For quite some time now, we’ve been talking on and off again about Lacros and the decoupling of the Chrome browser from ChromeOS. The change – long in the tooth at this point – is finally set to start rolling out with ChromeOS 116, and along with it a few upgrades will arrive as well. Better account switching and the possibility of longer-term security updates are chief among those upgrades, and from that sort of perspective, the arrival of Lacros can’t happen soon enough. However, it looks like we might still have a considerable amount of time before this new Chrome browser is set to replace the one we currently have on Chromebooks.
What is Lacros?
Before we get into the proposed schedule Google has revealed in a developer-focused video about this entire transition (via About Chromebooks), let’s clarify what Lacros is for those of you that may be new to this entire project.
Lacros is, in essence, the Linux version of the Chrome browser retooled to integrate seamlessly with ChromeOS. Rather than being deeply embedded within the operating system the way the current ChromeOS version of the Chrome browser is right now, Google is positioning Lacros as a standalone application on Chromebooks that will streamline browser updates, making them independent of more-comprehensive ChromeOS updates. And that hopefully means one day down the road, while your Chromebook may not get OS updates and new features thanks to the AUE procedures, the primary portal to the internet at large – the Chrome browser – will still be able to stay updated and secure.
A slow and steady roll-out
None of this is new, but the revelation of an actual timeline for the full arrival of Lacros is. According to the video below, continued patience around this project will be key. Starting with ChromeOS 116, Google is forming the foundation for this overhaul, but it’s not a simple switch that can just be flipped. Instead, it’s a carefully orchestrated migration, anticipated to extend over a year.
Why so long? Well, the integration of Lacros into ChromeOS is incredibly complex and the ChromeOS team cares deeply about ensuring that this transition remains smooth for all users. Remember, this isn’t just a secondary app that is getting a revamp: this is easily the most important part of ChromeOS being decoupled and set up to run on its own. With all the deep ties the Chrome browser has to ChromeOS, you can easily see the vast amount of work required to pull this off properly.
For all workflows – education, enterprise, and consumer – Lacros can’t be a half measure. It needs to work precisely the way the existing browser does or this will all fall apart. So Google is wisely taking a slow and steady approach, here. In the initial phases, Lacros will coexist alongside the native Chrome browser on Chromebooks. This dual setup is a strategic move that will ensure users have a fallback option when they run into small, unsquashed bugs with Lacros.
Following this, Google will progressively roll out Lacros over six months, cautiously expanding its reach and user base over that time. Once this phase is accomplished, the subsequent months – leading well into 2024 – will be dedicated to refining the experience, ironing out glitches, and ensuring that Lacros seamlessly takes over as the primary browser on Chromebooks. At that point, we’ll stop referring to it as Lacros and it will simply be Chrome, just like it is on Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, or iOS. Just this time, it’ll be Chrome on a Chromebook.
While I’m not exactly shocked to see this sort of timeline, I guess I secretly hoped Lacros was ready for a true arrival with ChromeOS 116. It’s been nearly two years since we began discussing it, so I thought perhaps it was close to ready. But I also understand the difficulty of this sort of transition, and Google really can’t afford to mess this up. The dual-browser, incremental roll-out is the right thing to do, and though I’d love to see this brand-new browser show up right away, I’m glad Google is exercising some restraint and building out Lacros in a responsible, non-volatile way.