Chrome OS is now on PCs and Macs
Google has announced early access to a new version of Chrome OS called Chrome OS Flex. Designed for businesses and schools, which can run on old PCs and Macs. The OS can be installed “within minutes,” according to Google’s blog post.
Chrome OS Flex is said to look and feel identical to Chrome OS on a Chromebook, being built from the same code base and following the same “release cadence.” It did caveat that some features may be dependent on the hardware of the PC it’s installed on. For things like Google Assistant and Android phone syncing, various features may or may not be accessible depending on hardware.
Even so, the benefit of Chrome OS Flex is that it's compatible with most hardware, acting as an alternative option for PCs that don’t meet Windows 11’s hardware requirements. Chrome OS has managed to find a toehold in the WIndows-and-macOS-dominated world of consumer PCs thanks in part to its simplicity, the backing of a large and well-resourced company and its easy-to-use management tools for schools and business. With Flex, Google is offering those organizations the opportunity to switch their Windows laptop fleets to Chrome OS fleets virtually overnight while also giving users of ageing PCs an alternative OS to try.
Even assuming that you’re running the OS on certified hardware, Google has a list of PC features that Flex won’t support and hardware functionality it isn’t guaranteeing. This includes biometric login devices like fingerprint scanners and IR cameras, SD card readers, display outputs, optical drives, FireWire and Thunderbolt ports and stylus and pen input. External Wi-Fi dongles “often work,” but Google isn’t testing them specifically.
Chrome OS Flex is not a perfect Windows replacement, and it won’t always be the best way to resuscitate an old Windows PC, even if the hardware works perfectly. It also may not be as appealing for Mac users, though it is certainly an option for reviving Intel Macs that Apple will be leaving behind in the next few years. Apple services like iCloud, FaceTime and iMessage offer either rudimentary or nonexistent support for Chrome and Chrome OS, and for those who rely on Mac’s deep integration with your iPhone or iPad, Chrome OS Flex won’t be a satisfactory replacement. It’s still a decent option for those trying to repurpose old Mac hardware, but Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems are too different to make the transition easy.