Google’s Chrome OS Flex turns any old laptop into a Chromebook

Made for aging Macs or PCs, Chrome OS Flex, released in early access could breathe new life into your old machines. Just be prepared for some bugs.

A Chromebook running Chrome OS.

We all probably have that one dying laptop that barely has enough juice to keep up with macOS Monterey or Windows 11. But instead of being dead weight, Google is giving us the option to convert them into Chromebooks with its new Chrome OS Flex.

Google just released the Chrome OS Flex in early access, which lets you install the operating system that you see on Chromebooks onto compatible PCs or Macs. Google is definitely targeting enterprise applications for this, so large companies and school systems can update their entire stock of old laptops into idiot-proof Chromebooks. This way, businesses and schools don’t have to buy new hardware to support the latest operating system, they can just convert their existing laptops with Chrome OS Flex instead.

This move comes a couple of years after Google acquired Neverware, which developed an operating system built on Chromium OS called CloudReady. Neverware’s program more or less served as the basis for Chrome OS Flex, which really just looks like a more polished and officially-supported version of CloudReady.

Old laptop, new OS — Google says that Chrome OS Flex will pretty much be identical to the existing Chrome OS, since they’re built on the same codebase. But unlike CloudReady, Chrome OS Flex will have Google Assistant, the Chrome browser, and Nearby Sharing baked right in.

Thomas Riedl, Google’s director of product, enterprise, and education, says in Google’s blog post that they’ve already been testing Chrome OS Flex with Google users and other large customers.

Since Chrome OS Flex is basically the existing Chrome OS, there will also be very little to mess up when using it. Google’s OS design features a very minimalistic and straightforward user interface and automatically runs security updates on a regular basis. And for enterprises or schools, you can quickly install Chrome OS Flex through USB or network deployment. Google did, unfortunately, note that Chrome OS Flex doesn’t currently support Android apps or the Google Play Store.

Bugs ahead — Google’s new OS is free to download on the Chrome OS Flex website, where you’ll also get installation instructions and see which devices are certified. You can even try Chrome OS Flex without installing it by booting directly from a USB drive and decide later if you actually want to commit. The OS is still in early access and Riedl says you should expect bugs, but that a stable version will be available in the coming months. Google is also planning to upgrade customers who are already using CloudReady to Chrome OS Flex for free, when the stable version is out.

Even though it feels like this new OS is aimed more towards businesses and schools, regular users can still take advantage of this and convert old laptops into something usable. It’s definitely a welcome way to squeeze a couple more years of use out of that old MacBook Air that’s just collecting dust.