It’s no secret that around here, at least, we think Chrome OS is a fantastic operating system for tons of users. The reasons are simple, too. Chrome OS is fast, light-weight, secure, easy to use, and easy to deploy in large numbers. With background updates, secure boot, and a web-first mentality, Chrome OS is an operating system for the way many of us currently compute and the army of Chromebooks that run it are a testament to how solid of an experience it is to use.
But Chrome OS has a limitation similar to other operating systems in that it can’t be run on anything other than a Chromebook. Yes, Neverware has CloudReady and we’ve talked about that service for years at this point as a viable way to breathe life into your aging PC or Macbook, but CloudReady isn’t Chrome OS. That means it is Chromium OS not Chrome OS, the Chromium browser versus the Chrome browser, and comes with no sign of Google Assistant on board. Don’t get me wrong, CloudReady has served many organizations very well over the years, but general users and IT admins alike have wished for just a bit more, and it turns out that Google’s acquisition of Neverware is now bearing those exact fruits.
Meet Chrome OS Flex
Today, Google is announcing Chrome OS Flex, a new spin on the same Chrome OS you get on Chromebooks that is – like CloudReady – now able to be installed on a vast array of laptops running Windows or MacOS. With Chrome OS Flex, you get the same Chrome OS that runs on Chromebooks, the same, up-to-date version as Chromebook users, the same 4-week update cycle, the same Chrome browser, and the same access to Google Assistant that Chromebooks users get.
In addition, devices running Chrome OS Flex will also have the ability to be managed with the same setup and licensing as enterprise and education Chromebooks without any differences in the process. This is truly Chrome OS running on non-Chromebook hardware, so all the benefits of deploying Chromebooks to employees or students all apply here, and that is pretty mind-boggling.
Chrome OS everywhere
Talking to Thomas Riedl, Director of Product for Enterprise and Education for the Chrome OS team, he summed this entire effort up in a very simple sentiment. The first 100 versions of Chrome OS were for Google hardware (Chromebooks all have to get Google’s seal of approval). The next one hundred are for Google’s Chromebooks, Windows laptops, and Macbooks, too. The days of Chrome OS being bound to Chromebooks only are coming to an end, and that is an interesting thing to think about moving forward.
For now, Chrome OS Flex won’t come with support for Android apps, but that’s not being ruled out. For now, Reidl and the Chrome OS team are focused on nailing the base experience of Chrome OS on other hardware, and that means getting Chrome OS Flex on the same version of Chrome OS as every Chromebook out there, shipping the proper Chrome browser, and bundling in access to Google Assistant. Other containers (Linux, Parallels, Android, etc.) are in the discussion, but not important at this point in the process.
You can try it right now
Interested? You can actually give Chrome OS Flex a try right now. Click this link (goo.gle/ChromemOSFlex) to get to the download and simple instructions for trying Chrome OS Flex on your Windows or Mac OS device right now. You can simply install it on a USB drive and boot from there without any other steps necessary. If it runs well and you think it could be the better option for your aging device, there’s a simple step that allows you to fully install Chrome OS Flex in a more-permanent way. However, if you choose, you can simply boot off the USB drive as long as you wish and utilize the OS in that way for as long as it works for you.
Google says Chrome OS Flex will start and remain free for anyone to try and will only incur a cost if you choose to leverage it inside an enterprise or education setting where you’d want administration via the Google Admin Console. If you aren’t in that mode just yet but are considering it with Chromebooks or other laptops running Chrome OS Flex, you can start a free trial of Chrome Enterprise Upgrade to not only try Chrome OS Flex on your hardware, but test the waters of device management via the Google Admin Console as well.
For now, Chrome OS Flex will ship with version 100 and in the Developer Channel. As we’ve pointed out many times before, this means there will likely be bugs here and there, so you need to know that going in if you choose to test this out for yourself. As Chrome OS Flex hits the Stable Channel, it will remain in-step with the current versions of Chrome and Chrome OS moving forward.
Riedl tells me that there is a large list of supported devices that are tested to run Chrome OS Flex well, but Google is actively encouraging users to try it on untested hardware, too. With the USB boot option, there’s little barrier to a bit of experimentation and there’s a good chance that your older hardware will work with Chrome OS Flex right out of the box. It is worth noting, however, only officially supported devices are recommended for Enterprise management. So, what are you waiting for? Go give it a try! We sure are and we’ll have a video about it on the site very soon.