Starting out as an overgrown browser on affordable but low-powered laptops, Chrome OS has now grown into something that Microsoft and Apple now consider to be a deadly rival, especially in education and enterprise markets. The platform has definitely grown to become a software powerhouse that could run almost any app, whether directly or indirectly. Its next trick, however, is gaming, and recent changes to Chrome OS’s source code hints that Google might be getting close to making that happen.
Chromebooks can already run games, of course. It supports running Android apps after all and there are also games native to Linux. More recently, Google has also turned on support for Stadia game streaming, allowing even less capable Chromebooks to play AAA PC games. There are, however, still hundreds of games not available to Chrome OS that are on Steam, and signs of a certain “Game Mode” suggests those are coming soon as well.
According to Chrome Unboxed, this Game Mode will supposedly be triggered when a “Borealis” window gets or loses focus and enters or exist a full-screen state. This mode may, in turn, lock the pointer to the window, enable performance enhancements for gaming, or even make certain tools available, like messaging or screen recording.
This “Borealis” is a reference to the specialized Steam container that Google and Valve have reportedly been working on since last year. This is expected to be a special Linux container based on Ubuntu instead of Debian and one that’s optimized to run Steam games directly on Chrome OS. Once Borealis and Game Mode launch, it could open the floodgates of gaming on Chromebooks, at least those capable of running them.
Unlike game streaming, running Steam games on the device would require more powerful hardware, at least more than what the average Chromebook offers even today. That said, Chromebooks running on Intel’s latest Tiger Lake platform, including its Intel Xe graphics, as well as AMD Ryzen with Radeon GPUs are expected later this year so all those pieces might fall into place soon.