back to article Weird Flex, but OK: Now you can officially turn these PCs, Macs into Chromebooks

Google on Thursday officially released Chrome OS Flex, which aims to bring the web giant's mega-browser operating system to a wider range of systems. Flex was unveiled in February as a version of Chrome OS that could run on any modern-ish Intel or AMD (sorry, not Arm) processor. Since that debut, the number of devices …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, wait, what? Why again?

    Chrome OS, minus all of the things that would give you any reason to run it or any kind of support, plus a bunch of hassles and problems. Sounds like fun?

    Or if that is not your party, just load chrome (the browser) on top of a geriatric hardware friendly Unix and get a real functioning OS and the one thing that probably works in Flex. Or send the old warhorse off to pasture and just grab one of the million Chromebooks on their way to the landfill.

    Still, this project may yet get past the academic exercise phase who knows? And I am really in no position to throw stones, I once helped a fried hack together an OS on an old WinChip embedded system. We and an industry have some strange hobbies, when we aren't playing dwarf fortress.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: So, wait, what? Why again?

      Because it's there !

      It might find a use in kiosks ? Or reducing parental support calls. But chromebooks are so cheap you might as well buy one new

      Personally I buy old cheap chromebooks put Linux+xfce on and use them as nice laptops fro browsing

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: So, wait, what? Why again?

        This. Replace Google Linux with better Linux.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Because it's there!

        Always one of the best possible reasons. Because we can.

        Unless it causes cancer, in which case it is terrible.

        Whatever it's possible failings, Chrome Flex probably does not cause cancer.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Because it's there!

          Then it must cure it.

          Everything must either cause or cure cancer - the Daily Mail says so!

  2. Doctor Trousers

    I don't know why every headline about Flex talks about resurrecting old hardware, when the system requirements are comparable to those of any mainline version of any major Linux distro. In fact they're comparable to the sort of specs you could still fairly comfortably run Windows 10 on with a few graphic settings disabled.

    If the main talking point of an OS is its suitability for older hardware, then I expect system requirements along the lines of a lightweight distro like Lubuntu, Linux Lite etc.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Headlines

      Yeah, that's fair. FWIW we wanted our article to reflect the point and goals of Chrome OS Flex. It's for people who want to turn their stuff into Chromebooks in an easy, faff-free way, from what I can tell.

      C.

      1. PhilipN Silver badge

        Re: Headlines

        For those of us who over the years built their own office and home PC's and struggled endlessly with this OS or that - and who probably have too many computers at home* -

        "people who want to turn their stuff into Chromebooks in an easy, faff-free way"

        is exactly right.

        * Re-installed XP on one a couple of weeks ago, Why? 'Cos it's there. Idle, even though not that long ago it did everything I wanted. Mostly still does. Haven't turned it on since then,

      2. steelpillow Silver badge
        Joke

        for people who want to turn their stuff into Chromebooks in an easy, faff-free way

        What, both of them?

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      "talks about resurrecting old hardware"

      This. I read the requirement of a 64 bit processor and thought "that rules out any PC around here, then".

      Plus a load of stuff about what won't work, and honestly I'm simply wondering...why?

      1. sreynolds Silver badge

        I am pretty disjointed. Most of the problem is having to write a driver 5 times, once for the BIOS then for windows then for macos and then for linux and now flex. It would have been nice if flex had decided on something that addressed this problem as Intel has only been making the problem more and more acute and it pretty much turns the BIOS into a fully fledge OS.

      2. Doctor Trousers

        It's always worth pointing out that a machine that came with a 32-bit OS doesn't necessarily have a 32-bit CPU. I've seen so many technically literate people who assume they need to put a 32-bit Linux distro on their machine because it came with a 32-bit version of Windows.

        If it's new enough to have come with Windows 7, the CPU is most likely 64-bit capable. Probably likewise the majority of machines that came with Vista, and a sizeable number of machines from later on in the XP era. They came with a 32-bit OS because RAM was expensive then, basically. You may well know this already, but it's good to get it out there for the benefit of people browsing the comments.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          It's a Pentium 4 jobbie, and a CD with a 64 bit version of Linux tells me quite clearly that it's not going to start up on my ancient piece of crap. ;)

      3. jabuzz

        Most x86 machines since about 2007 are 64 bit. We are talking pre Core2 and some Atoms for 32 bit only, noting some Pentium4 are 64 bit. I do have an ancient Tecra 8200 which is Pentium3, not sure if it even powers on anymore and it's 20 years old.

      4. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Why?

        Maybe to test whether turning a (slightly shabby) silk purse into a sow's ear is Kosher?

    3. BitGin

      Think about 2025, it's not far away and in theory every Windows PC predating an 8th gen Core or 2nd gen Ryzen (which must number in the hundreds of millions) goes to landfill when updates for Windows 10 end.

      3 years to get some traction and polish behind Flex seems about right to me.

      Proper Linux distros require a certain level of expertise to run, ChromeOS is going to be manageable for any IT department that can manage to install Windows and usable by any user who can click things in Chrome.

      The question is whether they can round off some of those rough corners mentioned in the article and whether MS do something in response (like maybe a limited version of Windows 11 for older devices or simply turn a blind eye to people running 11 on unsupported hardware.)

      1. Doctor Trousers

        "manageable for any IT department that can manage to install Windows and usable by any user who can click things in Chrome"

        Like Linux Mint then?

        1. BitGin

          No not like Mint. You need to know how to be a linux admin to manage Mint (or any other proper Linux distro) especially if you're talking about an organisation with lots of users who all need to authenticate against a central directory.

          Do you seriously think a typical small, understaffed and underfunded IT department would automatically be willing or able to configure Mint to do that if its previous experience is Windows only?

          1. Doctor Trousers

            Genuine, non-rhetorical question: what makes administrating multiple chrome flex machines easier than adminstrating multiple linux mint machines?

            1. sten2012

              Central MDM functions out of the box I imagine and also user management/permissions through a central portal - nothing that can't be done in Linux, but requires much more forethought and hoops to jump through.

              I've only seen the education one, but imagine enterprise is similar - it really is very good and pretty simple

      2. navarac

        I don't see much difference in starting out with a new OS (Linux) than the average person flopping around the abomination that is Windows 11. Different for those that read this site, normal people get flustered by "anything" different!

    4. navarac

      I tried Flex on a Surface Pro 3 (2015) and it is more hobbled than a Chromebook. Better put Linux on it. I tried a number of Distros and MX, or Linux Mint ran better than the original Windows. I think Google had a good idea, but it is no good if the Play Store is disabled.

      1. BitGin

        They've got 3 years to get rid of some of those rough edges.

        I'm sure there are lots of situations where you're better off with proper Linux but I'm also sure that assuming MS don't budge on Win11's hardware requirements there will be more "obsolete" computers available than there is demand for proper linux so there is potential for something like flex.

        Whether Google can realise that potential is another matter.

      2. Doctor Trousers

        Exactly. If you're not giving us the ability to run Android apps, there's not a chance in hell I'm choosing it over Linux.

  3. VoiceOfTruth

    Specs

    -> You'll need a 64-bit processor, 4 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage

    -> Those specifications are enough to boot, say, a lightweight Linux distro

    I should hope so. Such specs when I started out using Linux back in the day were reserved for the Sun machines we had. 9GB drives were expensive back then, and 4GB of RAM. Well...

    What has happened that we now need 4GB of RAM for a lightweight distro?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Specs

      You don't need it for a lightweight Linux distro, but since everything in Chrome OS runs through Chrome, you will need it. When you implement lots of system behavior in JS and keep several sandboxes around because there's no real privilege system going on, it uses up memory a lot more than a normal system would. 4 GB of RAM is enough for basically every operating system, including Windows 10 or 11. To earn the label, a lightweight system should be able to run in significantly less.

      1. carl0s

        Re: Specs

        4gb used to be enough, and should be enough, but it ain't, not in the Microsoft world.

        Ever since Teams popped itself onto everyone's computers (well, everyone with a 365 sub that includes office desktop apps), 4gb is no longer enough.

        I routinely shove extra 4gb sticks into PCs as I come across them now.

    2. Doctor Trousers

      Re: Specs

      I would still maintain that if it needs 4GB of RAM, it's just not a lightweight distro, in fact it's not even comparable to a lightweight distro, even by 2022 standards. I'm pretty sure even the mainline version of Linux Mint still sets its minimum requirements as 2GB, but recommends 4GB to run comfortably.

      The most mainstream lightweight distros, like Lubuntu, have a minimum requirement of 1GB, and some of the more specialised ones require even less.

      I get that the attraction of Flex is the perceived lack of faff, but that's just it, 'perceived' lack of faff. I highly doubt that it's actually less faff than Linux Mint or Ubuntu to install. Linux generally doesn't come with a disclaimer that it might not work properly if your machine isn't on the list of approved devices either.

      People perceive Windows as being less faff than Linux too, and they are incredibly wrong about that. I don't think we should encourage the perception that Google branding equals more reliability and less faff than a well established Linux distro.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Specs

      "What has happened that we now need 4GB of RAM for a lightweight distro?"

      Memory is cheap, I guess.

      My phone goes into panic mode if there's less than half a gigabyte of free storage. And the amount of space consumed by apps is ridiculous. That, plus I just noticed Google Photos had over 800 megabytes of cache. How the hell can it's resource allocation be that bad?!

      As a person who grew up in the eighties with around 20 kilobytes to play with, where every byte mattered, this sort of thing breaks my heart.

  4. ecofeco Silver badge

    But...

    Why?

    Just, why?

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: But...

      So one can properly appreciate the delight of replacing Flex with a proper Linux.

  5. sreynolds Silver badge

    I am waiting for the Mint OS version of FLEX....

    The one that stops all the google apps and telemetry from working.

  6. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

    I tested Flex beta on my old 2012 Mac Mini and it worked fine.

    Yeah, it's a Mac Mini Server, so it's rocking a chunky i7 with 16GB of RAM on an SSD, but it's 10 year old hardware and ran fine.

    Still not sure why it exists though, when Linux Mint runs well on the same hardware and offers more scope.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      "Yeah, it's a Mac Mini Server, so it's rocking a chunky i7 with 16GB of RAM on an SSD, but it's 10 year old hardware and ran fine."

      I challenge you to find some OS that doesn't work fine on that. A decade-old I7 is still pretty good, and the other specs are exactly what you need. If it agrees to install on the machine, it will probably work fine. Sure, neither modern Mac OS (after 10.15) nor Windows 11 have installers that agree to install it, but if you bypass those restrictions, it will still run fine. Unless it breaks, that system has years of life ahead.

  7. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
    WTF?

    Wait... what? Now you can officially turn Macs into Chromebooks!?!

    Not a Mac user, but why would anyone with a Macbook want to turn it into a Chromebook?

    Surely that's ditching all the major reasons for buying a Macbook. If you want a Chromebook you don't buy a Macbook then dump the OS. You just buy a damn Chromebook.

    Sometimes I really don't understand this planet...

    1. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

      Re: Wait... what? Now you can officially turn Macs into Chromebooks!?!

      I guess if you have a Pre-2014 MacBook that doesn't get updates anymore, Chrome OS is a slightly more secure alternative.

      Or you could buy a new Chromebook...

      1. Martin
        Happy

        Re: Wait... what? Now you can officially turn Macs into Chromebooks!?!

        Particularly when you see the amount you can get on eBay for your Pre-2014 MacBook...you might well end up in profit !

    2. bikernutz

      Re: Wait... what? Now you can officially turn Macs into Chromebooks!?!

      We are hosting a Ukrainian family of 7! The mum has a Mac Book Pro only about 2 years old.

      It has Windows 10 installed via boot camp and set as the default. When asked to find out if there was a way to get a non working keyboard functioning, as I looked at it I asked the mother why was it running Windows 10 as the default not Mac OS. Her reply was, What is Mac OS, I dont understand what you ask. It has Microsoft Windows on it like all laptops have.

      So it appears to be easily possible that Mac users/buyers might want something else. Her Mac did straight from where ever they bought it as new!

      Luckily menu items are all in the same place so I could easily add English as a Locale and use the onscreen keyboard. A pain to use but still functional until the trip to a mac repair workshop.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wait... what? Now you can officially turn Macs into Chromebooks!?!

        > So it appears to be easily possible that Mac users/buyers might want something else. Her Mac did straight from where ever they bought it as new!

        Alternatively it was sold to her as a Windows machine by the fence who takes in stolen MacBooks and puts Windows on them so they can't report home to Apple that they've been stolen.

  8. dajames Silver badge

    4GB Ram?

    I have an old computer I'd like to try Flex on ... it's an old Chromebook -- now long out of support -- as it happens. Flex could be a useful security update for that.

    Trouble is: It only has 2GB of RAM. Can Flex really require twice as much as 'proper' ChromeOS?

    1. jabuzz

      Re: 4GB Ram?

      An in support Chromebook will have 4GB of RAM. That said the beta would happily install on 2GB of RAM.

  9. thondwe

    Think of the Children

    Schools use Chromebooks - certainly in a lot of Wales anyway, so dusting of an old laptop and putting Flex on it is a use case. Or being able to buy a Windows laptop, run it as a Chromebook and then push it to Windows/Linux as the kids need change?

    What annoys is the lack of an ISO to install in your hypervisor of choice - same use case - school chrome, but without tying up a piece of tin?

  10. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
    Windows

    If we're talking about resurrecting old hardware, how about some of those Chromebooks I bought a year or two ago for family that are basically now just partially functional bricks that don't get updates any more?

    ...cicadas chirp, tumbleweeds...

    Nope, thought not.

  11. Julian 8

    arrggh

    I only got rid of an old netbook device earlier this year when I moved. Got rid of it as even the lightweight linux distro's were not great and decided it was time to "clear out" along with an old Macbook pro.

    Pity, both of those may have had another life with this

  12. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Chromebook -> Linux -> Chromebook Flex?

    Can you put Chromebook Flex on a Chromebook in order to bypass the auto-update expiry date?

  13. Doctor Trousers

    There was a thing called project croissant, formerly known as chromify, that could turn some chromium OS builds into full, official chrome OS, including android app support. Anyone know if this still works with flex?

  14. Mostly Irrelevant

    "Flex does not support Android apps or Google Play."

    This is a real feature removal, with little reason for it's existence other than to make these devices worse.

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