This week, Google made a pretty monumental announcement in the form of Chrome OS Flex, but as most users will likely note, Chrome OS Flex bears some pretty striking resemblance to a product that has been in circulation for years at this point: Neverware’s CloudReady. Those same users will also likely note that Google acquired Neverware over a year ago at this point and the similarities between CloudReady and Chrome OS Flex are largely due to this move that happened in December of 2020.
For Google, then, the question becomes: “Why bother with this?” Why re-launch an already-working solution, rebrand it and make a big deal about its release? Well, the answer to that is actually pretty clear once you start looking at the two side-by-side. Chrome OS Flex – while sharing a great deal with CloudReady – is the next phase of Neverware’s cloud-based OS solution now that Google is on board and in control. There are plenty of things that are the same, but there are some key differences that make Chrome OS Flex a very big deal moving forward.
Benefits to Chrome OS Flex
Chrome OS Flex, like CloudReady, can be quickly installed on a USB drive with 8GB of space or more and can even run from there if you choose. Just like CloudReady, Chrome OS Flex can be fully installed on the device of your choosing with a single button on the lock screen. And also like CloudReady, you can write the OS image to your USB drive with any device that runs Chrome and it is free to use on individual devices as long as you wish.
But the similarities end there. Google says that all CloudReady users will automatically be upgraded to Chrome OS Flex as it leaves the Developer Channel and that the benefits will show up via the standard update process we already know and love with Chrome OS and CloudReady. When that happens, there will be some notable differences and upgrades across the board. Google lays them out on the official support page as follows:
- Official Chrome browser: Official Chrome browser, colors, and logo
- Update cycle: Updates match Chrome OS release cycles
- Google Assistant: Google Assistant is supported, same as on Chrome OS
- Geolocation: Geolocation accuracy, settings, and policies now match Chrome OS
- Family Link Accounts: Managed Family Link accounts can be created and used
- Connected Devices: Settings and integrations for connected devices like Smart Lock, Instant Tethering, and much more now work
- Nearby Sharing: Files and web pages can be shared with nearby devices
- Remote Desktop from Admin console: Remote control of managed devices is possible from the Admin console
- Licensing: Unlike the Education and Enterprise editions of CloudReady, Chrome OS Flex will not carry any standalone license cost.
- Serial numbers: Like Chromebooks, new Chrome OS Flex installs will use a device’s serial number as its primary unique identifier, if one is available and valid.
That’s a hefty list of improvements, but I want to discuss a few that will really make this new version of Chrome OS a more viable solution for not only IT admins, enterprise and education users, but for general consumers as well. The first and most notable of these changes is the fact that this is official, Google-certified Chrome OS with the full-blown Chrome browser. That means all your extensions, bookmarks and developer tools will work on this version of Chrome just as it would on any other Chromebook, PC or Mac.
As a related change, Chrome OS Flex is fully-legit Chrome OS, not Chromium OS like you get with CloudReady. That means users running Chrome OS Flex will be in-step with Chromebooks from a version standpoint, moving in-sync with Chrome OS releases instead of being a few versions behind as we’ve seen with CloudReady.
Because it is Chrome OS, that also means some niceties arrive like the ability to use managed Family Link setups, Nearby Sharing, Phone Hub, and Google Assistant to name a few. These additions across the board have become core parts of the Chrome OS experience, and in our early testing, they all work just as you’d expect on any other Chromebook.
Finally, Chrome OS Flex will work just like Chrome OS from a licensing and management standpoint. If you have a fleet of Chromebooks deployed in an enterprise or education setting, you’ll be able to add Chrome OS Flex devices with the same setup and tools you’d expect to use in the Google Admin Console. This is a big and notable departure from the way things were handled with CloudReady and should make Chrome OS Flex far easier to use in large numbers for many organizations.
Great for general consumers, too
The biggest difference I’m really marveling at right now, however, is how good this one-size-fits-most OS on a stick is working on random devices so far. It is so good, in fact, that I’m fully planning on keeping a Chrome OS Flex image on a USB drive in my backpack at all times in the event that I need to get something done and am stuck with only a friend or family member’s slow, aging PC. Not only could I use Chrome OS Flex to do my work, I could offer it up as a better option for the device’s owner, too, potentially freeing them of the old, slow OS they might be struggling with currently.
We all know that most laptop users are generally using the web for most of their tasks. The truth is Chrome OS is perfectly capable of doing 99% of what most users need from their device, but many don’t want to go buy a new Chromebook just to see if that is the case. With Chrome OS Flex, many users won’t have to do that at all. Instead, they can slap in the USB drive, take full-fledged Chrome OS for a test drive, and fully commit with their current hardware if they like what they see. It’s a bold move by Google, and one I think will benefit a lot of users out there for sure.