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Google’s Chrome OS Flex can turn your old laptop into a Chromebook

In late 2020, Google bought the company Neverware, which had made a name for itself thanks to a product called CloudReady that let individual users or large organizations turn old Windows PCs and Macs into Chrome OS devices. The idea was that if you had aging hardware that wasn’t running Windows or macOS as well as it used to, you could get more life out of it by using it as a Chromebook. CloudReady continued to be available after Google bought Neverware, but today we’re getting our first look at an updated version of the product that’s been in the works for the last year or so.

It’s called Chrome OS Flex, and it’s a rebuilt version of CloudReady that was built internally with access to all of Google’s code and resources. The idea behind Chrome OS Flex is the same: you can visit a website, quickly make a Chrome OS image on a USB drive, and then run that on a PC or Mac. If you decide that you’re ready to wipe the computer, you can then replace the existing OS with Chrome OS and use the computer as a full-fledged Chromebook. 

Anyone can try Chrome OS Flex today, but Google is positioning the product more towards businesses and education institutions — something that the company already focuses on with Chrome OS more broadly. As such, one of the big benefits of Chrome OS Flex is that IT departments can manage the devices just like any other Chrome OS hardware. Flex can be deployed over a network to multiple devices, and IT departments can manage everything through Google’s Admin console. Once Flex is installed, those devices can be managed in the same way any other Chrome OS hardware is, so IT departments can deploy specific software installs or permissions. 

Chrome OS Flex is also more capable than the CloudReady product it will eventually replace. It uses the same code base as Chrome OS, and Flex devices will get software updates simultaneously (before, Neverware had to wait for Google to push out a Chrome OS update and then make it work with CloudReady). Flex also has access to the Google Assistant, a feature built into most popular Chromebooks these days and something CloudReady didn’t offer before.

While Google is focusing Flex on businesses and education, anyone can try it. You just need to visit this site to create a bootable Chrome OS Flex instance on a USB drive and go from there. As this is early access software, though, you’ll probably want to do it on a computer that isn’t your main device. Google’s making the process of creating a bootable drive built right into the Chrome browser, too — the Chromebook Recovery Utility extension already lets you make Chrome OS recovery media, and now a Flex install will be one of the available options. 

One thing Google is being clear about is that this Chrome OS Flex launch is an “early access” product. They want people to try it and give feedback, but are noting that there may be bugs that still need to be squashed. A full, final release of Chrome OS Flex is planned for Q2 this year. For now, Google will continue offering the stable version of CloudReady; once Chrome OS Flex is final, CloudReady users will be transitioned over to Flex.

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