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Google says you can now turn these 400 Macs, PCs

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Google Chrome OS Flex. Enlarge / Google Chrome OS Flex.

Google today announced in a blog post that ChromeOS Flex, a version of its Chromebook operating system suitable for most hardware, has moved from early access to general availability. It also said it certified “over 400” devices, including systems from Apple, Dell, and HP, to run the OS smoothly and stably.

Google announced ChromeOS Flex in February, building upon its 2020 acquisition of CloudReady (CloudReady becomes ChromeOS Flex now that the latter is stable). Cloud OS Flex is downloadable to a USB drive for free, allowing you to install it on a Mac or Windows PC.

The most obvious use for ChromeOS Flex is to bring new life to a dated machine that may be too old to get software updates for its native OS. Our ChromeOS Flex beta review found the OS to be an interesting alternative for people content with doing most of their computing in a browser and for getting a budget-level Chromebook experience from an 8-to 9-year-old system.

In his blog post today, Thomas Riedl, director of Product, Enterprise and Education at Google, also highlighted enterprise potential for ChromeOS Flex, detailing 200 Nordic Choice hotels that reportedly used ChromeOS Flex to restore 2,000 computers in about two days after a ransomware attack.

In his blog, Riedl claimed that Google used ChromeOS Flex’s early access period to resolve “over 600 issues” and that the company will continue to certify more devices to run the OS. He said the hundreds devices already certified—including the Apple Mac Mini 7,1; Apple MacBook 7,1; Apple MacBook Air 5,1; and 1st Gen Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon—will provide a “consistent and high-quality experience” while running ChromeOS Flex.

You can still install ChromeOS Flex on a device Google hasn’t certified, assuming it meets the minimum requirements (Arm chips, for example, aren’t supported), but, according to Google, the machine has to be certified for the following functions to be Google-guaranteed:

  • System UI and graphics
  • Installation
  • Wi-Fi
  • Ethernet
  • Internal display (if applicable)
  • At least one method each of audio input and output
  • Sleep and resume
  • Touchpad
  • Keyboard
  • USB
  • Non-infrared (IR) webcam (if applicable)

Even with ChromeOS Flex certification, however, there are some functions that Google says it tested but are “not necessarily guaranteed to work on every certified model.” They are:

  • Bluetooth
  • Touchscreen
  • Automatic screen rotation
  • Keyboard shortcuts and function keys
  • SD card slots

And there are numerous features and ports that Google says aren’t tested or supported on ChromeOS Flex at all, including fingerprint readers, optical drivers, IR webcams, proprietary connectors, stylus input, and Thunderbolt functionality.

In general, a non-Chromebook running ChromeOS Flex may not have lesser performance, including boot speed, battery life, and power savings, as a machine running ChromeOS, according to Google.

ChromeOS Flex’s certified devices list shows a broad range, but for those used to a different operating system, the transition won’t necessarily be seamless. Still, it remains a viable option for those who would rather have a low-power, makeshift Chromebook than more e-waste.

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