For those of you who may not be familiar with the subject, Google’s Chrome OS that powers millions of Chromebooks is built on the Linux kernel. I’ll save you the long-winded explanation of what the Linux kernel is and how it works for two reasons. One, it would take all day. Two, I’m not a developer and I would likely confuse myself and you in the process. Apart from numerous Linux distributions and Chrome OS, the Linux kernel is at the heart of the Android operating system as well as various embedded devices and products such as smart TVs and webcams.
As it stands, the latest generation of Chrome OS devices runs on the Linux kernel version of 4.14. While this version is somewhat recent, it is by no means the most current version of the kernel. Back in January, we unearthed evidence that upcoming devices such as the Qualcomm-based Chromebook ‘Cheza’ will actually feature the much newer 4.19 kernel. This update is a big indicator that Google is serious about making Chrome OS a truly competitive operating system that is up to date with the latest and greatest that the open-source community has to offer.
Today, however, we’ve uncovered some information that is exponentially more exciting for the world of Chromebooks. The newest LTS(long-term support) kernel to hit Linux kernel was released just last month and it looks like it’s already headed to Chrome OS. In digging around the repository, I found the addition of the 5.4 Linux kernel but as I poked around, the plot thickened.
First, the aforementioned Snapdragon Chromebook ‘Cheza’ has now been moved to the much newer 5.4 Linux kernel before the previous 4.19 version ever saw the light of day. Taking a closer look at recent commits, I found that the Tiger Lake-based board we’ve been tracking has also been updated to the 5.4 Linux kernel. That means we could be looking at a variety of Chrome devices coming in the latter part of 2020 that features the newest version of the Linux kernel.
The bigger picture
From a consumer standpoint, this all may seem exceptionally nerdy and I’m sure a lot of Chromebook users couldn’t care less which version of the Linux kernel their devices are using. However, from a market perspective, this is extremely exciting news. In the past, Chromebooks have always felt as if they were the second-class citizens of the computing world. Features found in Windows and Mac devices have slowly trickled down to Chrome OS but it has always felt like the development cycle was months, if not years behind. The fact that Google and its developers are looking to get the latest possible software and features into their OS means they are concretely committed to the success of Chrome OS in the consumer market as well as EDU and enterprise.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the latest Linux kernel version and breaking down what’s new and improved and what that could look like for Chrome OS in the coming months. I suspect that it won’t be long before all new Chromebooks are built on the new kernel and parity with other operating systems won’t be far behind. Stay tuned. 2020 is going to be a stellar year from Chrome OS and we’ll be right in the mix.