Whether you have an outdated Windows PC in the classroom or an outdated Mac in your home office that can’t handle macOS 12 Monterey, Google wants to turn it into a Chromebook. Google today announced early access to Chrome OS Flex, which allows the Chrome OS operating system on Chromebooks to be downloaded to a Mac or Windows PC.
Chrome OS Flex is basically the official Google version of CloudReady, which Google acquired when it bought Neverware in 2020. Flex allows individuals, schools, or businesses to download Chrome OS to a USB drive for free (CloudReady charges a fee and annual subscription fee for schools and businesses) and install it on their Mac or Windows PC. The operating system can also be booted from a USB drive instead of being installed or started via network deployment by an IT department.
Google is positioning Chrome OS Flex as a response to old Mac and Windows PCs that may not be able to run the latest version of their original operating system and/or may not be owned by those with budgets to replace the devices. Instead of buying new hardware, consumers or IT departments can install the latest version of Chrome OS Flex.
Chrome OS Flex is set up to run on an identical code base and release schedule as the Chrome OS used by Chromebooks.
For years, the Chromium OS-based Chrome OS alternative CloudReady was positioned as a way to transform the legacy hardware of consumers, businesses, and schools. Then Google picked it up. Google will automatically move CloudReady home, school, and business users to Chrome OS Flex when the operating system is stable.
A Google representative told Ars Technica that Google currently has no plans to add Google Play Store and Android apps to Chrome OS Flex, as Google is “focused on the core operating system experience first.” However, Google continues to evaluate. Google has described other ways Chrome OS Flex differs from Chrome OS.
Google also pointed out how Chrome OS Flex differs from CloudReady. Chrome OS Flex adds Google Assistant, the Chrome browser, and Near Sharing. Chrome OS Flex also adds a Linux development environment for compatible hardware for education and business customers.
However, Chrome OS Flex does not allow certain system-level access that the home edition of CloudReady supports, including command-line access via shell and teletype.
Google’s Chrome OS Flex is currently available as early access in the dev channel with expected bugs. According to a blog post by Thomas Riedl, director of product, enterprise, and education at Google, Chrome OS Flex has already been tested with “Googlers and other major customers.” A stable version of the operating system will be launched “in the coming months,” the blog said.
“After logging in, a user’s cloud profile is downloaded and their settings, bookmarks, and policies are automatically synced,” explains Riedl. He added that IT members can use the cloud-based Google Admin console with more than 500 policies and controls, including security-focused like sandboxing.
Updated 2/15/22 at 12:12 PM ET with information about how Chrome OS Flex differs from Chrome OS and CloudReady.
List image by Getty Images / Aurich Lawson