Google Wants to Turn Old PCs Into Chromebooks With Chrome OS Flex

Posted on February 15, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Google, Chrome OS with 55 Comments

Google has a new plan to expand its growing Chromebook ecosystem, and it’s named Chrome OS Flex. This new version of Chrome OS can be installed for free on any PCs and Macs, and Google believes that it will be able to breathe some new life into old PCs used in schools and businesses.

Chrome OS Flex follows Google’s acquisition of Neverware back in 2020, which created a solution for bringing Chrome OS to older PCs named CloudReady. “Since then, we have been hard at work integrating the benefits of CloudReady into a new version of Chrome OS,” said Thomas Riedl, Director of Product, Enterprise and Education at Google.

Google is launching Chrome OS Flex in early access today, and you can try it on your PC or Mac without installing it by booting the OS directly from a USB drive. The company expects a stable version to be available in the coming months. “At that time, CloudReady customers will be upgraded to Chrome OS Flex for free,” Riedl said today.

Chrome OS Flex

In the meantime, Chrome OS Flex already shares the same codebase and release cadence as the regular Chrome OS that ships on all Chromebooks. “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,” explained Riedl.

At a time when many Windows 10 PCs may not meet the minimum system requirements for Windows 11, Chrome OS Flex could eventually become an increasingly attractive proposition as we get closer to Windows 10’s end of support date in 2025. So far, Chromebooks have been most successful in the US education market, but many organizations may be interested in a free, secure, and easy-to-manage operating system for their aging devices.

After Microsoft killed Windows 10X last year, should the Redmond giant be worried about Chrome OS Flex? The company did announce Windows 11 SE for cheap education laptops last Fall, but it’s not clear what kind of alternative Microsoft could offer for the aging PCs that Chrome OS Flex will be targeting.

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Comments (55)

55 responses to “Google Wants to Turn Old PCs Into Chromebooks With Chrome OS Flex”

  1. Daekar

    If this enjoys wide hardware compatibility, it's possible it could compete with consumer-targeted Linux distros. Very interesting indeed. I might actually create a bootable USB drive and see what it's like.

    • anoldamigauser

      I think that those running Linux are doing so to avoid the tracking they perceive in commercial operating systems. I do not see this as a threat to that market.

      It will be very interesting to those already in the Google ecosystem who have older hardware, as well as to budget constrained school districts, and non-profits.

      Microsoft needs to take this very seriously. They need a competitive product for these markets. I would suggest that they dust off 10X and remove all the gold plating that was creeping in. All it needs is a file system, a browser, and support for PWAs that can run offline.

      • ontariopundit

        A percentage of Linux users use it for their "privacy" but a large percentage of them install Chrome anyway.

        A Chrome OS-like OS is a good alternative to people using Linux to keep older computers going.

        Though, an old computer is still slow if you're accessing the modern web! No OS can fix that!

      • navarac

        Microsoft really needs to take notice, as one of the three reasons Google give to use Flex, is to reduce e-waste. Apart from an Ocean plastic mouse, Microsoft doesn't address this issue at all. Definitely missing a trick as always.

        • Donte

          Microsoft hardly sells any hard goods.

        • cnc123

          Yep. Microsoft are only supporting the last ~3 years of PCs with Windows 11, and everything else goes in the trash in a few years. This lets people reuse those hundreds of millions of PCs rather than tossing them.

          • SvenJ

            That's a bit of a misrepresentation. Windows 11 is supposed to run on roughly 3-4 year old hardware now, but by the time Win 10 is out of support in 2025, that will be 6-7 year old hardware. Certainly previous versions of Windows have been a lot more forgiving, but sooner or later you have to cut bait if you want to move things forward.

            • robincapper

              If you are just reading email etc doesn't matter how old the pc is, typically enough. Currently travelling with a first gen Go and is fine for 90% of what I need, slow for the other but not intolerable. Microsoft won't support it past Win 10 yet Google will...

          • Donte

            In 2025 8th gen, which works with Windows 11 will be 8 years old. 7th gen, which is not officially supported will be 9 years old..everything else will be 10+ years old at that point.

            How many people will be still running 9+ year old computers in October of 2025? Some I am sure but I have never kept a computer for more than 6 years, at most. My work replaces them every 4 years. My gaming PC gets updated every few years.

            Heck when it comes to Mac's my work swaps those out all the time, especially since they are dropping Intel. I just got rid of a 16inch Intel Macbook that was a year old....for the 16inch M1. Before that I had a 2017 15inch Macbook.

            I have done a clean install of Windows 11 (boot USB) on a Skylake (6thgen) and a KabyLake (7thgen) and the both installed fine because they had TPM 2.0 on the motherboard. One of them had it disabled in the BIOS and that did stop the Install with a "not supported" message. Once I turned it on it worked. Now if I download the tool it fails the test. I bet those machines keep working with Windows 11 for a long time.

        • wright_is

          It depends on how you measure it. We have currently supported versions of Windows running on 10 - 15 year old hardware, ChromeOS usually tells you to go buy a new device after 5 years (from start of manufacturing, not from date of purchase).

          On Amazon, in 2020 (I haven't checked since then), people were still selling old stock of ChromeOS devices, which had less than a year of security updates ahead of them!

          Flex should also help ChromeOS users who don't want to buy a new device, but are no longer getting security updates from Google, if it lives up to its promises.

          The Windows 11 hardware debacle will see a lot of relatively new devices being left unsecured in a couple of years, so there is a lot of room for Flex for those that use Google services and Linux, for those that don't.

          Wasn't the big benefit of Neverware that it didn't need a Google account to use it? The one big advantage of Neverware has now gone.

          • ontariopundit

            No. It will not help users of out of support Chrome OS devices. This is for generic Windows computers. At least, provided they're simply using Cloudready.

            Besides, out of support Chrome OS devices are so incredibly underpowered that they're ewaste anyway.

          • ontariopundit

            Another issue with out of support Chrome OS devices is that a large percentage of them are enrolled in Enterprise management. They cannot have another OS installed on them unless they're unlocked and because these devices are so underpowered and their batteries cost too much to replace it's not worth repairing/refurbishing them.

          • ontariopundit

            I'm in a similar environment. 15 year old hardware is too slow to run a Chrome OS just like it's too slow to run Windows 10.

      • sadsteve

        Windows 8 was the straw that broke the camels back for me to switch to Linux. The applications that I use on a daily basis are available on Linux and on Windows so the switch over was really quite easy once I found a distro I liked. The only things keeping a Windows partition on my machine is games and Affinity Photo (I really dislike Gimp).

        Surprisingly to me, I've found Linux to be much easier to maintain than Windows 10. I had many issues (reboot loops, can't update, etc) in the first couple of years with Windows 10.

    • Donte

      The great battle of the 1% market share.

    • MoopMeep

      consumer targeted Linux has less marketshare than Mac OSX.

      Google likes to abandon things that done do well.

      If its only able to compete with linux then I think that is not really too good.... Your better staying with Linux.

  2. lwetzel

    Doesn't seem to create the bootable USB.

  3. rm

    Interesting, talking to my kids, the school always has broken Chromebooks (they are cheap after all). My guess is it wouldn't matter if they had an old notebook that is close to breaking down.

  4. LocalPCGuy

    I can't find anything that says how long they'll offer updates for. Will it be better than with Chromebooks tied to the chipset release date?

  5. rmlounsbury

    I think it is a great idea. Had it not been for a license requirement and purchase for CloudReady I would have tried it a long time ago. But, Google bringing this as a free-to-install platform is great for old gear that needs a new life.

    Of course, it comes with a big asterisk in that Android Apps/Google Play aren't supported and it looks like it'll be hit and miss on Linux support (guessing it depends on the chips virtualization capabilities). It also comes with caveat of a whole host of hardware that isn't support.

    But if you need a light weight ChromeOS based device and you already have old computers lying around this is great. Especially if you don't want to fuss with Linux.

    • ontariopundit

      Cloud ready has always been free to use. I first tried it 6 or 7 years ago. And have used it intermittently since.

      The lack of support for video codecs has always been a deal breaker for installing it on other people's computers.

  6. JH_Radio

    I have 5 PCs that could use this come 2025.

    • christophercollins

      Post your screenshots... I am so tired of people threatening to move from Windows with 0 intent.

      • Ron Diaz

        I've already gone MacOS for my desktop and 2 laptops. I do have an old Windows laptop lying around and a Linux Mint laptop I use more often than Windows

      • wright_is

        Too much effort. But, 2010 Sony Vaio running Mint, 2017 Ryzen 1700 swapped from Windows 10 to Linux in October last year, Mac mini M1, Raspberry Pi 400 running Ubuntu and 2 x Raspberry Pi 3 running RaspOS.

        Only my company laptop remains on Windows.

      • navarac

        Are you calling people out as liars, then?

  7. sofan

    how about if they bring chrome os flex to android L tablets

  8. red.radar

    I am going to assume the key to success will be the install process. Asking non-power users to change their operating system is risky and intimidating.

  9. navarac

    Just install a Linux Distro in the first place. It totally revitalised an old Surface Pro 3 I have.

  10. nine54

    Solutions to turn fat Windows PCs into locked-down thin clients already exist. You install some software on the PC, which basically turns into a dumb terminal for a Citrix, RDS, etc., session. This just seems like a Chrome OS flavor of this.

  11. scovious

    I've always wanted to make my old computers do even less than before! Oh wait, I'm not ferociously anti-Microsoft for no good reason, I guess my computers will stay as they are.

    • andrew b.

      I've actually found that ChromeOS, with its ability to run linux apps, isn't super limiting. I considered switching to it, but I have trouble getting comfortable with the idea of Google constantly spying on me.

      However, Cloudready was a bit finnicky about linux apps; certain hardware combos wouldn't support it. I'm curious if Google has fixed that.

  12. hrlngrv

    If this is primarily for schools, then Chrome OS already has an advantage in administration. Google made it simple to administer Chrome OS machines. MSFT can't afford to do so for schools and nonprofits lest it undermine the value of MSFT's vaunted admin credentials. Apple is simply too damn expensive unless it gives hardware away to schools. Google has found itself a nice niche, and it's difficult to see how anyone could supplant it without giving away free hardware and software.

    As for business, there are Chromeboxes in use as kiosk machines in Charles Schwab offices, and that seems like a good fit compared to Windows or macOS. Not to mention cheaper than Windows or Macs. [Indeed: who in their right mind would consider anything from Apple as a kiosk machine?]

    Still, gotta ask: wouldn't a great number of Linux distributions be more suitable on most old but not too old PC hardware? I have and use a Chromebook at home, and as long as the Citrix Receiver app works it's the only computer I bring on vacation. I also run Linux and Windows on my home office desktop PC. There are some things for which the Chromebook is OK, but there are LOTS of things it doesn't do well. One example would be image editing. Sure Pixlr whatever can handle photo touch-ups online, but there are better tools for general image editing. And nothing beats ImageMagick for batch modifications to image files via scripting.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying there are better alternatives for business and personal use outside of kiosk and essentially browser-only usage.

    • Donte

      We have hundreds (probably over 1000 at this point) of iPad Air's in use for Kiosks, all managed by Intune. The market for stands, cases, readers, etc is vast and very supported. I know we get at least a 10% discount on them and we buy the $599 model.

      In my area public schools use Google products the most. Even then they have Windows computers, mostly in computer labs to run Adobe apps, CAD etc that simply wont run on a Chrome book. Of the kids I know that go to those schools, they pretty much hate the Chrome books. (I ask being in IT I am interested in what they use). My 3 kids went to private Catholic schools, they all used Microsoft and Apple products. The colleges they are in now are heavy Office 365 users, and my daughter's college issues all new students iPad's in their freshman year.

  13. obarthelemy

    Hopefully it will run in a VM and/or on a Raspi 4 so I can at last try out ChromeOS and maybe recommend it to seniors around me.

  14. polloloco51

    I might give this a try on an old Dell Latitude e5500 I have lying around! ?

  15. crunchyfrog

    A well timed shot across the bow of Microsoft. I don't know much about Windows 11 SE but I suspect it's just another multi Gigabyte sized copy of Windows that's been tweaked a bit but still requires large updates and such.

  16. miguelgigante

    Microsoft: You meet all the hardware requirements to upgrade to Windows 11 except for one. So no Windows 11 for you.

    Google: Here is the OS that Windows 11 is apeing. Might as well install the real thing since it is free and you won't be getting Windows 11 anyway.

  17. ebraiter

    Maybe some schools who already have Chrome OS devices but I can't see businesses wanting to support another [completely different] OS but instead move to Windows 11 on or before October 2025.

    The same for consumers who don't want to learn another OS.

  18. sykeward

    I was excited to see this news today, but the more I read about it the more it's obvious that there isn't much actually new, especially if you use Neverware CloudReady now. Per Google's documentation, "Some important features missing from CloudReady are also not supported on Chrome OS Flex. These include: Play Store / Android apps... To improve security, Chrome OS Flex will not allow some system-level access currently available on CloudReady Home Edition, including: Command line access via shell."

    It says that things like command line will be coming back in the future, but other major features like Google Play/Android support isn't mentioned that way. That would be a really disappointing omission, IMO.

    • Sprtfan

      Yeah, I was a little excited by this until I saw it was basically the same thing I have already done on other systems with CloudReady. They basically just changed the name. I was really hoping for Google Play/Android support.

  19. harmjr

    This is smart. I got a Surface Pro 4 that is "not compatible" to upgrade to Windows 11 maybe this would good use for this device. Instead of throwing it in the trash can in 2025.

    • SvenJ

      Probably would run well on my OG Surface Go as well. Hope MS can get telemetry on how many Surface devices are running ChromeOS ;)

      • wbtmid

        Great news! Now I can install Chrome on all my computers Microsoft deems "too old" to run Windows 11, even though most of them are perfectly capable of running Windows 11 (one of which worked on the insider build just fine!)

        • SvenJ

          I'm still running the insider builds on a Dell XPS laptop that is 'unsupported'. It's the arbitrary processor family that holds it back. It's only one off. However, if they approved mine, the guy with the one just ahead of it would complain, why not mine? Guess you just have to draw the line somewhere. Mine might wind up as a Chromebook.

    • Donte

      A Surface Pro 4 will be 10 years old in 2025. I do not believe I have ever kept a computer for 10 years. I think 6 is my max?

    • Sihaz

      Just use one of the well documented easy hacks if you want 11 on your SP4. I have it running just fine on my SP2. Clean install, all hardware installed, smooth sailing.

  20. dcdevito

    Wow, I remember when Neverware was a project run by a school IT admin in Michigan I believe it was (?). I used to submit bugs and the one person would reply, good times.

    Im glad to see this happening, I was afraid Google acquired it to kill it.

  21. leoaw

    I wonder if Google is going to change the update policy of their existing Chromebooks to extend their lifespan. Since they typically give around 5 - 6 years of support for specific Chromebooks and this is targeted for older Windows/Mac hardware, those targeted machines will probably already be 5 to 6 years old before an organization would think to apply Chrome OS Flex. Of course they would likely have more powerful processors than many Chromebooks.

    • maethorechannen

      I'm wondering if this can be used to "revive" unsupported Chromebooks after they've had a full UEFI bios installed.

      I think I might dig out my Samsung CB that is now running Fedora and see if Chrome OS Flex works.

  22. Jeffsters

    DON’T DO IT! Tried to install on al old 11” MacBook Air and it died installing. Now I can’t see my hard drive using any utility. Great job Google!