Meet Chrome OS Flex, Google’s new weapon for desktop domination
By JR Raphael,
Not your average Android news — a diverse mix of advice, insight, and analysis with veteran Android journalist JR Raphael.
Is that an old Windows system or a current Chrome OS computer? Google’s getting ready to blur the lines of desktop computing in some seriously shape-shifting ways.
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Google’s Chrome OS platform has come a ridiculously long way in an incredibly short time.
Back when it launched in 2010, Chrome OS truly was just a browser in a box — a dead-simple operating system designed to act as a portal to the web and not much more. The software had no desktop, no task bar, and barely even anything in the way of settings. It was essentially just a full-screen browser window — and that’s it.
Fast-forward to 2022, and Chrome OS is a fully featured and impressively polished computing solution. Between the platform’s ongoing expansion and the rapid evolution in how we all use computers, Chromebooks are now a genuinely practical and often advantageous option for business, personal, and education-related use.
The trick now for Google, particularly on the business front, is getting companies to give up the Windows habit and actually give Chrome OS a try.
Part of that challenge is closing the gaps with how some companies still approach computing. Plain and simple, while Chrome OS might be able to handle 95% of a typical organization’s needs, lots of places still rely on legacy programs that operate only in the Windows environment. So a little over a year ago, Google came up with a way to handle that and offer enterprises the ability to run Windows apps within Chrome OS with virtually no ongoing effort.
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But the other part of the challenge is simply the fact that making a leap to the whole other platform is a daunting and also costly change — especially when most companies have stockpiles of still-functioning old Windows systems sitting around and collecting dust.
That’s exactly where a new effort called Chrome OS Flex comes into play. Chrome OS Flex is a wild new program that makes it almost laughably easy to convert any old Windows or Mac system into a fully functioning Chrome OS device — one that’s updated every four weeks, just like a regular Chromebook, and always as secure as can be.
The craziest part of all? The software and everything around it is completely free and available for anyone — businesses, schools, and even individuals — to use.
The Chrome OS Flex muscle
If you’ve been reading this column and following the Chrome OS ecosystem for long, the concept behind Chrome OS Flex might sound familiar. And it should.
Chrome OS Flex is essentially an evolution of a third-party software setup called CloudReady. CloudReady used Google’s open-source Chromium code to create a Chrome-OS-like environment that could be applied to any old computer and then updated regularly via CloudReady’s own ongoing efforts.
It was a brilliant setup, but as an unofficial, non-Google-associated project, it came with some inevitable limitations. CloudReady couldn’t play video from Netflix or certain other streaming services without fairly complex workarounds, for instance. Some Google services, such as Drive and Maps, didn’t always work as expected in the CloudReady environment. The exceptionally effective Powerwash system for resetting a Chrome OS device wasn’t available within CloudReady at all. And standard Google features like Google Assistant, which has become a core part of the Chromebook productivity package, were missing entirely on CloudReady-converted computers.
In December of 2020, though, Google bought the company behind CloudReady. Chrome OS Flex is the result of that purchase — a freshly Googleized version of the CloudReady concept, now featuring native integration with the rest of the Google ecosystem and with most of those old asterisks stripped away.
And starting today, anyone can download the new software, load it onto a USB drive, and have it up and running on any old Windows or Mac system in a matter of minutes.
“You get this [opportunity] to refresh your PCs and Macs with our fast and secure operating system,” says Thomas Riedl, Google’s director of enterprise and education products. “At the same time, you also get an opportunity to try new hardware that fits your needs.”
Chrome OS Flex gives you almost all the benefits of a full-fledged Chromebook, in other words, without any of the associated costs or commitments. All you need is a Windows or Mac system and about five minutes to make the transition and give your existing device a whole new life.
And it’s one that’ll be immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever used a Chromebook.
Chrome OS Flex vs. the standard Chromebook experience
What’s most fascinating about Chrome OS Flex, even more than its CloudReady predecessor, is how impossibly similar the experience is to the standard Chrome OS setup on the surface. At first glance in particular, most folks probably wouldn’t notice any difference.
Here, for illustration, is a screenshot of the main Chrome OS Flex desktop interface:
Yes, this is Chrome OS Flex — but it could just as well be Chrome OS itself.
Even the most observant Chromebook aficionados among us would be hard-pressed to tell that apart from what you see on a native Chrome-OS-running Chromebook device.
Chrome OS Flex gets updated at the same cadence as the standard Chrome OS software, too, and any devices running Chrome OS Flex can be managed right alongside regular Chromebooks in the Google Workspace Admin tool.
“There are so many great benefits to effectively leverage a huge Windows fleet and bring it into the Chrome OS family without having to go through new hardware purchases first,” Riedl says.
So what’s the catch? Believe it or not, there really isn’t one. From Google’s perspective, anyone using Chrome OS Flex is clearly becoming more engaged with the overall Google ecosystem and all of the services around it. And while the software itself may be free, companies and schools are likely to continue investing in both Workspace and future Chromebook devices for the all-in-one managed experience Chrome OS Flex is a part of.
That being said, for all of its similarities, a converted Chrome OS Flex computer will lack some of the benefits you get with a full-fledged Chrome OS system. Foundationally, it isn’t possible for a converted device to have the same end-to-end security model an actual Chromebook can provide, when the processor and verified hardware are all part of the single same package.
Beyond that, Chrome OS Flex computers won’t currently be able to access the Google Play Store and enjoy the Android apps on Chrome OS advantage. That’s something Google suggested could change eventually but wasn’t possible in this current early version of the effort (which, by the way, is technically still in an “early access” state).
The aforementioned Windows-app compatibility setup also won’t be available within the Chrome OS Flex environment, which might be a good thing — as we’d be facing some dizzying M.C. Escher-esque moments if we converted Windows computers to Chrome OS and then ran Windows within ’em (potentially even with Chrome running within the Windows window inside of the Chrome OS operating on the former Windows computer — yeesh! My head hurts).
But the core Chrome OS Flex experience genuinely is free and widely available, and updates for converted devices will continue more or less indefinitely — so long as the associated hardware is able to support it. (Officially, Chrome OS Flex will have a “certified device list” with dates for how long full support is guaranteed — just like CloudReady did — but you can install the software on any computer you want, even if it isn’t on that list, and then continue to get updates without any real cutoff. Google just can’t guarantee full compatibility outside of the devices and dates on that list. )
As for anyone who was already using CloudReady, once Chrome OS Flex moves out of its current testing phase and into a fully stable state, all existing customers will receive an over-the-air update that’ll seamlessly shift them from the most recent CloudReady build to the latest Chrome OS Flex equivalent — a transition that was carefully planned to ensure “nobody feels punished or disincentivized,” as former CloudReady product director Forrest Smith, who’s now working as a Google product manager on the Chrome OS team, told me.
The other million-dollar question in my mind is if/when the same simple transition could work on existing Chromebooks as well. After all, a full-fledged Chromebook has a set amount of time in which it receives ongoing operating system updates — and while that window of support has been extended considerably in recent years, it still puts a firm end date on a Chrome OS device’s lifespan and the time in which it’s advisable to use.
CloudReady never supported that possibility, as the fully integrated nature of official Chromebook hardware made it difficult to override the default operating system and ensure full compatibility. Now that the software is an official part of Google, though, that could one day change — maybe.
As of now, Chrome OS Flex doesn’t officially support installation on existing Chromebooks — only Windows and Mac computers. But broadly speaking, Smith tells me he thinks they can “shoot a lot higher on broad, solid hardware compatibility” as time goes on. And he and Riedl both emphasized that this is very early days for the program and that things will only grow from here.
In other words, time will tell. But the ambitions here are high, and pretty much anything’s possible.
The bigger Chrome OS picture
So that’s the practical side of this. From a bigger-picture perspective, though, the implications of Chrome OS Flex are enormous.
When Google first acquired CloudReady back at the end of 2020, I wrote that the company had “quietly set the stage for a Chrome OS explosion.” Go, go, gadget time-machine:
The very definition of what a Chromebook is could expand exponentially. Instead of a Chromebook being a computer created and sold explicitly to run Chrome OS, a Chromebook could essentially become any computer on which Chrome OS is installed. Converting an old Windows or Mac system into a Chromebook … should be almost the same as buying a new computer with Chrome OS, practically speaking.
And that means people — and perhaps most critically, companies — could take an abandoned old Windows or Mac computer out of storage and turn it into a fully functional, official-update-receiving Chromebook, with minimal cost, ample advantages, and few to no asterisks attached.
Fourteen months later, and here we are. That’s exactly what’s happening.
Make no mistake about it: This is a massive leap forward for Chrome OS and its ability to invade the desktop computing domain — especially in the enterprise and education realms, where simple streamlined management is essential and dusty old computers are aplenty.
Big things are most certainly a-brewin’ here in the land of Googley matters. And what we’re seeing now could seriously shift the state of desktop computing — again.
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Does Chrome OS threaten systems like Ubuntu or Windows? / Habr
I will be brief. Since the end of 2009, many people believe that Google Chrome OS is positioned as a system that will replace Microsoft Windows. I think they don’t know what they are talking about.
According to Google itself, Chrome OS is developed exclusively for use on netbooks – out of a desire for minimalism. And, as we know, netbooks make up only a small part of the personal computer market. This clearly indicates that Google has no claim on laptops and desktops where Windows currently reigns supreme (at least in the short term).
This makes us think that Google does not intend to market Microsoft’s Windows. So maybe Chrome OS is aiming for something more similar in design to itself? For example, on Ubuntu Linux?
Or perhaps there is another alternative goal of Google that has so far remained in the shadows?
In this article, I’ll cover all of these features, plus share some thoughts on how I envision the future development of Chrome OS. I’ll speculate what role Ubuntu, Windows, and even Mac OS X might play in Google’s long-term plans.0003
Is Chrome OS Linux or not?
In order to make any correlation between Ubuntu and Chrome OS, we need to find out what Linux and Chrome OS have in common. Chrome OS is indeed based on the Linux kernel. In addition, the Chrome OS project benefits a lot from code provided by Moblin and Ubuntu.
Given that Linux is basically a kernel, it’s safe to say that Chrome OS is indeed based on Linux.
The difference between the two is that the latter is already available for testing by developers who already own known code – if only they are willing to take the risk.
In short, they are essentially the same.
Chrome OS does not compete with Windows
Google is not trying to compete with Windows and Ubuntu. For Google, the operating system is just a means to an end.
Unlike Microsoft, which is fighting to maintain desktop dominance, Google is content with the current state of affairs. While the Redmond giant battles the competition, Google is doing what it does best: advertising and web services across all platforms.
While Microsoft is trying to maintain market share for its operating system and other software, Google is building its presence on every platform it can. This work, of course, includes the development of its own Chrome OS – in addition to Windows, OS X and various Linux distributions.
But perhaps the most important difference between Chrome OS and Ubuntu or even Windows in terms of its support is that you can’t install it yourself. According to my information, you can only get it pre-installed.
Could Chrome OS be a boon for other Linux distributions?
I believe that Chrome OS will have a beneficial effect on other distributions through the likely code transfer. At first glance, Google will make people think about alternative operating systems, but on the second, it’s just an accident and a gift for those who yearn for Linux to win over Windows.
Still, I think Google will use the Linux code to create Chrome, and then create a tool that will bring that victory closer: the Google Chrome Webstore for desktops.
It might look like this. An app that is in demand and popular with Android OS users can replicate its success in the similar Chrome app market. The difference is that instead of a purely “mobile” application, we will see a desktop application.
Even better, web applications that are purchased by the Google Chrome Webstore will work on any operating system of the buyer.
So if you consider that Google is aiming to enter the netbook market with its Chrome OS, then firstly, this helps the company increase its own market share, and at the same time reduces the damage in case of a potential failure. Very good indeed: in case of success, the company receives the laurels of the winner, in case of a possible defeat, it distances itself from the losers. (Note that it is Google that controls the manufacturers – who is allowed to use their operating system, and who is not).
Chrome OS and Android, which one is not needed?
So far, we’ve looked at the situation from the point of view that Chrome OS was not designed to compete with any of the existing operating systems. On the contrary, I pointed out that, as with most Google projects, there is more to it than that.
However, the question arises: why do we need Chrome OS, if at the moment there is already an operating system from Google that works great on mobile devices and netbooks – that is, Android?
So why bother with Chrome OS if you don’t intend to compete with Windows and the rest?
Here’s what it’s for:
1. The Android system is stripped down compared to the desktop operating system. The proposed workstation operating system will increase market share for both Google and those who sell software for it.
2. Chrome OS is a testing ground completely isolated from Android, Ubuntu Linux, Windows and so on. If it fails in the desktop market, Google can save face by explaining that it was just a beta experiment.
As far as I understand, Ubuntu and Chrome OS have two completely different fates, and they do not duplicate each other in anything.
I’m pretty sure Chrome OS is just a means of accessing Google services.
I also believe that Chrome OS is just a vehicle to deliver Google services and help promote other Webstore applications.
So I don’t see a threat to Ubuntu from Chrome OS. Google has no reason to start pushing its system out of the tightly controlled netbook market.
One word of warning: if Google offers its online store for web-based applications without sufficient testing, it would be a bad move. So ensuring that these applications are tested on the Chrome OS platform seems absolutely necessary. And if this endeavor is successful, I foresee that eventually such an online store will offer applications for operating systems such as Windows, and eventually (oh yes!) Linux distributions such as Ubuntu.
How Google is turning Chrome OS into a powerful tablet OS
2023 By : Geoffrey Carr | [email protected]. Last Modified: 2023-07-11 09:29
Chrome OS, once considered a nearly useless operating system, is shaping up to be a bold and different OS that can handle just about anything you throw at it, especially for tablets . This is arguably the perfect desktop operating system we’ve been waiting for.
Chrome OS: History Lesson
When Chrome OS was released with the first Chromebook – the Google CR-48-back in 2011 it was pretty well received for what it was . Of course back then it was a lot easier than it is today and the biggest question was why do you need a laptop that just runs a browser? ?
It was a fairly honest question at the time, but it also set a precedent that somehow still holds true today. Chrome OS is often still referred to as “a browser on a laptop” (or some variation on that statement), which is honestly not only unfair now, but also inaccurate.
To be fair, Chrome OS has remained in many ways the same “browser in a box” for many years – even with the release of the first high-end Chromebook, Google’s original Chromebook Chrome, much of what Chrome OS does special, not even close to available. Chrome apps made it more useful, but at the time it was mostly just packaged websites.
A lot has changed since then, with the biggest change back in 2016 when Chrome OS gained support for Android apps. This marked the beginning of a new era for Chrome OS as a whole, as Android apps started to fill in the gaps that web apps couldn’t handle. With this one change, Chrome OS is instantly more useful and versatile.
While Android support got off to a rocky start and took longer than expected to be widely adopted, it has now become the standard for all modern Chrome OS devices.
Just recently, Google made another great change to the app interface: support for Linux apps. Since Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel, this has made native implementation of Linux applications almost worry-free. Users have been modifying their systems to run Linux applications through a software “hack” called Crouton for years, and this new feature makes it easier to access these applications without the need for any changes to the system.
So in seven years, Chrome OS has gone from a simple browser-based operating system to a three-input system that is incredibly versatile. And this is the direction in which it will continue to go. More importantly, the future of Chrome OS is not only laptops, but also one of the black desktop OS.
Chrome OS could eventually become a tablet OS We all wanted
As tablets became mainstream devices, we tried to push the limits of what they could do. Keyboard cases and more for productivity, splitscreen multitasking tablets are trying to be a sort of middle ground: bigger than your phone, more portable than your laptop. Somehow more useful than both, but also less versatile.
Indeed, there are two schools of thought when it comes to pills. There are Microsoft Surfaces tablets in the world that are reliable for productivity, but not great tablets. Then there are iPads—large tablets, but not as useful for productivity. And well, Android tablets never found a place to land and always just sucked up. Regret.
But what if one device could offer the best of both? Surface performance using an iPad tablet. Anyway, that’s what Chrome OS is shaping, at least it looks like.
Android apps installed on the front of the tablet. Chrome OS is basically the new Android tablet, so it makes a lot of sense: you can have just about any Android app you want to run on a tablet. While the Android ecosystem hasn’t been particularly well suited to tablets, it makes more sense in Chrome OS because it’s more than just Android. Adding a split screen also helps a lot.
But, starting with Chrome OS 70, performance has also improved. As soon as you connect a mouse or keyboard (via Bluetooth or USB) to your Chrome OS tablet, the interface will change to offer the full Chrome OS experience. Instead of a tablet-specific user interface, you get a full desktop. Chrome Unboxed has a great video demonstrating this on an Acer Chromebook Tab 10:
This is an absolutely brilliant way to keep the full Chrome OS experience, but also have access to a simplified tablet interface when a keyboard or mouse is not available. Unlike Surface, the app ecosystem is present in the Google Play Store. And unlike the iPad, a full desktop experience is made possible by Chrome OS. It really is the best of both worlds.
Of course, the current limitations of Chrome OS are still here, but the argument here is not what makes Chrome OS better than other desktop operating systems. It’s that Chrome OS tablets can bring all the benefits of a Chromebook laptop and pair them with all the benefits of a tablet (with more versatility than even the best Android tablets).
The Pixel Slate is Google’s all-out bet on the future of Chrome OS as a tablet platform. In itself, this is a wonderful and a functional tablet. But when paired with a keyboard and/or mouse, it becomes a complete Chromebook. The best of everything Chrome OS and Android has to offer in one killer, elegant and versatile package.
Ultimately this could make the Chrome OS tablet one true device for many, many people. Something as powerful as the Pixel Slate might be your tablet when you’re on the couch, but when you get to the table and drop it on the dock, it becomes a complete desktop customization.