Google’s Chrome OS is unlike most other operating systems in commercial use around the world today. It’s been designed to be lightweight, fast, secure and easy to use. This ethos extends into how the operating system works day to day, what I might call the “showroom appeal.” However, Chrome OS and the Chromebook platform has what I’m going to call great “liveability,” in other words, how easy the operating system is to maintain once the initial new computer honeymoon period is over. Much of this ease of use is associated with how to keep the Google Chrome OS platform up to date, which is much easier than Microsoft Windows for example.
For Google Chrome OS updates, then, the first point to write about is how the Chromebook receives its software updates automatically and over the air. The computer does not remind you that there’s an update available nor ask the user to opt into or out of various update settings; instead, when there’s a software update available, an up arrow symbol appears at the bottom right of the screen. Providing the user spots this symbol or reboots the device from time to time, it is kept up to date. The update process is as quick and clean as a reboot, which takes from six to twelve seconds depending on the Chromebook. You don’t have to wait for the device to update the software between reboots.
My second point is how frequently Chrome OS is updated. Most users receive major updates typically every six weeks and minor updates can be two or three weeks apart. Google’s engineers work hard to keep the platform up to date and secure, which leads me to the third point: updates come direct from Google rather than via the manufacturer. There are no custom skins on the Chromebook; Chrome OS is always the clean interface. This is why most Chrome OS updates are pushed to various devices almost simultaneously around the world.
There are three separate channels. Most users belong to the stable channel, whereby they receive regular updates and the device remains stable and functional. For the user wanting an earlier look at Google’s developments, he or she can switch to the Beta channel, where Chrome OS is not so stable but contains newer features. And for people who want the very latest code, we can opt for the Dev channel. Early Chromebooks required a physical hardware change to switch to the Dev or Beta modes whereas modern Chromebooks don’t need this and one can switch between the various channels very easily.
Point five concerns the updated versions of Chrome OS: if you, the user, want to know what’s changed in the current version, you can hit up the Google Chrome Releases blog and search for your Chrome OS version and the channel you use. These pages will provide you with a detailed changelog and history of Chrome. The next point is something that’s surprisingly important and yet ignored by many users: how long will the device be kept up to date? For a computing platform based around a browser, this browser forms the framework for the customer and we’d like any and all security flaws patched as quickly as possible. Originally, the Chromebook models were to receive updates for four years since launch but this has been extended to five years. Again, the Google Chrome blog details the end of line policy; point seven is that you can check here to see when your device will no longer be guaranteed to be updated.
My last point, number eight, is that Chrome OS does not need a factory reset with the same frequency that Android devices may need from time to time following a software update. Chrome deliberately keeps relatively little on the device, instead the user is encouraged to keep data in the cloud. Most Chromebooks come with 16 GB of local storage (some come with more), which for many users will barely be touched. However, if you do wish to reset your Chromebook, users can use the Power Wash function if necessary. How Google manages Chromebook updates was a very refreshing change coming from years of using a Windows laptop. Not having to leave the device to install updates is a welcome change as is how clean and quick these updates are. Do you use a Chromebook and if so, have you paid a second thought to how the device is kept up to data?