Google’s Chrome OS is great at a lot of things, but it lacks functionality compared with heavier operating systems like Windows or MacOS. Google has been working behind the scenes for months to develop a so-called “Alt OS” mode to run Windows 10 on a Chromebook. New additions to the Chrome OS source code suggest this feature is nearing completion as “Campfire,” and that it might come to a larger number of devices than previously believed.
Alt OS mode appeared in the Chromium project source code in early 2018, but there was no indication if it was an internal testing mechanism or the beginning of a consumer feature. More recent commits strongly suggest this will be a user-facing feature on at least some Chromebooks with a simple command to enable, and that it refers to running Windows 10 on a Chromebook.
The feature now seems to be called Campfire, and the Chrome OS source code says it will be available on multiple “variants.” That means more than just a single piece of hardware. Previously, the lack of reference to other models led source code snoops to suspect only the Pixelbook would have Campfire. We even have a bit of detail on which Chromebooks could get Campfire.
Google developers appear to have set a minimum threshold of 40GB to install Windows 10 on a Chromebook with Campfire. You need at least 30GB for Windows with another 10GB reserved for Chrome OS. Google’s platform relies almost entirely on web apps and services, so you can manage with just a few gigs of space. Windows is desirable because you can install more software, which takes a lot of space. 30GB is actually rather tight after you account for all the OS files. Ths small size of Chrome OS means many devices ship with 32GB or less storage. None of these computers would support Alt OS.
Manufacturers would also need to certify their Chromebooks for Windows 10 before Campfire would work. Most Chromebooks use similar hardware to their Windows-running cousins, so it should be a relatively simple matter to ensure driver support exists. There will most likely be hardware restrictions as well. Chrome OS can run on less powerful ARM chips, but Windows usually needs x86. Only a few Windows laptops have launched on high-end ARM chips, and they’re limited compared to x86 platforms.
Google seems to have accelerated work on Campfire, but the source code doesn’t offer any clues to a release date. Google’s fall hardware event is rumored for October 4th again, and new Pixelbooks are expected. That would be an excellent time to roll it out.
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