The year of Linux is upon us: welcome Chrome OS Flex, the best Valentine’s Day gift nobody talks about
I took the plunge and installed Chrome OS Flex on an MSI Stealth 15M with RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM and Intel Core i7-11375H for the Gang Gang team – consider for a moment that support for devices is still low, experiment at your own risk.
Anyone interested in Chrome culture should best celebrate this moment. A turning point indeed.
We’ve been expecting this for a while and of course we always knew CloudReady was here and what potential it had for the Chrome ecosystem, and certainly Google’s purchase of Neverware in December 2020 sealed the deal. We knew this was in the pipeline and for lack of better descriptive words, this moment could not have come sooner.
If you own a PC or Mac and are curious about the entire Chrome OS ecosystem, now is your time to delve in. Google Chrome OS Flex is an official operating system maintained by Google for the rest of us.
Google Chrome OS Flex is currently in active development with a select number of devices, but is no different than Chrome OS running natively on your Chromebook/Chromebox/Chromebase and more.
As my experience shows, it’s already been a lovely few hours typing this article into Chrome OS Flex.
Google Chrome OS Flex is best suited for those who want a secure and functional alternative to the system pre-installed on your hardware, with a familiar environment (Chrome browser) ready to use. So if you’re considering the switch and ready to flex your muscles, grab the USB and go.
Note: This article will be updated to reflect necessary changes over time.
Requirements and steps:
Prepare your space
Back up the data on your PC (very important)
Create a bootable USB drive with the Chromebook recovery utility
Make your system BiOS-enabled
Boot your system from a bootable USB
Install Chrome OS Flex
To be great!
Prepare your space
Get comfortable with your PC connected. Proceed to download the Chrome Recovery Utility from the Google Web Store. Once downloaded, insert your USB drive (8GB minimum) and make sure your data is backed up to USB and drive.
Prepare your system BIOS/UEFI
Power cycle your system. Depending on the manufacturer of your third-party Windows device, you may need to use the F2, F10, F12, or even the Delete key (like my MSI gaming laptop) while your system boots up. Your best bet is to google the actual keys for your specific system before trying.
Back up the data on your PC
Backing up your system before making any significant changes is the best practice. This ensures that in the event of a disaster, recovery is relatively painless. In this case, you want to fully back up your system if possible. Otherwise, perform a selective backup where you copy your most important documents to an external drive or upload them to cloud storage like Google Drive.
Create a bootable drive with the Chromebook recovery utility
This step requires downloading the Chromebook recovery utility, which you can search for and open from your Windows Start menu.
Open the Chrome recovery utility, select Google Chrome OS Flex from the list of devices and proceed to the next step by following the instructions to finally download the downloaded image and write it to your drive. The whole process took me about 15 minutes. Your mileage may of course vary.
Once the utility says it’s ready, reboot your system while your USB drive is still connected.
Install Chrome OS Flex
Installing ChromeOS Flex is a fairly easy and painless process. Assuming you’ve successfully completed the above steps, your system will boot from the USB drive you’ve plugged in and the screen will be adorned with the Chrome installer.
At this point we’re pretty good to start the installation. You can now follow the Chrome OS Flex installation prompt as shown in the images below.
Even better, you can try Chrome OS Flex just like I did before installing it. This can help dispel any doubts about possible compatibility issues with your hardware. If you are happy with Chrome OS Flex, you can proceed with the actual installation process on your computer.
This installer calculated an estimate of 20 minutes to complete, but it only took about 5 minutes. In this case, the fact that my system has an NVMe drive and generally well-rounded specs might have been a major contributor to speed.
To be great!
Now that your PC is finished and ready with Chrome OS Flex, it’s time to start your exploration. A few notable things I noticed.
- Don’t claim any perks; They’re still exclusive to Chrome OS devices.
- Chrome OS Flex recognizes your Caps Lock key, but (if you’ve been using Chromebooks for a while you don’t care) simultaneously pressing the Shift key with a letter is superior
- No Android app support yet
- The Windows start menu button works for the launcher
- There’s no wizard button or replacement, so you may have to trigger the wizard manually when you open the launcher
- Google Assistant doesn’t feel quite as polished or responsive compared to my Pixelbook right now (we can live with that given the OS’s current state).
- I’m not entirely sure about the dedicated GPU support as I currently have an RTX Nvidia 3060, but I’m not sure if it was used (I’ll have to report on that later).
- Linux container runs like a dream. My Linux apps are noticeably faster and more responsive
- My system is actually sleeping – I missed that as I originally left Windows for an Ubuntu-based OS and mostly lost that functionality, but now it’s back on Chrome OS Flex
- The battery isn’t the best on my system, in fact it’s even worse on Chrome OS Flex, but again, I can live with that, but you don’t really have it. On the plus side comes Adaptive Charging and who knows, it could very well extend the battery life of Chrome OS Flex systems that are experiencing the same issue. In general, gaming laptops don’t have great battery life, but you’ll likely get a better experience depending on what type of laptop you have
- Phone Hub works great with Chrome OS Flex
- My Chrome OS Flex version at the time of installation – CloudReady (reven, version 100.14516.0)
- Use the diagnostic tool to understand your system resource usage from what appears to be Google’s alternative to Windows Task Manager
- Still can’t use software like OBS that doesn’t run in Linux container environment
- I can’t use security apps like my VPN as it’s only available via the temporary workaround on the Play Store via the Chrome web browser.
- No Windows apps here, so don’t expect compatibility.
- You can find Linux alternatives for most of the productivity apps you use. First, use Google Docs to replace Microsoft Word.
- Google uses Chrome OS Flex interchangeably with CloudReady 2.0…this is more pronounced in the installer