Most Mac users wouldn’t dream of replacing macOS with anything other than the latest update, but Google at least wants you to consider another option: Chrome OS.
Google describes its new Chrome OS Flex as a “free and sustainable way” to install Google’s operating system online on any Mac or PC. The target audience is cash-strapped schools and companies looking for “modern computing with cloud-based management,” but that is also very attractive to regular users. Chrome OS Flex offers the same fun interface you’d find on a file on a Chromebook (except for Android apps) with Google’s extensive library of web apps and extensions that play the show.
It sounds crazy, but it isn’t. Chrome OS Flex isn’t built for the performance of today’s Apple Silicon Mac devices. Instead, it’s collecting dust on shelves for thousands of Macs and PCs and tucked away in drawers that haven’t been turned on or updated in years. It’s slow and stale with not enough space or memory but still has some life left in it. And Google wants to squeeze every last bit out of them.
Chrome OS has never really cared about the specs of the way Macs and PCs work. Sure you can get a Core i7 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-based operating system that is not to be confused with log files and caches. As such, Chrome OS Flex only requires 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, so any old Mac will do the trick. Google says Chrome OS Flex can be installed in ‘a few minutes’ and was tested on Macs at the beginning of the year MacBook 2009, though basically any recent model will work as long as your Mac has having internet connection.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted that it brings “the same speed, security and simplicity of Chrome OS to existing devices”, and it sounds like a great solution. Chrome OS Flex is perfect for an older Mac that can’t properly run Big Sur or Monterey which you might want to give to a child or elderly parent. Google apps are clearly the focus, but you can still access iCloud apps: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Drive, Notes and Reminders, plus Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
To get started, you can register for early access to the Chrome OS Flex website. After registering and uploading the file Chrome Recovery Extension Tool Google will provide instructions to create bootable drive on USB drive with at least 8GB storage which can be used either to permanently install Chrome OS Flex on your Mac Can be done (and replace the version of macOS that is already there) or run it. Directly from USB Drive. To boot from the drive on your Mac, hold Command-R at startup and select startup protection toolchoose more Allow booting from external or removable media, Then restart while holding down the Option key and select Chrome OS Flex Drive.
I’m a long time Mac user but I also have a Chromebook. Chrome OS is much lighter than Windows and macOS, with most of the heavy lifting done in the cloud. Booting up takes seconds, apps open in a jiffy, and there’s no slowdown at all. Where even the latest Macs can struggle under heavy loads and take half an hour or more to update, Chrome OS machines require little maintenance or knowledge. In short, they just work. And now, your old Mac will work too.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple ever since the iPod iWalk was there. His passion for technology stems from his first computer – the IBM ThinkPad with a liftable keyboard for drive swap. Still waiting for her to get back in style tbh.