Google Chromebooks are those cheap and cheerful notebooks that don’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase, and which run Google’s custom, semi-proprietary Linux operating system called ChromeOS. And wouldn’t you know it, these things are actually popular! In the United States Chromebooks have almost completely taken over the education sector thanks to their ease of use and remote admin capabilities, and for anyone not in school they are great little tools to carry around with you to give you a proper browser and internet access – the way netbooks were always supposed to. Google is making ChromeOS more capable, however, and recently released support for running Linux applications on the ChromeOS desktop. Now they’re doing something similar with Campfire, and they’re hoping it’s going to be a big hit with Windows users.
In a similar vein to Bootcamp on macOS, Campfire is a way to run Windows operating systems on your Chromebook without needing to totally nuke the existing installation or try hack on support for the hardware. According to XDA Developers, the feature is currently being rushed to completion, perhaps in time for Google’s hardware event this year, and may be available on more devices than just the most powerful Chromebooks. It doesn’t have a name yet, but so far most of the features are reportedly complete, and dual-boot support for Windows 10 is practically done.
This is different from Crostini, the initiative to run Linux applications on ChromeOS using container technology. The Alt OS mode will be a full environment switch, which carries with it some hurdles which Google and Microsoft will need to clear. This includes platform and driver support – Windows 10 currently works just fine on x86-based computers, but while ARM support is baked in, it’s not feature complete. Once this update lands, it would make Chromebooks the cheapest Windows 10 on ARM devices around.
This also is a bit confusing given that Google isn’t necessarily in the hardware business, and ChromeOS devices aren’t typically going to be running Windows applications at all. In fact, it’s a lot easier to use Crostini to run those applications under Wine than it would be to have a full environment switch that will see reduced battery life. I’ll be keeping an eye on this.