Google reveals Chrome OS Flex for PCs and Macs, based on CloudReady OS
Even though Chrome OS is only intended to be used on Chromebooks, there have been many projects over the years that aimed to bring the operating system to traditional PCs. One example is CloudReady OS, a fork of Chromium OS by Neverware primarily aimed at schools and businesses that wanted an updated software experience for their existing PCs. Neverware was acquired by Google in late 2020, and now Google is turning CloudReady OS into “Chrome OS Flex.”
Google announced in a blog post on Tuesday, “to help even more organizations adopt a modern computing solution, Google acquired Neverware in 2020. As the developers of CloudReady, an operating system built on Chromium OS, they’ve helped countless businesses and schools modernize PCs and Macs including Nordic Choice Hotels, ABN AMRO, and MyGate. Since then, we have been hard at work integrating the benefits of CloudReady into a new version of Chrome OS.”
Just like the original CloudReady product, Chrome OS Flex is a modified version of Chrome OS that can be installed on most PCs and Macs, with the same interface you would get on a Chromebook. Google says Chrome OS Flex has “the same code base and release cadence as Chrome OS,” and computers running Flex can be remotely managed just like Chromebooks — an important selling point to schools and businesses. Chrome OS Flex also includes Google Assistant, support for Family Link accounts, Smart Lock, Instant Tethering, and Nearby Sharing.
Google pointed out some of the differences between Chrome OS Flex and CloudReady in a new support article. CloudReady Home Edition (which is available as free download) allows command line access and the option to disable rootFS verification, but neither of these features are present in Chrome OS Flex. However, you will apparently be able to use the same Linux VM available on standard Chromebooks. One section in the support page says “future improvements are planned to allow users to optionally re-enable these dev-mode style features,” while the same article says “Linux environment can be installed if allowed by admin policy,” so it’s not clear if that functionality is ready yet. Google is also replacing all previous editions of CloudReady with a single downloadable image.
There are still a few important differences between Chrome OS and Chrome OS Flex. Google says in another support page that Android app support and Parallels Desktop are missing, and secure boot isn’t as robust as on real Chromebooks. Google also isn’t supporting ARM PCs yet, so machines like the Surface Pro X and 2021 MacBook Pro can’t boot Chrome OS Flex.
Google is testing Chrome OS Flex with some “large customers” and internal employees, and once it’s ready for prime time, CloudReady devices will be updated to Chrome OS Flex automatically. The company has not confirmed if it will allow normal people to download and install Chrome OS Flex on their own computers, or if access will be restricted to administrators (Update: Google has confirmed to XDA Developers that Chrome OS Flex will be available for personal use).