we analyze the system to recover PCs

Google dominates with Android the global mobile ecosystem, but also intends to further strengthen its position on computer desktops. Chrome OS Flex is the next step as an operating system that will allows you to bring the capabilities of Chromebooks to any Windows or Mac PC.

It has long been possible to install Chrome OS on a personal computer through third-party tools, but Google only officially supported it in its ecosystem with the licenses it gives to its partners for devices such as Chromebooks. Since Google acquired Neverware (the company responsible for the CloudReady software that allowed Chrome OS to be installed on other PCs), a new path has opened up for the Internet giant to extend its position in PCs.

Along that path has come Chrome OS Flex, a pleasant surprise that enhances the value of CloudReady as a native operating system, with the addition of key features and especially with official support from Google. The system is aimed especially at business sectors and schools that want to recover and maintain older computers, but can be used by any user free of charge.

Like the Chrome OS we know, it is based on the open source project Chromium OS, with its Linux kernel, web browser, software of all kinds and native Google Apps. It is still in beta and is not recommended for production environments, but it points in good ways and Google promises a reliable final version and the same support as that offered by Chrome OS, with version, quality and security updates.

Chrome OS Flex, requirements

As mentioned above, its focus on older PCs is met with a few extremely minimal requirements for current standards.

  • Intel or AMD x86 or 64-bit CPUs
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 16 GB storage space
  • BIOS that supports booting from a USB device

In fact, Google assures that the system will run correctly in almost any computer manufactured after 2010 and even earlier, although some of its components such as older integrated GPUs will not meet performance standards.

Chrome OS Flex

How to create a media for Chrome OS Flex

The system can be installed on the internal storage of a PC (hard disk or SSD) like any other Linux or Windows and can also be used as a “Live-USB” without affecting the system you have installed. In both cases we need to create an installation media USB stick with at least 8 Gbytes of capacity. From there, Google offers everything you need to create it from a Windows, Mac or Linux computer. Let’s go step by step:

  • Open the Chrome Web Store in the Chrome browser and install the Chromebook recovery tool.

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  • After adding the extension to the browser, run it to launch a utility that will allow us to create a bootable Chrome OS Flex USB drive.

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  • When you start the recovery setup process, the utility will ask you to identify your Chromebook. Click Select a model from a list and select  “Google Chrome OS Flex”.

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  • Another drop-down list will appear allowing you to select the version of the operating system you wish to install. At this time, only the Developer-Unstable version is available.

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  • Finally, it will ask you to select the USB device where you want to store the image and will start the process of downloading and creating the image.

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The time of the process will depend on your Internet connection speed and your computer hardware. In our case it is completed in very few minutes using a USB 3.2 flash drive. We recommend you use the highest performance media you have and connect it to the most advanced version of the port of the computer you are testing it on to get the best possible performance.

Installing Chrome OS Flex

We have tested the system on a couple of laptops, one with current hardware where we have used the  “Live” format and another older one where we have installed the system to check if it is really a  “PC recovery” as promised by Google. The first step in both requires going to the BIOS/UEFI to set the created media as the first boot drive. If you don’t know how to do it you can check this hotkey practice.

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 “Live USB”

It is a tremendously practical and simple software execution method since it does not require installation. In addition, it does not modify partitions, files, data or configuration of the operating system installed on the machine, so it does not require installation is an ideal choice for software testing be it systems or applications, virus media or rescue and maintenance disks.

Running Chrome OS Flex in this way is trivial. Once the BIOS change has been made, the PC will boot from the USB and it only remains to follow the instructions of the installer to run it from there. It must be said that compared to other media of its kind, This one uses persistent storagethat is, it saves the account and settings you have configured so that the next time you start the same media you don’t have to repeat them again. It can also store the files you create/save.

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Not all are advantages with this method as we will see later when discussing the user experience and performance is always inferior to a standard installation or the use of virtual machines, even if for the test we use fast connection ports and a high-end laptop ASUS TUF of 2021.

Installation

Since the real purpose of the test was to assess the Flex capability of recover and maintain older PCswe have installed it on a 2012 HP ENVY with a lot of production battle behind it. With a dual-core processor and 4 Gbytes of RAM it is incompatible with Windows 11 and runs Windows 10 and even a standard Linux like Ubuntu. It is a good candidate to test this system which is still a “light Linux”.

Installation is similar to installing any other system. If you use a fast USB drive, the Chrome OS Flex setup screen should load in a few seconds. We change the language and keyboard to Spanish (it has options for Spain and Latin America) and optionally activate ChromeVox, Chrome OS’s built-in screen reader.

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You can also connect at that time to the Wi-Fi network if you are not using Ethernet and manage Bluetooth, accessibility options, screen brightness or sound. It should be noted that the installer of the Chrome OS Flex installer recognizes the hardware of your computer right out of the boxand also the hotkeys for screen brightness and multimedia of the laptop where we are testing it.

The installer will ask you if you want to install the system on the internal storage drive or run it from the USB device. If you install it as we do in the test, it will overwrite all the data on the computer.

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After managing Internet connectivity and approving the terms of service, we can configure the usage profile, work or personal account or other if it will be used by the youngest members of the household. We start with our Google account, we complete the two-step activation and activate (optional) the Google Assistant.

The installation is completed in just 5 minutes. It should be noted that the original hard disk of the laptop was replaced by an SSD and this makes the task easier.

Usage experience

Although it was not our main goal, to comment that the direct execution on the USB has not been as satisfactory as we expected. Google itself warns of the limitations in performance (and storage) if we use this method. We have tested with a second flash drive also with 3.2 interface and the performance has improved slightly, but not to the desired degree. For a simple test and take a look at the system you can use it, but not for continuous use.

Quite the opposite has happened when installing the system. It is very fast at startup and in running applications despite having only 4 Gbytes of RAM. In addition, it perfectly recognizes the system hardware, the Internet connection via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and peripherals that we connect additionally as a Logitech mouse.

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Otherwise, Flex is a Chrome OS with the advantages of simplicity, ease of use, administration or security that we know and the basic functionality and features that Google offers on Chromebooks, but without having to purchase a dedicated machine and with official support from Google which guarantees that we will have version, quality and security updates in the future.

Like Chrome OS, Flex is derived from the open source project Chromium OS based on the linux kernel and the Chrome web browser. From there, Google adds software of all kinds with prominence for native Google Apps, the ability to run progressive web apps, the native ones available in the Chrome Web Store and the thousands available from Android once the Play Store is officially supported. Today, potentially any Android app can run on Chrome OS and Flex.

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Google has also started to support Linux apps on some Chromebooks and the upcoming arrival of Steam on Chrome OS promises to cover the big games beyond the Stadia cloud platform, although we will need equipment with higher performance than the one we have used for Flex. We can also run desktop applications such as the great image editor Gimp in the cloud via rollApp, the Creative Cloud graphics suite (Project Photoshop Streaming) or even the Office suite after a resounding agreement with Microsoft.

Reviewing the interface, if you have not used Chrome OS for some time you will be surprised by the enormous progress from the beginnings of a development by and for the cloud and without typical elements of a desktop. On the basis of the hardware-accelerated graphics environment  “Aura”, Google has completed an interface that without losing its simplicity and ease of use does not detract from a Windows or macOS and offers all the components of a modern desktop such as multiple desktops, taskbar, animated transitions, status bar for each of the open applications, desktop backgrounds, overlapping windows with the possibility of maximization or resizing and many more.

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As for internal tools and as expected, highlights the ability to synchronize with Android phones that even serve as a method of use to authenticate on the PC, while the function Near Share can be used to transfer files between Android devices and Chrome OS or Chromebook to Chromebook.

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There is no lack of a file manager, media player, notification system, Wi-Fi synchronization, parental controls or a general configuration as simple as usual in which Chrome OS has excelled since its inception as well as the management and administration of equipment for the education sector and businesses.

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Of course, the entire system is mounted around the google software ecosystem starting with the Chrome browser, followed by the Docs office suite and its word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications, and continuing with other great applications such as Gmail, Maps or YouTube. If you use the Google ecosystem you will be delighted and in any case the system offers the use of other alternatives. Even the Microsoft Office suite.

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Concluding We liked this Chrome OS Flex (very much). It is perfect for web browsing, multimedia playback and basic office, while other uses such as editing or gaming will require a higher hardware configuration.

A Chrome OS  “for the masses”, which looks, feels and works the same way the system does when pre-installed on a Chromebook. It works really well on older hardware and that opens up the field to millions of machines that originally ran on Windows.

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It is still in beta and we do not know how far Google wants to take it in its goal of conquering higher levels in computer desktops. So far it has been the only ‘Linux’ capable of surpassing Windows in some markets and it is still in beta Flex goes one step furtherwith the ability to be installed on any PC and as a real alternative to Windows and macOS.

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