​How to run Windows apps on your Chromebook

CodeWeavers' CrossOver, which has long enabled you to run Windows programs on Linux and macOS, now lets you run Windows programs on advanced Chromebooks.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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Have you ever heard someone with a new Chromebook complaining because they couldn't run their favorite Windows application on it? I have. Now, there's a solution for them (or, for you, so you can run that one Windows application you can't live without). For years, CodeWeaver's CrossOver enabled you to run many popular Windows applications on Linux and macOS. Now, CodeWeavers is bringing those same Windows apps to your Chromebook.

Better still, the beta CrossOver on Chrome OS promises to be easier to use than ever before. Previously, you had to jump through hoops to get Windows apps running on a foreign platform. With CrossOver for ChromeOS, you type in the Windows app's name, pick it from a list when it shows up, make sure you have the installation media, and hit install. Nothing could be easier.

CrossOver won't run all Windows programs, but it runs many of them. For example, its supported Windows applications include Microsoft Office and Quicken. CrossOver also runs games. These include such popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) games as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars.

CrossOver on Chrome OS is still a beta. While I could run some of my favorite simple programs on it, like NotePad++, a source-code editor on it, I couldn't run others. For instance, while I could install Microsoft Office 2016 on my 2015 Chromebook Pixel, Office wouldn't run on it.

Games that lock the mouse, such as first-person shooters, won't work either. That's because the required application programming interface (API) isn't in Chrome OS' current version of Android. It's expected to be added shortly. Video-heavy programs that require OpenGL also aren't supported. This is because Android only supports OpenGL ES, which is an OpenSL subset.

So, I can't recommend switching to a Chromebook to run Windows applications yet. But, the beta download is free, and it's certainly worth trying. Well, it's worth giving a shot if you have a Chromebook that supports Android. You see, CrossOver on Chrome OS is really Chromebook on Android. That means you need a newer Chromebook.

Jeremey White, CodeWeavers' founder, explained the Android connection happened because: "We've been experimenting with Android support for the past four years ... There have been a lot of challenges - and a lot of challenges remain. For example, we poured a lot of energy into making Windows applications work on a variety of Android form factors, including phones and tablets. But the brutal truth is that if I give you, say, Microsoft Word, on your phone, you'll fairly quickly figure out that you don't really want the Windows version of Word on your phone. Your fingers can't operate the menus."

But, then, he said, "With the announcement of support of Android in Chrome OS, suddenly things made a lot more sense. A Chromebook has a big enough screen. And a keyboard and a mouse. And often, an Intel processor. What's more, it's really handy to have Quicken or Wizard 101 or your favorite Windows application right there."

It doesn't have to be a powerful Chromebook to run Windows apps on a Chromebook, although it must have an Intel processor. That's because CrossOver uses Wine, a lightweight program that's been used for decades now to run Windows programs on macOS, Linux, and Unix. It does this by creating a Windows API compatibility layer. This enables you to install and run 32-bit Windows software without actually running Windows.

Is it perfect? Far from it! But, I can see -- when CrossOver on Chrome OS is perfected -- how it will be very useful for many people. Give it a try. CodeWeavers is providing users with a free one-year trial with free support.

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