Quick Look: Google Chrome OS Flex

Posted on February 16, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS with 26 Comments

Yesterday, Google announced the first preview of its CloudReady-based project, Chrome OS Flex. So I just had to take a quick look. It’s a weird combination of polished and incomplete, with some features working properly and some missing in action. I suspect your results will vary considerably depending on the hardware. But at least you can test it first via a USB environment if you want.

I, perhaps stupidly, chose not to do that. Instead, I used Google’s instructions to create the installer USB key and then blew away the Windows install on an older HP EliteBook x360 14. The install process took about 5 minutes; I’m pretty sure I spent a bit more time than that just creating the USB installer.

If you’re familiar with Chrome OS and Chromebooks, you get the idea: Google’s free (for now?) tool turned this once very expensive Windows PC into a very expensive used Chromebook.

And at first glance, I was pretty impressed, since most of the high-level functions seemed to work just fine. Each time I touched a key on the keyboard, for example, it would light up. I could tap Print Screen to take a screenshot, just like in Windows (where Chrome OS uses a special keyboard shortcut). The touch screen works fine, and it seems to know that a smartpen would work (based on a taskbar icon) but I don’t have one to test that. And when I tapped the Mute function key, an onscreen overall indicated that the sound muted. Nice.

But as I used it more, I started to discover the issues. Mute “worked,” but the volume keys did not, and when I tried to play a YouTube video, oops: I found out that sound didn’t work at all. The HP’s fast fingerprint reader is unavailable in Chrome OS Flex, too, forcing me to type my long Gmail password to sign in. Or I can set up a PIN, which can only be 6 characters, not the four I prefer. Oof.

I’ve only just started playing with it, so I don’t have a handle on how well power management might work, or what the battery life is. But it’s clear this is a good idea, assuming Google (and/or its hardware partners) can overcome some of the driver issues. I don’t want to use a PC without sound, obviously. Chrome OS is a nice choice for an older computer that may or may not run the latest software, and that’s especially true if you mostly run web apps.

And while I’m sure this is coincidental, it is perhaps notable that Google shipped this preview on the same day that Microsoft released “new experiences” for Windows 11 that include a preview of Android app compatibility. But where Windows 11 is relegated to 1000 apps from the lackluster Amazon Appstore for Android, Chrome OS Flex should eventually provide access to the Google Play Store. (It doesn’t right now, however.)

Regardless, Chrome OS Flex is also technically more compatible with PC hardware than is Windows 11, since it will run (and maybe run perfectly) on PCs that don’t meet Microsoft’s arbitrary hardware requirements for Windows 11.

I may try installing Chrome OS Flex on a different PC to see whether the hardware compatibility is a bit better. But even in this early stage, it’s an interesting solution, albeit one with a few missing pieces.

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Quick Look: Google Chrome OS Flex”

  1. jdjan

    Thanks for taking one for the team here Paul. I was genuinely curious about this since I have a couple of older computers without Windows licenses that run Linux. They are fine for geeks like me, but no-one else is interested. ChromeOS might suit them better.

    Sounds like Google still has work to do.

  2. sevenacids

    It doesn't surprise me that audio and the fingerprint reader have issues. I experienced that on some older HP machines running Linux as well. Since Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel, it's likely the same source of problem. HP's hardware support for Linux isn't that great. For some machines, sure, but that's unfortunately not the majority. For example, a brand-new machine cannot go to sleep because of a new Microsoft-induced sleep state in the UEFI that hides the usual S3 mode.

  3. winner

    Microsoft: "Many of your old PCs can't run Windows 11"

    Google: "We'll take those old PCs and you can run Chrome OS!"

  4. craigsn

    Any possibility of testing this in a VM?

  5. agilefrog

    The volume key weirdness sounds similar to an issue I hit putting Ubuntu onto an HP Elitebook. No volume control at all. Tried many & various things, but what ended up fixing it was flashing the bios. Im not technical enough to understand why this would have worked, but it felt like the previous Windows OS had hooks into the bios that needed to be reset to defaults. YMMV.

  6. Shawnloveshorses161

    This sounds so amazing, it will be very useful for teachers or schools or parents to lessen the burden to buy new computers and just convert it to a Chromebook.

    Have family control or school admin setup to make it only work with browser and block game/social websites.

    Provide a student a good laptop that works and be less distrative.

  7. Shel Dyck

    Bliss OS already has the play store running

    • MikeCerm

      Bliss OS is Android, not Chrome OS. Depending on what you want to do, that may be a benefit. But, if what you want to do is run Chrome OS, then it's a big drawback. The whole point of Chrome OS is to have a simple system with a real, desktop-class browser. Android has all kinds of apps, but the one app is doesn't have is a "real" web browser with proper support for extensions, etc.

  8. dftf

    It's funny how Paul criticises that the "fingerprint reader is unavailable", as he clearly wants the greater-security that would offer, but then says "I can set up a PIN, which can only be 6 characters, not the four I prefer".

    So with one of the most-secure options not being-present your alternative is... to use a less-secure method, and actually wish they offered an even-less secure version of that method? #MakesSense !

    • MikeCerm

      A 6-digit PIN (numbers only) is really no more secure than a 4-digit one. It is, however, a lot more annoying to type in dozens of times a day. Brute-forcing such a password would take seconds in either case, were it possible. With a proper anti-guessing policy, e.g., lock the account and require the full alphanumeric Google password (with 2FA) after 3 wrong guesses, a 4-digit code is fine. It's unlikely to be guessed in just a few tries, and that's good enough.

  9. bassoprofundo

    Following this one with curiosity... At the start of the pandemic, I resurrected an older Alienware Steam Machine with Cloudready, and it ended out being a perfect desktop setup for a kid whose school district uses Chromebooks, who didn't want to sit in front of an 11" screen & an anemic Celeron full time for the next year's worth of school, but also who can't be trusted not to sit and play games all day with a full blown windows machine.

    Great performance & was able to use 2x 24" monitors, an external webcam, kb, mouse & speakers. I came away convinced that this is the way of the future for most of the "normies".

  10. Patrick3D

    Does Stadia work on it? From what I understand any Chrome browser with VP9 support should work.

    • sprung

      Stadia works beautifully. I installed Chrome OS Flex on a 2016 HP Elitebook 840 G3

      Only Bluetooth not working so far so have to hardwire my Xbox controller via USB

      Webcam, mic , speakers, wifi, touchpad all are fine.

    • dftf

      You can probably use Xbox Cloud Gaming, too -- I think all that requires is a modern web-browser, as making it a website, rather than an app, is how they got-around Apple's ban to offer it to iOS users

  11. darkgrayknight

    Thinking about the weird Windows 11 limitations, Microsoft could just build a Windows 11 Basic edition for free that could be installed on nearly anything just like Chrome OS Flex. They could have limitations in what parts of Windows 11 Basic work and which advanced features are not available. They could have the new look and some of the updated apps (Notepad, media player, etc.) but not have the Android app store, the extra security of TPM 2.0 or latest Intel chipsets.

    • MikeCerm

      Unless alternative OSes like Flex or other versions start stealing significant market share, then it's highly unlikely to happen. Most people don't care about support or running the latest OS, as long as the apps that they already have continue to work. What is likely to happen is that anyone running Windows 10 will just keep running Windows 10 forever. It's not like Windows 10 machines will magically stop working when support runs out. There are still people using Windows 7, who will continue to do until the browser makers stop supporting Windows 7, and the websites that those people visit on a daily basis start to break. That could be years from now, even though support for Win 7 ended 2 years ago. So, realistically, there will still be a sizable minority of people running Windows 10 for 5 years after EOL. At no point will they install Chrome OS Flex or Linux, they'll just wait for their hardware to die and buy a new Windows system.

    • dftf

      "[...] Microsoft could just build a Windows 11 Basic edition"

      I argued the same-thing at the time Windows 11 system-requirements were revealed: they should have offered a "Windows 11 for Legacy PCs" edition, that would forgoe features like the Android app support, Auto HDR, DirectStorage, and other future "high-performance" features, like those based-around 3D and VR. It should still require a 64-bit CPU and 4GB RAM, but permit a DirectX 10 compliant GPU or later, and the older TPM 1.2 standard (along with not requiring a TPM), and still support booting on legacy BIOS. Only qualifying PCs would get to install it; if a PC were capable of running the full Windows 11, you'd be limited to that.

      As Microsoft are not doing so it'll be interesting to see where people turn-to, once Windows 10 support ends (for the main editions) come October 2025. I can see Chrome OS being a bigger-draw than people suddenly moving to something like Ubuntu or Linux Mint, and were people going to move to macOS then they would either have already done-so -- but given the price-differences, I can't see people moving that-way, compared to just buying another cheap device with Windows 11 preinstalled. (And other options, like ReactOS, just aren't viable and likely never will be...).

  12. jharte

    "It’s a weird combination of polished and incomplete, with some features working properly and some missing in action"

    So, just like Windows?

  13. sofan

    They should bring this Chrome os flex in to android L tablets

  14. Sprtfan

    "Chrome OS Flex should eventually provide access to the Google Play Store. (It doesn’t right now, however.)"

    Have you seen anything that indicates that this will happen? Everything I've seen on this says that “Google doesn’t currently have plans to add Google Play Store and Android Apps to Chrome OS Flex,”

    I hope they do and is needed to make it worth while for most home users.

    • MikeCerm

      Google makes a lot of money from the Play Store, so I don't see why they wouldn't want to have it on as many devices as possible. While not officially supported, Google does nothing to prevent people from installing the Play Store on Amazon Fire tablets, for example. Google is okay giving away Flex for free, so why would they not be okay with including the Play Store, which would actually generate revenue? It would literally cost them nothing to include it, because all the R&D has already been done integrating it with Chrome OS.

    • IanYates82

      Do Intel Chromebooks get the Android apps, or is it only the ARM ones? If the latter then I suspect we won't see Android app support for quite a while, if ever

    • miamimauler


      In 2025 there will be many millions of perfectly working W10 devices in the wild that failed to qualify for W11. As far as I'm aware ( correct me if I'm wrong ) the Play Store and Android apps won't be coming to W10 machines so those users really won't need them and a more polished Chrome OS described in this article will suit these users very well.

  15. sscywong

    I'd rather restore the original Windows on the old PC and unload as many services there as possible, and use it with Firefox (if Chromium Edge is not supported).

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