Google has officially released ChromeOS Flex, a method of replacing the operating system on older PCs and Macs that essentially turns them into Chromebooks.
The idea is that if you have an aging Mac lying around that can’t run macOS 12 Monterey, then you can install ChromeOS Flex on it using a bootable USB stick and then try out what Google’s cloud-first operating system has to offer.
Google began testing ChromeOS Flex earlier this year with an early access preview. After having resolved 600 bugs since then, the company is encouraging individuals, schools, and businesses to download the software to “easily try modern computing with cloud-based management” while extending the lifespan of older devices, thereby reducing e-waste.
ChromeOS Flex is the result of Google’s 2020 purchase of Neverware, a company that offered an app called CloudReady that allows users to convert old PCs into ChromeOS machines.
The operating system is certified to work on over 400 devices, including Macs released after 2010 with 16GB of free storage. Use of OS Flex is free for individuals, but schools and businesses using CloudReady will continue to be charged a fee and subscription rate, respectively.
Google says ChromeOS Flex has the same look and feel as the ChromeOS shipped with every Chromebook, as it’s built on the same code base and includes Google Assistant, the Chrome browser, and Nearby Sharing. However, there’s no Google Play Store, and Google has outlined some other, mainly system-level limitations of OS Flex that distinguish it from ChromeOS on native Google devices.
If you’re not yet ready to install ChromeOS Flex on devices, you can temporarily run it using the USB installer. That way, you can test and verify that device functionality, such as networking and input tools, works as expected. For more help on the installation and configuration process, consult the ChromeOS Flex installation guide.