Google Touts ChromeOS Flex as Free Solution to Extend Life of Old Hardware

Google's ChromeOS Flex operating system can help organizations stave off trashing their old hardware, the company suggested in a recent blog post.

ChromeOS Flex is a free OS that's capable of running on machines designed to run Windows, various Linux distros and macOS. Windows 10 will fall out of support on Oct. 14, 2025, and many of these Windows 10 machines won't be able to upgrade to Windows 11, due to that operating system's stringent processor requirements. Google pointed to research by Canalys indicating that hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs may become e-waste because they are unviable upgrade candidates. ChromeOS Flex can run on aging Apple macOS machines, as well.

ChromeOS Flex Perks

On the plus side, ChromeOS Flex promises the following perks for organizations:

  • It's free to use and runs on "existing hardware" with some caveats.
  • It requires less energy to run ("19% less energy on average than other comparable operating systems").
  • It works with "third-party solutions" from solution partners validated by Google.
  • It works with "legacy Windows and productivity applications" via virtual app delivery.
  • It can be tested using a USB thumb drive before installation.
  • Google handles all of the updates in the background, and no antivirus software is needed.
  • ChromeOS Flex "has never had a successful reported ransomware attack."

Potential Drawbacks

Google conducts a certification process with older hardware on running ChromeOS Flex. Organizations likely would be advised to follow the guidance in the ChromeOS Flex Certified Models List to see if they can successfully run ChromeOS Flex on their old machines.

Moreover, the ChromeOS Flex OS has end-of-support dates on these machines, which some older devices may be approaching. As reported by a ZDNet article, not all devices are good candidates for ChromeOS Flex upgrades.

Another possible drawback is that not all hardware functions will be supported after a ChromeOS Flex upgrade. For instance, things like CD and DVD drives, fingerprint readers and face recognition cameras, and digital pens aren't assured to be supported, according to this Google support document. A key drawback may be that OS "rollback is currently unsupported on ChromeOS Flex" should the OS get installed.

Moreover, although ChromeOS Flex can run validated third-party solutions, there's no Google Play store or Android apps support. There doesn't seem to be a published list of apps that can run on ChromeOS Flex.

If organizations need support for verified boot using a Google security chip, Trusted Platform Module encryption, and automated firmware updates, then they won't get it with ChromeOS Flex. They could instead get that support using ChromeOS, Google explained, in its support document.

Management License Required

ChromeOS Flex isn't new, as it first appeared as a stable release in July 2022, according to Peter Freudenberger, a customer engineer for Chrome Enterprise, in this Google video. He indicated that ChromeOS Flex is mostly free for organizations, but just requires having a management license.

Google provides more than 500 management policies for the OS, which get managed using the Google Admin Console. ChromeOS Flex can have as much as 10 years of support from Google, depending on the device.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.