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How To Take Your Chromebook Back To An Older Chrome OS Version

Acer Chromebook Spin 13 Review Hardware 18 resized AH 2019
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Chrome OS is still a relatively new operating system and it undergoes a plethora of changes on a regular basis as a result but that’s not always helpful. In at least some cases, in fact, it may be desireable to go back to an older version of Chrome OS for a Chromebook but Google doesn’t necessarily make that easy to learn how to do. Especially since the method relies on multiple Powerwash steps and is effectively hidden.

Fortunately, that’s exactly the process this guide is intended to address. So let’s get started.

Why would you want to move Chrome OS to an older version on your Chromebook?

The most common reason for wanting to learn how to revert to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook is likely going to be bugs. While Chrome OS is arguably the most stable operating system for a laptop on the market, it isn’t always flawless. On more than one occassion, an update pushed by Google has resulted in serious problems. Whether for security or stability.

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Moving to an older version of Chrome OS can fix that.

It can also address issues with UI and functionality changes, at least temporarily. For instance, Google sometimes changes interface elements or keyboard shortcuts. And, in those cases, it can be easier to switch to an older version of Chrome OS than to learn how to use it again. At the very least, some users likely feel that way and want to hold out switching for as long as possible. Which isn’t always easy to do with automatic updates as they are in Chrome OS.

Of course, there are also any number of other reasons a user might want to switch back as well. Such as when an older version better supported Enterprise software.

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Going back is easy but not necessarily painless

Now, it is worth noting at this point that going back to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook can be useful but it does require a Powerwash. For those who aren’t already aware, a Powerwash is almost exactly what it sounds like. Namely, it completely removes user files from the Chromebook, effectively resetting it. And that is required to revert to an older version.

So it’s going to be a good idea to spend some time backing up important personal files before getting started. Or, at the very least, everything that’s not uploaded to the cloud.

Having said that, the process itself is easy, requiring only a few steps. And, once complete, your Chromebook should run like new — albeit on an older version of Chrome OS.

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  1. Begin by following our guide to performing a full powerwash. Or, for a faster Powerwash, simply return to the log-in screen for the Chromebook and press and hold ‘shift’, ‘ctrl’, and ‘alt’. Then press the ‘r’ key to instantiate a Powerwash. Once finished, you will be greeted by the sign-in screen shown when you first purchased your Chromebook. It will contain some basic information about the system and a blue button that reads “Let’s go” or “Get started.” This step is necessary to call forward the appropriate menu
  2. Ordinarily, at this point, the next step would be to click or tap the button to go through the sign-in process. But, in this case, we need to perform an extra step or two before we set up the new Chromebook. Otherwise, we’ll only be Powerwashing rather than moving back to an older version of Chrome OS. So you’ll need to avoid hitting that button for the time being
  3. Instead, press and hold the ‘shift’, ‘ctrl’, and ‘alt’ keys on your Chromebook’s keyboard. Then, while still holding those keys, press the ‘r’ key to call forward the Powerwash menu again. Again, DO NOT proceed through the steps to perform a Powerwash again or nothing will be accomplished
  4. Instead, press and hold those same’shift’, ‘ctrl’, and ‘alt’ keys — while still on the Powerwash screen before once again pressing the ‘r’ key for a second time
  5. Chrome OS will then call forward a new screen that looks almost identical to the standard Powerwash UI but with a key change in the verbiage of both the message and the button to proceed. Namely, the latter will read “Powerwash and revert” while the description will inform you that you’re about to Powerwash and revert to the previously installed version of the OS
  6. Click or tap the “Powerwash and revert” option to reset the Chromebook with the previously installed version of Chrome
  7. Set up the Chromebook like new
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Moving to an older version isn’t always the best fix for Chrome OS

Because of the limitations of going backward in terms of the Chrome OS version on your Chromebook, as noted already, there are benefits to going to an older version. But that doesn’t mean it should be the first option. In fact, it should only be a secondary option after a more standard Powerwash.

There have been a few instances where Google has messed things up with an update unwittingly. The update to Chrome OS 91 contained a number of issues, for instance, when it initially launched this year. But, more often than not, the underlying problem you might be encountering is less to do with Chrome OS. And more to do with an issue with the individual Chromebook. And in those cases, unless there’s a hardware issue, can often be solved with a simple Powerwash.

Moreover, if you wait too long to go back, you may not get the version of Chrome OS that you want. This does, after all, only allow you to go backwards by a single update. It isn’t going to necessarily take you all the way back to the original installed version.

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You’ll also need to actively avoid updating at this point

Finally, and most importantly, reverting to the previously installed version isn’t going to stop the Chromebook from updating Chrome OS. That’s either on its own during a restart or via a click — accidental or otherwise — on any update prompts that may appear on-screen. For example, the prompts that appear in the lower-right-hand side of the UI.

Restarting the Chromebook while an update is ready will automatically install the update. And that includes a restart caused by running out of battery. So you’ll need to make sure that you charge up your Chromebook before it dies and do not turn the Chromebook off until a fix for your issue has been rolled out. Otherwise, it will install the next version of the OS and, subsequently, whatever issue it was that you were looking to avoid by reverting.

Be aware that there could also be other issues with reverting

Last but not least, it’s important to discuss some of the potential privacy and security ramifications of reverting. While the switch may clear up some bugs found in a new update, it does revert security patches as well. That means that any potentially dangerous bugs found in the prior version will again be a threat.

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As such, moving to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook should be a last resort under most circumstances. Or, conversely, it should not be done without consideration for the potential risks it poses. Particularly since the OS is presently the fastest growing, as of this writing.

Rapid growth tends to lead to more widespread efforts to exploit any operating system. Which, in turn, means that Chrome OS is potentially the most likely to be exploited right now for those that don’t have the latest patches. That has, in recent news, included severe zero-day exploits, for instance.

It’s also worth noting that, typically, when there are issues with an update, Google has gotten those patched fairly quickly. As a result of the risks, in combination with Google’s response times, reverting may not be the best option. It is often better to wait on a fix or update before reverting to an older version of the OS.

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