Google has started the early preview of Chrome OS Flex, a modified version of Chrome OS, that can be installed for free on any PC that was earlier running Windows, Linux or Mac OS.
Based on a software called Cloud Ready, which was acquired by Google through a buy out of its creator Neverware in 2020, the Chrome OS Flex is aimed at users who want to extend the life of their older Windows or Mac PC.
It can be installed with a USB drive in individual PCs or multiple devices in an organization through network deployment.
With this new version, Google is hoping to expand the user base of Chrome OS, which is currently available only through devices called Chromebooks launched by Google’s partner OEMs in the PC segment. According to Statcounter, the current market share of Chrome OS is just 2.6% as compared to Windows or Apple’s Mac OS X, which accounts for 75.5% and 15.85%, respectively, of the PC OS market share.
Chrome OS is a less resource-intensive operating system in comparison to Windows or Mac OS, as it doesn't allow the installation of third-party software. It can only run Chrome apps from Play Store and web-based processes. This also makes it faster and easier to operate. In Chromebook, the OS is typically optimized for the hardware. To ensure the Chrome OS Flex works seamlessly with a wider array of devices with different configurations, Google has released a list of models that have been certified as compatible with it.
Google has warned the current version of Chrome OS Flex is for early access which makes it still unstable. “Some models might not yet work at all, while others might have only minor issues. Even models with no issues are potentially unstable and should not be deployed for production,” Google warned in a help page.
The other caveat with the Chrome OS Flex is that it doesn’t support the verified boot procedure that is available on Chrome devices. Verified boot is powered by a Google security chip used in Chrome OS devices. To fill this gap, Microsoft has approved Chrome OS Flex to support Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Secure boot. Secure Boot is a security feature that secures the boot process from malware attacks.
The other features of Chrome OS that may not be available to Flex users is that it will not automatically manage and update the firmware. Also, devices that do not have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) will not be able to take advantage of the Chrome OS Flex’s ability to automatically protect encryption keys at the hardware level.