The Chrome OS Files app has always only ever allowed you to see your Google Drive files for the account that you’re actively signed into the Chromebook with. Accessing any data from accounts that you’ve subsequently signed in to during that session are relegated to the web browser or Google Play apps where you can switch between them. Over this past month, I’ve been running into some interesting behavior in Chrome OS 87-89 Canary where I have two separate user sessions utilizing multi-account login with my Pixelbook Go and while using one of them, I can access my Drive files for the other via the first one’s Files app!
chrome://flags/#files-swa enabled, my Files app essentially becomes a progressive web app or PWA. System Web Apps (SWA) have made an appearance in the OS before – namely with the camera app and Explore. Many of the Chrome OS system apps are being transitioned from a locally installed program to websites with identical styling. The fact that the OS’s camera can be used as a website just goes to show how far the web has come.
You can see that when I open the app itself versus using a file picker to launch it, the files shown are from completely different accounts! They don’t even have the same file hierarchy and I can confirm that these two file sets exist on my separate accounts. I should note that this happens intermittently, but frequently.
I’ve heard many people discuss over the past two years how they wish Google would let them jump between accounts within the native file manager, but until now, we haven’t had even a hint of this becoming a reality. If this is truly on the horizon, it could be really useful for those who don’t mind mixing their personal and professional or creative lives and co-mingling their Google accounts during a browsing session.
Okay, so let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and say that this is just a bug. I did some research and while I’m still new to scouring the Chromium Repositories, I found one report that states that someone was able to use Files SWA to access the file management protocol via the “front door”.
[filesswa] fmp access from the front doorChromium Repositories
Bug: swa file access
If I’ve discovered some sort of flaw in Chrome OS security that allows access to two separate accounts through the GUI, that would be concerning, but I highly doubt it – even in Canary. Instead, I think I’ve encountered a work-in-progress for the future of the Files app. The choice to enable this during a multiple account login may seem odd at first, but even if it doesn’t remain this way since that would be counterproductive to the idea of accessing everything via one files app, then it’s a secure way to test it at the very least.
While signing in multiple accounts at the same time on a Chromebook via separate sessions it notifies you that the feature should only be used with people you trust. Generally, Chromebook owners use this feature for their alternate accounts of which they are also the owner and want faster, more native access, or just between family members within the home.
Another reason why I doubt this is related to the bug report above is that my Files app features the opposite signed in account’s profile image on the top left (the orange circle)! While it currently does nothing at all, my guess is that this could be where you click to jump between accounts in the future, should this theory ever come to fruition. I’ve restarted my device several times and this is the one design element that’s consistent across all of my attempts to investigate this, so this could be a visual placeholder for the Files app’s ability to account swap. I’ve got to be honest, that would be awesome.
If the Files System Web App gains the ability to jump between Google Drive accounts without logging into a separate Chromebook session, it would be a big step for the operating system and its users! It would be really easy to do as well as Google Drive on the web already has this ability, so it would just be a matter of visual styling – which they’ve already done with the launch of Files SWA.
It actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. With the arrival of LaCrOS which allows Chrome browser users to swap between multiple account sessions within the same Chromebook login, this latest development could further prove that we’re moving toward a future where Chrome and Chrome OS split from one another to extend the life of your device. Google could continue to provide you with security updates for your laptop long after the operating system reaches its expiration date. Since many Chromebooks now have 8 years of support, this could be a big deal.
This could also just be a test for convenient ways to make users more productive and provide them with options for switching up their workflow. It could also be nothing. Either way, it’s fun to speculate on and I’ve encountered some pretty solid situations that demonstrate its possibility. Would you use the Files app to swap between Google accounts so that you didn’t have to visit Drive’s website or switch login sessions on your device? Is it that important to you to have a native feel to your apps? Do you feel that it would be too distracting to co-mingle your data under one login even if it remains separate? Let’s discuss this in the comments.