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Google could make Chromebooks last longer with a big change to Chrome OS

“This device is no longer receiving the latest software updates. Please consider upgrading.”

I think you’ll agree with me when I say it’s a punch in the stomach to start your morning with this terrible news in your notification box. You might have spent a lot of money buying your Chromebook, and so is your Chromebook already You will be advised that it will no longer be updated. This leaves your device vulnerable to security exploits while missing cool new Chrome features. Thanks to an ambitious project known internally as Lacros, your problems with the update could soon be a thing of the past.

Sound familiar? Device updates were a significant problem on Android. As early as October 201

7, the distribution rate of Android was miserable – an embarrassing 0.2% of devices were using the latest version of the operating system. While Android fragmentation is still plaguing many devices today thanks to OEM complacency, Google’s Project Treble is making a significant contribution to increasing the adoption rate of Android and further extending the lifespan of older devices. Google now wants to do the same with Chromebooks, and the answer is Lacros.

What is lacros?

Lacros is an experimental initiative to separate the Chrome binary from the system UI (Ash, Overview mode, Shelf, etc.) on Chrome OS. To begin with, Chrome’s developers renamed the existing Chrome binary on Chrome OS to Ash-Chrome. They then took the Linux version of Chrome, renamed it Lacros-Chrome, refined Wayland support and architecture, and made it run in Chrome OS. In this way, Google can send two separate binary files independently of one another despite the version discrepancy. For example, Chrome OS can run on OS 87, but the Chrome binary can run on version 89.

In short, think of Lacros Chrome like using Chrome on a traditional Linux desktop, but with much better Wayland support.

Testing lacros

I tried to test this feature when it first landed on developer channels as the Chrome flag in April. However, a permanent gray Chrome Canary icon appeared in the app drawer and it didn’t do anything when clicked. I’ve been watching it closely since then – keeping the flag on and clicking the icon when an update is deleted.

Only recently I was able to start lacros.

With the latest Canarian Channel update for Chrome OS, we’re taking a first look at the Lacros Chrome browser that runs on Chrome OS. Check it out here:


An early look at the experimental lacros chrome. It works … for the most part.

As you can see, Lacros Chrome works and behaves like a regular Chrome browser installed on a traditional operating system. There are definitely a few things that Google needs to work on to improve the experience, like the weird white lightning bolt, the random penguin icon on the shelf, and the sluggish performance. But lacros is still in the early stages of development, so these things are to be expected.

Why is that so important

So it’s cool to have two different instances of Chrome running side by side, but you might be wondering why this is so important. To answer this question, we first need to take a look at how Google updates Chrome OS.

Currently, Chrome is closely intertwined with Chrome OS, which means that Google has to compile a monolithic package and send it to the update channels. While this is not a problem in itself, the main problem is with a Chromebook reaching AUE or the end of its life. Just like on an Android phone, when your Chromebook hits AUE, you’ll lose new Chrome OS updates. Loss of a Chrome OS update also means Chrome itself will not be updated, making the browser outdated, vulnerable, and unable to take advantage of updated platforms on the web.

Lacros could be Google’s answer to that. Since this Chrome binary is sold separately from Chrome OS, Google can easily update the Chrome binary regardless of the operating system. Even if your Chromebook hits AUE, your browser is at least getting the latest and greatest features – and most importantly, security fixes – from Google. If you think about it, it could have a tremendously positive impact on the education sector. Schools are buying large numbers of older Chromebooks for students to use, especially now that many classes are going virtual during the global pandemic. Thanks to Lacros, school Chromebooks reaching AUE could continue to receive Chrome updates so that students can continue to use their web-based platforms. Institutions would no longer have to buy more newer, updated Chromebooks, which could save a significant amount of money.

It is unclear which path Google will take with Lacros. For example, there is no information on how to deploy Lacros on Chrome OS once that feature is available on the stable channel. I imagine Google would set up Chrome OS to prompt users to install Lacros once their Chromebook reached AUE, but I’m not sure. Lacros is growing to be an exciting project and I am delighted that Google is trying to further extend the life of Chromebooks.

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