running the Windows Desktop as a Service (DaaS) are ease of management and security. As you may know, Windows (for a variety of reasons) isn’t the safest OS for enterprise use while Chrome OS, at least according to Google, is highly secure and doesn’t require additional antivirus software. With Windows XP finally being retired in April, Google is hoping that business customers will switch to Chromebooks + VMware, rather than upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. This is probably a bit too optimistic on Google’s behalf, but there’s no denying that there’s a large, ongoing shift towards cheaper, thin clients that leverage remote computing power (the cloud, a local server, etc.)

The hard truth is that, in a large number of cases, most users don’t need a full Windows machine. Almost everything can now be done in the browser a fact that Google must be very, very happy about.

To use Windows apps on your Chromebook, you’ll need to be running VMware Horizon DaaS and have access to VMware Horizon View 5.3 which are currently only available as subscription-based services. Google says Horizon View will “soon” come to the Chrome Web Store, but I’m fairly certain you will still need the very expensive Horizon DaaS software to use it.


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