Right up front, I need to warn you that this is all in the very early stages and there’s no way to be even close to certain that Google will even make any of this a reality. For now, very basic tests are being run to get what looks to be a version of ChromeOS Flex running on a new partition in ChromeOS. And in the future, that could mean devices that expire after their insanely-long support window closes (now 10 years for recently-released Chromebooks) may have a 2nd lease on life with ChromeOS Flex. Again – hear me out on this – they may have a new lease on life.
Say hello to ‘Flexor’
This morning, in a routine look through the Chromium Repositories, I saw a new commit referencing something called ‘Flexor’. I thought it sounded like a cool, new Chromebook code name, so I investigated. And I quickly found that this wasn’t the case at all. Instead, ‘Flexor’ was clearly some sort of ChromeOS Flex project, and I almost dismissed it at that point.
Deciding to take a little closer of a look, however, I went ahead and searched for any commits that refer to ‘Flexor’, and I found that this project is only 3 days old at this point, and my ears perked up a bit. With only a handful of commits around ‘Flexor’ I took a few minutes to look through each and unpack all the files contained within. And about 10 minutes in, I came across the file that made me really sit up and take notice: the initial install script. It’s a long file, so I put in the important bits below:
What we can learn about ‘Flexor’
Some of you have already clicked through to the actual file and some of you have just read the parts I included above. And some of you would rather me just tell you what I think is going on: so here goes. I think we are seeing a test being run on a new 13th partition in ChromeOS. First up, I can verify that there are in fact 12 current partitions in ChromeOS as that exact info can be found in Google’s own ChromiumOS documentation.
Knowing this, the fact that ‘Flexor’ looks to add a 13th partition that is 10GB tells me that this is a full OS image, not just some small addition. And if you pick up on the exact language in the install script above, you’ll see that ‘Flexor’ “Inserts a thirteenth partition on disk, assuming the ChromeOS partition layout was already written before. This shrinks the stateful partition by
NEW_PART_SIZE_B and then puts a new partition.”
With just this knowledge, you can make a clear case that ‘Flexor’ is intended for devices that already have ChromeOS and its existing 12 partitions already installed and in place. This isn’t ChromeOS Flex for Window, MacOS or Linux: it is meant for ChromeOS devices.
The final bit I shared above clearly describes the actual unpacking and installation of ‘Flexor’ and a welcome message that says “Welcome from Flexor. Start Flex-ing” in a clear call to ChromeOS Flex. With a cheeky inclusion of “Doing the final install, keep fingers crossed,” I think it is clear that this is still a very, very early process for the ChromeOS team for now.
Is ChromeOS Flex the right move for Chromebooks?
While I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about Google being wrong for not leveraging ChromeOS Flex on aging ChromeOS devices, I’ve recently softened on the matter. After speaking with the team about this in New York last month, it’s been made clear to me why extending Flex to Chromebooks is such a mine field. And it mainly comes down to the promise of Chromebooks just working when you open them up.
ChromeOS Flex is what Google refers to as a ‘monolithic’ image that works great on some devices and quite imperfectly on others. Users know that’s what they should expect with it, and if part of their laptop doesn’t work as intended with ChromeOS Flex (installed for free), they’ll likely understand that as part of the deal and just move on.
In stark contrast, ChromeOS is built for each device specifically and the end result is an experience users can rely on each time they crack the lid open. Face it: there’s no scenario where you would buy a Chromebook, try to use the screen brightness keys, have them not work, and just be OK with hoping things will work out down the road. You expect the device to work out of the box.
Now imagine giving an older Chromebook to a family member that has ChromeOS Flex installed and expecting things to work the way they did when that device was still supported. For the person using it who may not know that much about Chromebooks, it would be very, very difficult to explain and communicate the difference in the ChromeOS Flex experience and the one you expect on a new Chromebook running a supported ChromeOS build. It could get messy very quickly.
That being said, it seems Google isn’t totally ruling out the possibility of some sort of ChromeOS Flex solution – ‘Flexor’ – for the future. How long this will take to work out and whether or not we actually see it hit the market is all up in the air, but its an exciting premise for certain. I know I’ll be keeping a very close eye on ‘Flexor’ moving forward, hoping to see progress and a future where ChromeOS Flex can be leveraged for aging Chromebooks in a way that helps consumers keep their hardware for as long as they would like to attempt to and in a way that doesn’t completely compromise the quintessential Chromebook experience.