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Chrome OS Flex turns PCs and Macs into Chromebooks

Thanks to its late 2020 acquisition of Neverware, Google has a new strategy to expand the use of Chrome OS. The company on Tuesday announced Chrome OS Flex: A free downloadable solution that effectively turns PCs and Macs into Chromebooks. The idea is to repurpose older computers with a Chrome OS Flex installation, allowing for simple, secure and speedy computing on existing devices.

Here’s how Google frames it:

Chrome OS Flex has the same code base and release cadence as Chrome OS which ensures aconsistent end user and IT experience. Chrome OS Flex delivers the official Chrome Browser, Google Assistant, and cross-device features in the same user interface as Chrome OS. And with Chrome Enterprise for Education Upgrade, IT can manage Chrome OS Flex devices and Chrome OS devices like Chromebooks side by side in the Google Admin console.

Effectively, the software overwrites the existing operating system on a Windows PC or a Mac to install Chrome OS. And, as noted above, the device can still be managed in education settings with the purchase of a license.

This shouldn’t come out of left field unless you’re not familiar with Neverware. That company created CloudReady, which did much the same as this new software solution. However, it was generally limited to specifically supported PCs and unofficially used on Chromebooks that no longer received software updates.

Speaking of software updates, I asked a Google representative about them as they pertain to Chrome OS Flex. Most Chromebooks now receive 8 years of updates.

I was told that there will be an official list of certified devices and support dates. Those will vary based on hardware, partially because certain chipsets may not support some features. Some devices may get updates after the support date but may have issues and won’t be guaranteed. Still, I suspect this might be a good option for Chromebooks that have passed their software support date.

Chrome OS Flex

It’s worth noting that besides being free, Chrome OS Flex can be tried without wiping the existing operating system of a device. Much like many Linux installations, you can download the operating system to a flash drive.

Booting up with the drive lets you try the platform without requiring you to install it on the hard drive. While it may perform as well as a local installation, it should give owners of old PCs and Macs an idea of what the Chromebook experience is like.

By the way, if you’re currently using CloudReady on a computer now, you’ll be upgraded to Chrome OS Flex in the near future. The operating system is still in the works, although it’s available now to try.

author avatar
Kevin C. Tofel

13 thoughts on “Chrome OS Flex turns PCs and Macs into Chromebooks

  1. Cool. From my knowledge (probably better than most) Neverware never supported CloudReady on old Chromebooks themselves (it was only officially a certain list of PCs & Macs), wonder if they will now.

    Also does this have playstore? because CloudReady never had that.

  2. > Google Play Store

    Great point – another important consideration but knowing Google, I suspect it will not include the Play Store.

  3. I have found a way around the Acer 317 bluetooth issue with Samsung mobile phones.. Use nearby share option but make sure visability on the Chromebook is on 1st..

  4. I tried CloudReady on an old (originally Windows) machine some weeks back.
    While the model was in their “Certified” list, I never could get the installation to complete.
    This in spite of close attention to prerequisites and instructions.
    So that was a disappointment and a waste of time.
    However, I like the concept, and am hoping this newer edition will be more predictable.
    I might give it another shot when I have a spare box to tinker with.

  5. I might try it out on an old laptop I have. Hopefully it will work even with the Linux distro I have installed on there. I’ve tried Neverware in the past and it worked pretty well. I’ve been using various Linux distros on ancient PCs and laptops and they perform better than new PCs and Macs, so I expect this will be a way to keep really old computers useful for a long time.

  6. Can I install Chrome OS Flex as a VM under vmware (installed on my linux box) to test it out instead of installing to take over my entire computer ?

  7. The timing of this coincides perfectly with Microsoft’s restriction on Windows 10 updates to Windows 11 being limited by processor generation. There will be a boatload of older Windows devices out there that can’t upgrade to Windows 11 but can easily be moved to Chrome OS with Chrome OS Flex.

    I love having this as an option. I hope that eventually Chrome OS Flex also offers Android apps & Linux functionality. I have a 5th gen Lenovo X1 Carbon that will never get Windows 11 because it’s processor isn’t supported. I think this week I’ll install Chrome OS Flex on it to see how it runs.

  8. Per Ryan’s post –
    I am very much in agreement.
    However, I thought it worth mentioning that Microsoft’s claims of incompatibility
    regarding Win11 are quite a bit overstated. I have proven this to myself by upgrading
    three entirely different older Win boxes to 11. None of these had the processor or other
    prerequisites set out by MS, and one is 9 years old. All are working without issues and
    are receiving regular updates. So I remain somewhat skeptical of these stated barriers.
    This question also seems highly relevant to the just posted article:
    “Chrome OS Flex isn’t the solution for Chromebooks past their software support date”
    Hopefully someone will test that also and report the result here. I might do it myself.

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