Mobility

How to run Windows or Mac apps from your Chromebook

Now you can rely on the simplicity of Chrome OS for most work, and pay to access Mac or PC apps as needed with services like Fra.me, Paperspace.com, and MacinCloud.com.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

You can run Windows or macOS apps from your Chromebook thanks to Fra.me, Paperspace.com, and MacinCloud.com, which each supply a desktop-to-your-browser. Frame and Paperspace provide access to the Windows platform, while MacinCloud gives you access to macOS.

All three of these providers let your Chromebook run Windows or Mac apps remotely. Use Quickbooks to manage your business financials. Edit images in Photoshop. Run an educational app that requires Java. Run XCode from your Chromebook to create iOS apps.

In every case, setup is similar: Login to your desktop-as-a-service provider, create an account, enter your payment information, start your desktop, then install your apps.

All three providers offer monthly plans. Frame personal plans start at $9.99 per month, which you can use for 20 hours access to their base system. Paperspace plans start as low as $5 per month, plus $.10 per hour for their base system. MacinCloud monthly plans start at $20 per month, but they also offer a bundle of 30 hours for $30 pre-paid, without the monthly fee. (Note: If you choose a limited usage plan, remember to end your desktop session properly so you don't leave your hourly usage meter running.)

You can also pay more to access a more powerful system. For example, both Frame and Paperspace allow you to select systems that offer better performance—more processors, increased RAM, and better graphics. Your Chromebook with just 2GB of RAM can run apps on a system with 2 to 32 times as much RAM (or more!).

frame-macincloud-paperspace.jpg
Fra.me running Chrome for Windows (left); MacinCloud.com running XCode (middle); Paperspace.com running Civilization V (right) all from an Asus Chromebit.

Fra.me offers both personal and business plans. The business plans allow an administrator to configure and deploy Windows and web apps for users. For example, a system administrator could install AutoCAD for engineers, Photoshop for designers, and the Slack web app for everyone. (Frame also offers an iOS app, Frame Terminal, to run your Windows apps from an iPhone or iPad.) Frame also supports single sign-on with either Google or Active Directory.

Paperspace.com provides both monthly and hourly plans. As of June 2016, Paperspace requires you to sign up for a wait list for an account. In addition to business application use, Paperspace promotes the service for gaming. So, I installed Steam, then ran Civilization V in Paperspace on my Asus Chromebit. The system performed smoothly.

SEE: 5 tips for getting the most from your Asus Chromebit (TechRepublic)

MacinCloud.com aims to serve developers. You choose which OS X version to use (as of June 2016, the choices were OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, or Mavericks). All systems come with a long list of development tools already installed, including XCode, Xamarin Studio Community Edition, Android Studio, and Google App Engine SDK. However, you can install most other standard macOS apps, too.

Who should consider

Desktop-as-a-service solutions don't make sense for everyone. These services won't work well for people in places with slow or unreliable internet connections. (Paperspace suggests "15Mbps download speed and less than 60 ms of latency.") They also won't be an effective solution for people who need to run Windows or macOS apps 100% of the time.

But, in many cases, these desktop-as-a-service solutions make it easier to switch to Chrome OS. A business or school that uses Google Apps can deploy Chromebooks, then add access to Windows or Mac apps as needed. And people who use Chromebooks at home may no longer need to keep an extra Windows or Mac system around.

SEE: Build your own VM in the cloud with Microsoft Azure (Tech Pro Research)

Choose a Chromebook for Android, the web, Windows, and Mac

In the end, this all comes down to economics and convenience.

By bringing Android apps to Chrome OS, Google will make a Chromebook the obvious "next device" for billions of people who use an Android mobile device first.

Services such as Frame, Paperspace, and MacinCloud mean that no other hardware purchases may be needed. Why buy another device when you can access a fast system from the one you have?

Chrome OS will give people a way to access the web, run Android apps, and—for a few dollars a month—run Windows and Mac apps, too.

What do you think?

Have you used Fra.me, Paperspace.com or MacinCloud.com? What's your experience been with these solutions? How well have they worked from your devices? Tell us in the comments.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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