Most Mac users wouldn’t dream of replacing macOS with anything other than the latest update, but Google wants you to consider at least one other option: Chrome OS.
Google describes its new Chrome OS Flex as a “free and sustainable way” to install Google’s online operating system on any Mac or PC. Its target audience is cash-strapped schools and businesses looking for “modern computing with cloud-based management,” but it’s also quite enticing for regular users. Chrome OS Flex offers the same airy user interface as on a Chrome book (minus the Android apps) with Google’s vast library of web apps and extensions running the show.
It sounds crazy, but it’s not. Chrome OS Flex isn’t designed for the performance of today’s Apple Silicon Macs. Rather, it’s for the thousands of Macs and PCs gathering dust on shelves and tucked away in drawers that haven’t been powered on or updated in years. They’re slow and clunky and don’t have enough space or memory, but still have some life in them. And Google wants to squeeze the last word out of them.
Chrome OS has never put as much emphasis on specs as Macs and PCs. Sure, you can get Core i7 Chromebooks with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, but high-end specs are largely unnecessary. Chrome is designed to be a fast cloud-based operating system that doesn’t get bogged down with log and cache files. As a result, Chrome OS Flex only requires 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, so any old Mac will do. According to Google, Chrome OS Flex installs in “a few minutes” and has been tested on Macs with the 2009 MacBook, although virtually any model will work as long as the Mac has a working internet connection.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted that it “brings the same speed, security, and simplicity of Chrome OS to existing hardware,” and it sounds like an amazing solution. Chrome OS Flex is perfect for an old Mac that can’t properly run Big Sur or Monterey that you want to give to a child or elderly parent. Google’s apps take center stage, of course, but you can also access your iCloud apps: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Drive, Notes & Reminders, as well as Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
To get started, you can sign up for early access on the Chrome OS Flex website. After registering and downloading the Chrome Recovery Extension Utility, Google provides instructions on how to create a bootable drive on a USB stick with at least 8 GB of space that can be used to either permanently install Chrome OS Flex on your Mac ( and replacing the version of macOS that’s already on it) or run directly from the USB drive. To boot from the drive on your Mac, hold down Command-R at startup and select Startup Security Programand choose Allow booting from external or removable media. Then reboot while holding down the Option key and select the Chrome OS Flex drive.
I’m a longtime Mac user but also have a Chromebook. Chrome OS is extremely lightweight compared to Windows and macOS, with most of the heavy lifting happening in the cloud. It takes seconds to boot up, apps open at lightning speed, and there are never any significant slowdowns. While even the latest Macs struggle under heavy loads and take half an hour or more to update, Chrome OS devices require little maintenance or know-how. In short, they just work. And now your dusty old Mac will too.
Michael Simon has covered Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology dates back to his first PC – the IBM Thinkpad with the hinged keyboard to swap out the drive. He’s still waiting for that to come back in style.