Google Unveils Chrome OS Flex for Older PC and Mac Computers

Google has announced a free software tool Chrome OS Flex that can give a “second life” to many outdated computers.

Everyone probably has that one dying laptop that barely has enough juice to keep up with macOS Monterey or Windows 11. But instead of being dead weight, Google is giving us the option to convert them into Chromebooks with its new Chrome OS Flex.

Google today announced Chrome OS Flex, an effort mainly aimed at schools and businesses, that allows a version of Chrome OS to be installed on older Macs and PCs.

Google is definitely targeting enterprise applications for this, so large companies and school systems can update their entire stock of old laptops into idiot-proof Chromebooks. This way, businesses and schools don’t have to buy new hardware to support the latest operating system, they can just convert their existing laptops with Chrome OS Flex instead.

While Chrome OS Flex has the same code base and release cadence as Chrome OS, one of the key differences between the two is that the former won’t be able to access Google Play Store. In other words, Chrome OS Flex computers won’t be able to run Android apps.

The Chrome OS Flex is essentially a rejuvenation of the CloudReady, a Chrome OS-based operating system owned by a company called Neverware. Google ended up buying Neverware back in 2020 to bolster its presence in the desktop OS market.

For those looking forward to trying Google’s new operating system, Chrome OS Flex is now available in preview. The company has confirmed that it’ll release the stable version sometime in the second quarter of 2022. And if you’re already using CloudReady, you’ll get an option to update to Chrome OS Flex once Google releases the stable version of the OS.

Requirements to install Chrome OS Flex are below:

  • Windows, Mac, or Linux device to install Chrome OS Flex on—your target device
    • Google only guarantees Chrome OS Flex functionality on certified models.
    • Variants of certified models might have unexpected issues.
    • Chrome OS Flex might work on non-certified devices but performance, functionality, and stability are not guaranteed.
    • Minimum device requirements:
      • Architecture: Intel or AMD x86-64-bit compatible device
      • RAM: 4 GB
      • Internal storage: 16 GB
      • Bootable from USB drive
      • BIOS: Full administrator access. You’ll need to boot from the Chrome OS Flex USB installer and make some adjustments in the BIOS if you run into issues.
      • Processor and graphics: Components made before 2010 might result in a poor experience.
        Note: Intel GMA 500, 600, 3600, and 3650 graphics hardware do not meet Chrome OS Flex performance standards.

According to Google, the following Apple Mac computers can use Chrome OS Flex–note that only the Apple MacBook Pro 9.2 (MacBook Pro 13-inch, Mid 2012) is “verified to work” without minor issues:

Model Name Current Status
Apple iMac 11.2 "" Minor issues expected
Apple iMac 12.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple iMac 9.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Mac Mini 7.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Macbook 5.2 "" Minor issues expected
Apple MacBook 6.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Macbook 7.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Macbook Air 5.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple MacBook Air 6.1 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Macbook Pro 5.5 "" Minor issues expected
Apple Macbook Pro 9.2 "" Verified to work

The development comes after Google acquired Neverware in 2020, a company that enabled loading Chrome OS on old devices with its CloudReady software. While there were whispers about Google integrating it directly into Chrome OS, the new announcement means the company has branched it off into its own product.