Chrome OS Flex: a threat to Linux?

We all want be up to date. who would not like to have the newest model from your TV, phone, game console, tablet or computer. But that has a price. The average life of these devices is usually greater than launch of new models. But those who prefer to continue with the old model are sometimes forced to change. Google wants to change this with Chrome OS Flex. How will it affect Linux?

Updating an application or an operating system is no secret. The process today is fast and simple. And most of the time it's free. But with the device itself it is not the same. You have to pay for the electronic components that the software runs on. And sometimes, the software goes one way and the hardware goes the other. Or put another way, how many computers or smartphones use outdated or outdated software Why is it not possible to install a newer version?

Google has long stopped being a seeker or a compendium of services. Currently, it not only has a huge catalog of applications. It is that its catalog of operating systems is also frightening. With Android, it's on TVs, phones, cars, and all manner of mobile devices. And with Chrome, or rather, Chrome OS, he made the leap to computers. Now he wants to open the season to Anyone can install Chrome OS on your own computer instead of buying a Chromebook. And although the idea is good, everything has its dark side or a not so flattering second reading.

The war of the browsers

Currently, there is fierce competition to see who controls the browser you use on your devices. It is the most used application, the one that opens the doors of the Internet. There you look for things, you find stores to buy, services to hire... And in this fierce war, Google Chrome is the king. Single apple safari it casts some shade on it, thanks to the Apple ecosystem. And at a distance MozillaFirefox It's still there, far from what it once was.

The rest of current browsers are based on the Google Chrome engine, so Chrome wins market even unintentionally. It has become, de facto, the standard browser as Internet Explorer once was. In parallel, there are other wars to see who stays with the hegemony. Or there were. At the time, there was a war of mobile operating systems. It was won by Android, from Google. Apple maintains its portion of the cake with its closed ecosystem and, along the way, large companies like Microsoft fell (with Windows Mobilefirst, windows phonelater) or RIM, owner of blackberry.

Y on deskthe war remains at a low intensity. Windows still dominates in the computer. Apple has its share of the market with macOS. And the rest of the operating systems, such as Linux and UNIX derivatives, remain in specific sectors such as supercomputers, servers or embedded devices. But years ago another competitor emerged, again Google, with its Chrome OS. Until now, limited to pre-installed equipment. But in 2020 came the acquisition of Neverware. With this purchase, Google took over CloudReady, a service that allowed Chrome OS to be installed on any computer. Hence what we now know as Chrome OS Flex.

Two screenshots of Chrome OS Flex Credit: Paul Thurrott

What is Chrome OS Flex?

Chrome OS Flex it is a limited version of Chrome OS that is reminiscent of what it was in its early days. An Linux with the minimum elements, desktop, media player and file manager, and focused on the web browser, Google Chrome. From there, anything we want to do in Chrome OS Flex has to do with cloud applicationssomething many of us are used to with names like Trello, Slack, Zoom, Google Drive, Word, etc.

At the moment, Chrome OS Flex is a version lite of what is today Chrome OS. We will not find support for Google Play or Android applications in general, it is not possible to run virtual machines with Parallels... A desktop operating system to use the browser. Hence their requirements are suitable for old computers.

If you have a PC with 4 GB of RAM, 16 GB of disk space and can boot from USB, it's a strong candidate for be able to install Chrome OS Flex. Regarding processor and graphics card, the official help says that components should not be from before 2010. Older, the user experience would be affected. However, it specifies that Intel GMA 500, 600, 3600 and 3650 graphics are not supported.

Credit: Michael Minn

Opportunities and threats for Linux

what has meant Android for Linux? For one, it is a Linux operating system. But each time it has become a more closed system. Hence projects like CyanogenMod, which began by customizing the Android ROM and today is a system in itself, Lineage OS. But it does not have the necessary support from device manufacturers and brands. What's more, when manufacturers like Huawei or Xiaomi have decided to move away from Google and Android, their response has been to develop their own custom Android, Harmony OS (Huawei) and MIUI (Xiaomi).

On the positive side, Linux has achieved expand your application catalog thanks to the integration of Android, which allows many Linux distributions to install applications and even use Google Play with more or less stability thanks to projects like Anbox.

However, Android never wanted to be a direct rival to Linux. But with Chrome OS it was different. Instead of buying a computer with Linux, something that is becoming more and more frequent, for years now you can get a PC with Linux that integrates the ecosystem of Google applications, the so-called Chromebooks. And with Chrome OS Flex, you can install it on your PC yourself. So, from a Linux point of view, can be seen as an opportunity to expand the domain of Linux, no matter what name or what company heads it. Something like what happens with Steam OS. Thanks to Valve, there are more and more games for Linux, even if it is through emulation with the software Proton. SteamOS is also Linux. But we can see it as a friend or as an enemy.

the eternal alternative

For better or worse, Linux has always been the alternative. Windows and macOS have always been the first and second option if you wanted to have a computer. And Linux is the alternative, the answer to those who are looking for something different. For years, for example, Linux distributions designed to run on outdated equipment. From minimalist distributions like Basic Linux, Damn Small Linux, Tiny Linux either PuppyLinuxwhich occupy less than a gigabyte and which work on old-fashioned computers do not, the following.

On the other hand, there have been light versions of the most popular distributions with desktops that require less demanding hardware. This way you get practically the same features on a PC that is not the latest generation.

We will have to see what is the google strategy. Everything indicates that Chrome OS Flex is a gateway for those who want to try Chrome OS but do not want to buy a Chromebook. And we can't rule out that, over time, Chrome OS Flex will look more and more like adding support for Android.

for whoever wants personalize your experienceadapt the operating system to your needs and not the other way around or have control of your Privacy & Security instead of depending on the changing policies of a giant like Google, we will always have at our disposal dozens of Linux distributions that more than meet any task we perform in front of the PC. Unfortunately, this level of customization will always be limited to a smaller niche compared to the average user, who will bet on simpler solutions like the ones offered by Google. To which must be added the google dependency that many of us suffer from, whether we like it or not.

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