Chrome OS

Google describes its new Chrome OS Flex as a “free and secure way” to install Google’s online OS on any Mac or PC. The target audience is schools and money-strapped businesses looking for “cloud-managed modern computing,” but it’s also quite attractive to regular users. Chrome OS Flex offers the same simple interface as on Chromebooks (excluding Android apps) with a wider library of web apps and Google extensions running the show.

Sounds crazy, but it’s not. Chrome OS Flex isn’t built for the performance of today’s silicon Apple Macs. Instead, it’s for the thousands of Macs and PCs that have piled up on shelves and tucked away in drawers that haven’t been turned on or updated for years. They are slow and clumsy, they lack space or memory, but they still have life. And Google wants to squeeze every last bit out of them.

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Like Mac and PC, Chrome OS never paid attention to specifications. Sure, you can get a Core i7-powered Chromebook with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, but the high-end specs are pretty much unnecessary. Chrome is designed to be a fast cloud OS that won’t bog down log and cache files. So Chrome OS Flex only requires 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, so any old Mac will do. Google says Chrome OS Flex can be installed in “a few minutes” and has already been tested on Macs. 2009 MacBook although in theory any model will work as long as the Mac has a working internet connection.

With Chrome OS Flex and iCloud, your old Mac can be a powerful device again.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted that it brings “the same speed, security and simplicity of Chrome OS to existing hardware”, which sounds like an awesome solution. Chrome OS Flex is perfect for an old Mac that can’t properly run the Big Sur or Monterey you want to give to a child or an elderly parent. Google apps are obviously in the spotlight, but you can also access your iCloud apps: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Drive, Notes, and Reminders, as well as Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

To get started, you can sign up for early access on the Chrome OS Flexible site. After you register and download the Chrome Recovery Extension Utility, Google will provide instructions on how to create a bootable USB drive with at least 8GB of storage that can be used to permanently install Chrome OS Flex on your Mac. (and can replace an already installed version of macOS), or to run directly from a USB drive. To boot from a disc on your Mac, hold down Command-R at startup, select Startup Security Utility, and select Allow booting from external or removable media. Then restart while holding down the Option key and select Chrome OS Flex Drive.

I’m a longtime Mac user, but I also have a Chromebook. Chrome OS is extremely lightweight compared to Windows and macOS, with most of the hard work done in the cloud. Loading takes seconds, applications open instantly, and there can be no talk of any slowdowns. While even the newest Macs can handle heavy workloads and update in half an hour or more, Chrome OS devices require very little maintenance or know-how. In short, they just work. And now your dusty old Mac too.

Michael Simon has been writing about Apple ever since the iPod became the iWalk. His obsession with technology dates back to his first PC, an IBM Thinkpad with a pop-up keyboard for disk replacement. He’s still waiting for this to come back in tbh style.

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