Neverware on Thursday announced the addition of dual-boot support, allowing its CloudReady operating system and Microsoft Windows to run on the same computer.
The dual-boot feature preserves existing data on computers. Adding it to CloudReady — which lets PCs and Apple computers function like Google Chromebooks — will let users keep their existing computer configuration or boot into Neverware’s cloud-based OS to access Google’s Web app environment.
The company has gained traction in the last 18 months among schools and some larger organizations strapped with aging computers and lagging budgets. In some school and business settings, Chromebook adoption has stalled because of reliance on legacy Windows applications, Neverware said.
It hopes the dual-boot feature will ease the transition to Google’s ecosystem.
CloudReady began as a product specifically for schools already adopting Google Apps and Chromebooks. Some of those customers wanted to convert their legacy hardware to speed up Google adoption faster and for less total cost, said Forrest Smith, director of product and customer experience at Neverware.
“Dual boot primarily opens the door for a market we think of as Chrome-curious. These are folks who are interested in Google Apps and Chromebooks but hesitant to invest heavily in new hardware or to take a major risk on adopting a new ecosystem,” he told LinuxInsider.
Other products, both commercial and open source, allow users to run Chromium-based browser OSes on existing computers.
Neverware’s dual-booting feature is available on most computers without purchasing special products or licenses.
Dual Marketing Advantage
Schools that adopt Neverware’s system pay a license fee to use the CloudReady OS. Students and staff can download the software for free.
The big advantage is not losing access to the existing OS and data while gaining the ability to boot into either OS without having to buy additional hardware, Neverware said.
The dual-boot feature allows CloudReady’s users to try the Google ecosystem without getting approval to buy new hardware or risking frustration from their users, Smith said.
In addition, Neverware’s existing markets can expand their deployments of CloudReady to cover labs where there are still legacy Windows apps, such as Photoshop, that are necessary but used only occasionally, he noted.
“We think school districts are already seeing the benefits. For more broadly focused EDU centers, this OS can make managing devices simpler — even on aging hardware — to let their limited resources stay focused on teaching instead of tech maintenance,” Smith said.
“As a USB-bootable OS, it can also provide a simple, unified environment on BYOD devices for things like testing and tech education,” he added.
No Linux Impact
Neverware’s product will allow users looking for a pure Chrome experience to achieve that without investing in Chromebook hardware, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“If a school district or individual institution had numerous legacy Windows desktops and laptops, it could use the Neverware solution to transform that hardware into Chromebooks, saving thousands of dollars in upgrade costs. It could also accomplish that goal while continuing to support broadly used Windows legacy applications,” he told LinuxInsider.
Neverware will feed interest in the Chromebook environment rather than the broader Linux desktop. Core Linux desktop markets prefer traditional OS-driven functionalities and user experience rather than the browser/cloud-based model Chrome offers, King said.
“However, the continuing success of Chromebooks in education and other budget-constrained use cases could undermine the progress of Linux in those instances,” he added.
How It Works
The heart of the CloudReady OS is the Chromium OS, Google’s open source version of the Chrome OS.
CloudReady makes the Web-based OS easy to install, Neverware said. Installation takes less than 20 minutes per computer.
The company has detailed installation instructions on its website. It provides a tool to guide users through the process of setting up dual-booting. Users need only an existing computer, an 8-GB flash drive and the Chrome Web Store to install the Chromebook Recovery Utility.
Neverware customers get CloudReady licenses via an online download. The cost is US$59 per device for a perpetual license.
CloudReady is certified to run on 200 of the most common PC and Mac hardware models.
To run in dual-boot mode with CloudReady, a computer must be able to use Unified Extensible Firmware Interface boot mode. It also needs a pre-existing UEFI-mode installation of Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or 10 and at least 32 GB of available free space in the main Windows partition.
If the computer is running Microsoft Windows in legacy mode but supports UEFI, users must reinstall Windows in UEFI mode in order to dual-boot with CloudReady. Users also can install CloudReady in standalone rather than dual-boot mode. However, that erases the internal storage, including all other operating systems, user files and software.
Market Share Growth
Neverware hopes the added functionality will help its user base grow. The company is expanding to work with a variety of nonprofits and corporations to run pilots and see how CloudReady meets their needs, said Smith.
“Over time, users who try dual boot will gravitate toward the CloudReady side and ultimately appreciate browser-centric computing the same way Chromebook users typically do,” he said.
That scenario is possible but still a long shot, cautioned Pund-IT’s King, adding that he has doubts about how large the potential market is.
“Past dual-booting solutions have had limited success, and this new offering will mainly be of interest to businesses that want to leverage Chrome and some Google apps while continuing to use legacy Windows applications. That seems like a fairly specialized market to me,” he said.
Neverware’s marketing strategy is a “best-of-both-worlds-style solution,” noted King. “It should mostly deliver the kinds of benefits that the company envisions.”
On the downside, he sees Neverware’s dual-booting CloudReady solution as a software fix for the inherent problems of aging hardware. Running aging computers may require considerable repair and attention to run effectively.
“Since PC and Chromebook hardware is getting cheaper and better by the year,” King concluded, “customers would be wise to shop carefully to understand the differences between the benefits of Neverware’s solutions and a traditional hardware upgrade.”