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ChromeOS 116 may bring the Lacros browser to Chromebooks

ChromeOS 116 may begin the Lacros browser push to Chromebooks

After covering Google’s effort to separate the Chrome browser from ChromeOS for over two years, it appears more of you will get to experience it. The project is called Lacros, and it uses the Linux browser for ChromeOS instead of the integrated browser. The idea is that browser updates can be pushed quicker to Chromebooks instead of waiting for a full ChromeOS update. Based on recent code changes I spotted, ChromeOS 116 may bring the Lacros browser to more Chromebooks with a wider release.

What’s changed for ChromeOS 116?

The code change appears relatively minor, but hear me out. Essentially, Google has added wording to the Lacros documentation that mentions ChromeOS 116. The documentation explains the steps for how to currently enable the Lacros browser.

ChromeOS 116 mentioned in the Lacros browser code for Chromebooks

Note that lines 11 and 12 above are the only changes to this documentation. Previously, the words “Pre M116”, meaning ChromeOS 116, were not present.

That suggests that once ChromeOS 116 arrives, you won’t have to set those two experimental flags to “Enabled” to have Lacros on your Chromebook. But that’s just part of my thought process.

I also noticed that on a Chromebook running the latest ChromeOS 116 Beta Channel, the “lacros-support” flag no longer exists. So I can’t enable the Lacros browser manually on that device. At least not with the settings I’ve used for nearly two years. However, the “lacros-primary” flag is still there.

Clearly, something is changing with ChromeOS 116 here. And it may just be a cleanup of the Lacros browser flags. Or, it could be when Google flips the switch and reaches the home stretch of its effort to decouple the Chrome browser from ChromeOS.

Lacros is the only browser on my Chromebook

After a little more digging into the available flags, I noticed that there are several hundred mentions of Lacros in them. That’s the result of Google migrating existing flags to support the Lacros browser. This would ensure that current features would work after the browser switch. And I also saw this setting to make Lacros the only browser: chrome://flags#lacros-only.

Lacros is the only browser on my Chromebook

I’m fairly certain that’s not new but once I enabled it, my Chromebook with ChromeOS 116 showed a splash screen saying that my browser was getting updated. I’ve never seen that before and it happened so quickly that I couldn’t even capture a screenshot of it. I then opened up the Chrome browser from the Launcher.

While it looked exactly like the Chrome browser before, it wasn’t. It’s the Lacros browser as indicated when I checked the version details:

ChromeOS 116 uses the Lacros browser on my Chromebook

You can see the mention of Lacros in the version string above.

Prior to this, I’d been primarily using Lacros on my regular Chromebook. At least when I’m not using the Sidekick browser, that is.

But there’s a key difference. On that Chromebook, I had two browsers: Chrome and Lacros. Yes, they’re effectively the same but they’re built differently. The former is the one integrated into ChromeOS while the other is the standalone Linux version of Chrome. On this testing device, I now have just one browser and it doesn’t appear I can have both any longer.

Are you ready for Lacros on Chromebooks?

All of that is to say, Lacros appears nearly here.

The first steps to enable it for more Chromebooks are in ChromeOS 116. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google announce this with the ChromeOS 116 release, even if it’s just a “here it comes, and here’s how you can easily take an early look” kind of thing. If you’re interested in that early look, the above flag information will help you. And I’ve explained the difference between Lacros, Chrome, and ChromeOS in detail right here.

Chrome and Lacros icons
Chrome browser and Lacros icons side by side

If you don’t care about the technical bits of Lacros, that’s OK. Assuming a smooth transition, you notice little to no changes once the Chrome browser is removed from ChromeOS. What you should notice, however, are near-immediate software updates whenever Google patches Chrome. And that’s a good thing, as it can take a week or so before such fixes made their way to Chromebooks until now.

It’s even possible that the Chromebook automatic expiration dates could be extended for older devices. I say possible because I haven’t seen any indication from Google that this will happen. However, as the browser is decoupled from ChromeOS, the integration work to update either Chrome, ChromeOS, or both, is reduced. So maybe, just maybe, that means a longer lifespan for Chromebooks as a result.

author avatar
Kevin C. Tofel

32 thoughts on “ChromeOS 116 may begin the Lacros browser push to Chromebooks

  1. I just hope whenever this happens it doesn’t cause a ton of issues.

    Quite frankly I’d be amazed if it went smoothly. If it does go well Google will have my respect again…

    Also it brings up the question if Chrome is just a Linux app on Chrome OS, what other linux apps could be installed by default? or easily? The EU could force Google to allow other browsers as they did with Microsoft.

    1. I agree with the concern about this going smoothly. I don’t see how the EU could force Google to allow other browsers on Chromebooks because… you can already use other browsers on Chromebooks. You have browser options from either the Google Play Store or through desktop Linux support.

      1. But you can set the default browser for Android and Linux virtual machines only, and not for the entire Chrome OS. Moreover, there is every reason to argue that Google is using slow virtualization and poor integration with the host OS to make the experience of using competitive browsers worse. And it smells like a monopoly.

  2. I remember quite a few years back when MS unsuccessfully tried to argue that IE browser was so deeply integral within Windows OS that the two were inseparable. That was blatantly dishonest. I’m glad that Glad Google quietly chose to eschew that route for ChromeOS.

  3. SO… I’m not too sure that everything will go smoothly for those of us who rely on a bunch of Chrome browser EXTENSIONS, eh?
    This could actually be a disaster.
    And if it’s running as Linux what about if we do not have the Linux option active?

    1. I replied to you but my comment became a reply to the article itself for some reason (it was happening again as I was typing this, but I noticed this time). My original reply should be right below your comment.

    2. The Lacros browser is a Chromium-derived browser, much like Edge browser. I may be mistaken, but I believe that nearly every extension in the Chrome Web Store will add onto any Chromium-derived browser running in any OS. Also, I doubt that you’d have to install Linux separately with ChromeOS **in the future** just to run Lacros because ChromeOS is already a version of Linux. Just a version that comes with a built-in Chrome browser. That’s sort of the whole point of spending two years to enable ChromeOS to run **in the future** without needing the built-in Chrome browser. In theory, someday you could choose to make a ChromeOS version of Firefox, Edge, Safari, etc. your default startup browser. That’s been my understanding, anyway.

  4. Lacros does not use Crostini. It runs on the Mojo API, which is similar to Win32 on Windows. Lacros is Linux Chrome with ChromeOS as the only target.

    When I used Lacros, everything worked just fine and Crostini was not enabled.

    1. This was supposed to be a reply to Will Latinette. I don’t know why this became a reply to the article itself.

  5. Thanx for pointing out these changes and the flags involved.
    Many of us on the beta channel were caught off guard when LaCrOS suddenly disappeared.
    Let’s hope it goes well when M116 hits the stable channel.

    Also, I think currently LaCrOS can only get a couple of versions newer than (Ash) Chrome, I hope they remove this restriction and let LaCrOS versions stay current.

  6. So, will LaCrOS be subject to the same limitations that other Linux browsers have to deal with (e.g., no access to the camera or mic)? If not, will Google open up that access for there Linux browsers, or will they keep it walled for their own browser?

    My biggest complaint about my Chromebook (and, honestly, it’s somewhat minor) is the inability to fully switch to a browser other than Chrome. Give me my Vivaldi on Chromebook…fully!

    1. Lacros is supposed to be a drop-in replacement for the ChromeOS browser. You should notice no difference except for the version string and when Lacros gets an update separate from ChromeOS.

      1. I can and do run Vivaldi on my Chromebook, and for almost everything it works “just great.” The exception is video conferencing. Can’t run Zoom on Vivaldi, because Google doesn’t allow Chrome to access the mic or the camera (unless something has magically changed in the last couple of months). That’s a HUGE handicap.

        1. Correction: “Google doesn’t allow Vivaldi (or other browsers in the Linux container) to access the mic or the camera.”

  7. My wife’s Chromebook went EOL just a month after I started testing LaCros on my Pixelbook. How can I get LaCros on her Chromebook if I can’t update the OS to get it?

  8. Finally!

    I’m really excited about the ability to use multiple browser profiles like all of my friends who are using Mac and Windows devices.
    From a roll out standpoint, IT admins will need to make quite a few adjustments to their managed Chromebook settings. Currently, there are ChromeOS policies and Chrome browser policies. When LaCrOS becomes standard, Chrome browser policies will apply (for the first time) to ChromeOS devices. Not a big deal, but adjustments will need to be made to insure existing policies are applied corretly.

  9. Thanks for the heads up! I’m using lacros now in 116 beta – so far the experience is okay. I have not experienced any issue or crashing so far. And the update was fast (got a splash screen for the update when I restarted my chromebook) and all of my installed PWAs and extensions are working properly.

  10. Hi.
    My primary concern regarding Lacros and Chrome browser is performance.
    On my Duet using the Linux browser is quite slow and no smooth scrolling. Not a nice experience at all.

    1. Are you using the Linux app support? Lacros doesn’t use that. You shouldn’t even notice that you’re using Lacros instead of the ChromeOS browser, when Google officially flips the switch, until Lacros prompts you about a browser-only update.

  11. My Chromebook went EOL in June with ChromeOS 114. I watched updates come and go for more than a year waiting for Lacros to come out while my Chromebook still was alive. A lot of other Chromebooks met their doom in June as well. I guess we’re all out of luck. My Chromebook is working just as well as the day I bought it but I’ll probably be forced to throw it in a landfill because security-wise it is unsafe to use even though Lacros would be an answer to that. Nice timing, Google.

    1. Yup google care about the environment that’s for sure…

      For people like Tom, what about using Linux through Chrome OS and getting Chrome updates through that or even another browser?

      I know you can install full Linux or Chrome OS Flex on old Chromebooks but maybe using the inbuilt Linux option is easier and safer for more people? although maybe not as fast.

      1. As others have written above, using another browser through Linux has hardware limitations. Some have found slowness and scrolling problems using a Linux browser. Lacros seems to be the answer to these problems caused by using Crostini or so we are told.

    2. Just install Linux on it. Pretty much the same thing. ChromeOS is just another Linux distro these days. 🙂

  12. So if this allows multiple Chrome Profiles as is on windows….

    …. will those chrome profiles be synced across different Chromebooks you log into? or will they be device specific?

  13. Kevin, if we have the Lacros browser running side-by-side with regular Chrome browser, is there any way to make Lacros the default browser?

  14. I’m in no way trying to speak for Kevin but, you can still make LaCrOS the default / only browser now by enabling this flag: #lacros-only, Kevin mentions that above I think.

    But with the latest beta M116 update you can no longer run ash-chrome and lacros-chrome side-by-side, they took away the #lacros-support flag and I guess that and maybe some other changes removed this option.

    1. I have been successfully running Version 116.0.5845.96 (Official Build) beta-lacros (64-bit) for a while now. Very quick response etc. However, I do not know how to get updates to the latest version, which is why I wanted Lacros in the first place. I can only see how to “migrate” from traditional Chrome to Lacros on a Chromebook.

      1. Charles, the browser updates are handled within the browser itself with Lacros. Just like Chrome for Linux, macOS, and Windows. Click the 3 dot button at the top right of your browser and see if it says update available. If not, click Settings in that menu and click the About Chrome option. It’s possible that the ChromeOS updates are being held up because of the Lacros transition that you’ve opted into but I’m not 100% sure on that.

  15. My Chromebook reached. It’s end of update support in June
    It is on the stable channel.The Lacros Flags that I intended to turn on have changed. Can I anticipate actually getting a one off update of my chromebook browser when the lacros project is competed?

  16. I am experiencing very erratic scrolling in the Lacros browser, and nowhere else on my Chromebook. It did not start with my switch to Lacros. It appeared somewhere around 117, but I cannot be precise.

    I am scrolling and suddenly it jumps 2,3 or more pages. It is so bad sometime I cannot read a website.

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