ChromeOS Flex Now Supports 400 Old Machines
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Wednesday, 20 July 2022

ChromeOS Flex is now available to save your old hardware from early onset obsolescence. Now almost every machine can be a "chromebook". Is this a new opportunity for apps?

We first covered ChromeOS Flex at the start of the year when it was in beta, but now its available as a fully supported download. As Microsoft seems set on making a whole generation of PCs obsolete before their time by restricting what Windows 11 will run on, this provides a good alternative life for these machines.

Google's motivation has to be to increase the user base for ChromeOS as it has little else to gain from re-purposing old hardware, even if it likes to make reducing electronic waste a plus point. 

If you are a home user then you can simply follow the instructions and download the software. Installation is a matter of setting up a bootable USB. 


Installation is easy as it makes use of the Chrome OS Recovery Utility, which is an add-on to Chrome to write to a USB stick that can be use to boot any machine you want to try it out on. The USB stick has to be 8G or more. The machine you are going to boot has to be an AMD x86-64-bit compatible device with at least 4GBytes of RAM and be bootable from a USB drive. You will also find that some graphics hardware results in slow performance.

There is a list of supported hardware, the Certified models list. When I tried out the beta I found the machine I wanted to test it on listed, but with "major issues". Now its listed as certified with no problems. In both cases the the install went well and there were no issues that I could detect in a few hours of use.

It doesn't support Android apps or Google Play, which is a big negative.  Certified models are guaranteed to support audio and video, WiFi, Ethernet, touchpad, keyboard, sleep/resume, USB and webcam. Not included are touchscreens, Bluetooth and SD card slots - some of these might be a deal breaker depending on what you plan using the device for.

There are also a lot of peripherals that are not supported - fingerprint readers, CD/DVD drives and more.

Overall my first impression was better than I expected, but not as good as I hoped for. It seemed fast and responsive, but essentially I was restricted to working with Google Workspace, i.e Gmail, Google Docs/Sheets/Forms - and of course I had to log in with my Google account to do almost anything.

So is this likely to make ChromeOS more attractive to the developer because it increases the user base?

It is difficult to say. The current state of things suggests that reinventing old hardware is a good move. How many Windows 10 machines will be converted to ChromeOS?

As Windows 11 doesn't support upgrade from a lot of hardware this could be a route to keeping your investment alive, but personally I'd prefer to use a standard Linux installation. The only advantage of ChromeOS Flex is simplicity of use, but this is coupled with a restriction of use. It's fine for web browsing and using Google docs. And all we can develop for it are web apps and not particularly capable web apps at that.

When the beta came out I raised the issue of trust. Can we trust Google to stick by the new OS? There is an irony of upgrading old hardware from an unsupported, or soon-to-be-unsupported, operating system to an operating system that Google is quite capable of "sunsetting". It now appears that many of the machines that are supported have support guarantees listed and they seem reasonable.

If you consider the number of schools and businesses that have machines that cannot be upgraded to Windows 11 then the idea of changing to Chrome OS and using Google's office products seems tempting. After all a lot of users only browse the web and create a few documents. When you add the security provided by Chrome OS it looks even more attractive - though Chrome Flex isn't quite as good as the real thing. Not all machines it runs on has a TPM to provide cryptography and hence are less secure.

ChromeOS Flex is an interesting alternative, but I don't think that this is going to have a big enough impact to make developing for Chrome OS any more attractive than it was.



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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 July 2022 )