Google is Separating Chrome from Chrome OS

Posted on September 13, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS, Chromebook with 21 Comments

It sounds nonsensical, but this move parallels what Google did previously with Project Treble in Android: It separated out many OS components and made them into Play Store apps that can be updated on arbitrary schedules, improving security and reliability for all Android users while extending the effective lifetimes of their devices.

And now Google is turning to Chrome OS to perform a similar redefinition of what’s app and what’s system. And in this case, the change could have the further benefit of improving Google’s Chromebook lifetime support policy, which currently dictates some number of years of support from the time a device is manufactured, not from when it’s purchased. After that date expires, the Chromebook won’t get security updates.

We’ll see if that bit is improved. But here’s the first step, according to Android Police: A project called Lacros by which Google seeks to separate the Chrome web browser from the Chrome OS system. Should this effort be successful, it will be somewhat like running Chrome on top of the world’s lightest Linux distribution from a technical perspective. But with Android app support.

At the very least, separating Chrome from Chrome OS should allow Google to continue releasing Chrome browser updates on what is an otherwise unsupported Chromebook. And since that’s where the security updates are coming from anyway, it would be safe, or at least safer, to continue using the Chromebook after its support expiration.

By the way, Project Treble is only one of a few ways in which Android’s supposed fragmentation issues are a red herring: Because Google updates so much of Android through the Play Store now, it doesn’t matter what device makers or wireless carriers do or don’t do with regards to delivering OS or security updates. Doing similarly for Chrome OS is smart.

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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Google is Separating Chrome from Chrome OS”

  1. jamie_webster

    Apparently its run in the crostini container . So some old machines wont be able to run it.

  2. christophercollins

    I have an old Toshiba Chromebook 2. It's been a great machine with a wonderful screen. I bought it cheap from Amazon as a used machine. Gave it to my daughter when she was in the sixth grade and told her she'd likely use these in middle school, so she should learn it now. I've had to replace the battery once.


    The amazing thing about it is that it's a dual core Celeron with 4 Gig of RAM. She had well over 20 tabs open yesterday and it was scrolling and moving faster than Chrome does on Windows or MacOS. It's very old, but still gets updates.


    I wonder if separating Chrome will mess with the whole Chrome runs fast on no resources situation in regards to Chromebooks or finally improves Chrome performance on other OS's... In particular battery consumption.

  3. jimchamplin

    Hmmmm...


    I can't wait to see how this affects CloudReady. Maybe the ability to use alternate browsers as the default.

  4. crunchyfrog

    I'd say that Google is really getting serious about the OS business. The recent update to my Pixel 4a to Android 11 was faster than any major update on a phone that I've ever seen-completely painless. These streamlines to the OS combined with the dropping of the stupid dessert themed names have really impressed me.

  5. waethorn

    Sounds like the lazy way to let the underlying Linux OS components languish, putting the onus on the user to know when it's appropriate to discontinue using an insecure, outdated system. You know, like Apple does.


    How are they going to protect user data that's accessible by system-level processes (like file management, which also supports Internet connections) that are using out-of-date component packages?

  6. Markus Mobius

    It seems everything going forward (including android apps) will run in their own crostini containers. Once that's done it would be easy to swap out the underlying linux distro for fuchsia os.

  7. codymesh

    Okay now untie it from chrome-specific hardware as well.

  8. scovious

    Hopefully this means we can switch to Chromium Edge on Chromebooks.

  9. olditpro2000

    Good move. I thought this would have happened sooner, actually. Remember when we were all asking Microsoft to decouple legacy Edge from Windows feature updates? Browser updates should never be tied to operating system updates; browsers need to update more frequently.


    Maybe Apple will get on board with this now, but I wouldn't bet on it.

  10. michael_goff

    I'm glad they finally did this.

  11. F4IL

    This seems to ultimately signal the transition to Wayland as a display stack for chromeOS bringing the browser up to speed with firefox which is already a native Wayland client on unix-like systems.

  12. sgbassett

    This is an important step. I use Windows 10 on a desktop and a laptop PC, ChromeOS on a Chromebook, and iOS on an iPad Pro. Each has its own use case in my workflow.


    What amazes me is that my old 2011 Lenovo ThinkPad X220 still runs the latest version of Windows 10 and receives all security updates. I keep it at my son's house to use when I visit.


    I had one of the first touch screen Chromebooks (the Acer C720P) that still worked fine from a hardware perspective, but was no longer being updated by Google. So I sold it on eBay (with full disclosure that it was too old to receive updates) and bought a new Chromebook that I otherwise didn't truly need.


    If the Chrome browser on the old Acer could have received security updates separately from the OS, I would have gotten another couple of years of use out of it. It was a solid machine that still performed adequately (just like the ThinkPad X220 is still adequate, even enjoyable, to use because of its great keyboard). It is amazing how long modern tech hardware can remain useful if the software and OS will cooperate.

  13. rmlounsbury

    This makes sense given they already do this with a lot of the Android OS components. I do find it somewhat ironic that you can install Linux and (eventually) Windows which both will be updated long after the underlying ChromeOS is no longer updated.


    I like that Google is doing this but I'd like to see them do away with their artificial limiter on the life of ChromeOS hardware. I have a Pixelbook that will probably still run well even after it's auto support ends.

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