Just over a year or so ago Google bought Neverware – the company that makes CloudReady software for computers which uses Chromium OS as a base to give life back to old computer hardware.
I did a tutorial on CloudReady Home a couple of years ago, showing you how you can install it on your own computer to get up and running, which you can still check out if you want to.
What is Chrome OS Flex?
Now, Google is putting that purchase into action with the announcement of Chrome OS Flex which is designed for businesses and schools. This is Chrome OS designed to be run on old PCs and Mac computers and should provide a near-identical experience to using a Chromebook, just without the need to purchase a whole new computer.
Chrome OS Flex is free; however, I imagine there could be costs for enrolling a Chrome OS Flex device into a businesses or school environment with Chrome Enterprise. However, for my use-case of messing around with it and for using it for personal use at home, this will still be free.
Chrome OS Flex is currently still in early development so there will still be bugs and it isn’t designed for widespread use yet, but that doesn’t scare me off – so let’s take a closer look and see the experience of getting up and running and what it has to offer.
If you are looking for something to use on your daily driver, CloudReady may be a better alternative for the moment as it will be more stable. CloudReady will automatically be updated to Chrome OS Flex when the time comes.
How to Get Started
Unlike what the Chrome OS Flex site says, you don’t need to sign up and register your interest to get started. To get started, make sure you have Chrome installed and then head onto the Web Store and add the Chrome Recovery Utility extension.
We’ll be using the extension to create a bootable USB that we can use to test out Chrome OS Flex on without needing to install it onto a system drive – or you can then use the bootable USB to install Chrome OS Flex onto your system drive if you do wish to do so. The Recovery Utility extension will erase all data on the USB you select to use as your bootable USB, so ensure that any files you wish to keep are saved elsewhere as anything left on the USB will be deleted by the tool.
In the Chrome Recovery Utility extension click “Get started” and then click “Select a model from the list” as this will let us manually select Chrome OS Flex. Under “Select a manufacturer” scroll down to and select “Google Chrome OS Flex” and under “Select a product” select “Chrome OS Flex (Developer-Unstable)”.
From here we can continue through the remainder of the menus, selecting our target USB drive and creating the bootable media on the USB. The progress bar can be a bit misleading when the drive is being written, so give it some time to go through the motions as it not only needs to download everything but then also write it to the USB itself.
You’ll know that the USB is ready when you get a message from the Recovery Utility saying that the process is complete. Now we’re done with that we can use it to boot into Chrome OS Flex. Plug the USB into the computer you wish to test out Chrome OS Flex on and boot to it from the boot devices menu.
So – lets go over to my computer and do just that.
A Look Around
I have noticed that Chrome OS Flex stays true to its current unstable name as I was unable to boot it at all on my desktop, but I did have more luck on my laptop. Booting from the USB, you’ll notice immediately that it has the Chrome branding, however elements of CloudReady are still present as can be seen on the initial onboarding screen.
Getting started is intuitive and straightforward, by following the on-screen instructions we can set our language settings as well as connect to a wireless network as well as set keyboard layout preferences.
When going through the initial setup screens, there’s the option to install Chrome OS Flex on your device – replacing the existing operating system, or to run it directly off the USB – I chose to do the latter as I am only planning to explore the OS rather than use it all the time.
I’ve not tried a Chrome OS device myself, however I imagine that this setup process is pretty much identical to what you would experience on a device such as a Chromebook – it’s very user friendly to go through and shouldn’t be intimidating for new users.
As we move through the setup, we begin to see more options appear at the bottom, as well as the opportunity to sign into a Google account through the main setup. I’m going to select “Browse as Guest” for the sake of this tutorial to quickly get into the OS itself.
The Chrome OS Flex user experience is extremely straightforward and is centred around the browser, with a few different apps and settings toggles in the shelf at the bottom. Browsing feels snappy, however this will be reflective of your hardware, and there are some nice user interface elements such as the shelf blur at the bottom. If you’re used to Chrome, you’ll feel right at home as Chrome OS Flex is the Chrome browser as an operating system.
The shelf features an omnibox search which ties into the OS itself as well as Google Search and has quick buttons to launch apps. The right of the shelf features a media playback shortcut as well as connectivity toggles and a notification area. There’s a few apps included out of the box, however I believe there may be future expansion to support Android apps as well, as seen on some Chrome OS devices – which will open up more opportunity for Chrome OS Flex users.
Window snapping is also supported, which I like a lot as macOS doesn’t support window snapping – which is frustrating at times! The files manager allows you to download files from websites, such as this image from richardtech.net and it allows me to open it up in an image viewer which has adjustment and annotation features.
Compared to when I looked at CloudReady a few years ago, which is still currently around if you’re looking for a more stable solution, it’s clear to see that Chrome OS has come on a long way with the introduction of Chrome OS Flex and it provides a very straightforward and approachable way to get online without much fuss.
I could imagine this becoming quite popular for everyday users when Windows devices start to lose Windows 10 update support in a few years who don’t want to buy a new computer.