Google wants to reduce e-waste with new Flex OS for older laptops and MacBooks

Google's Chrome logo next to a laptop
It can be run on devices up to 13 years old, but will have some limitations. Photo credit: Getty Images

Google is hoping to reduce e-waste and extend the life of older laptops and MacBooks by releasing a new version of its Chrome operating system (OS) to run on them.

The OS comes after Google purchased Neverware, which made CloudReady, a similar program aimed at businesses and schools to transform older devices into useful ones again.

OS Flex, according to the company, will be stable for years due to its use of the cloud and will get the same release schedule as the main Chrome OS does.

"Chrome OS Flex is a free and sustainable way to modernise devices you already own," the company said in a blog post.

"It's easy to deploy or simply try it to see what a cloud-first OS has to offer."

Forrest Smith, a product manager for Chrome OS, told website Gizmodo that Flex won't age as poorly or accrue the same baggage that Windows does over time, which means devices up to 13 years old can run it.

"You can go back 10 or more years and people are still getting a really good experience," Smith said.

"I do think you'll get some advantages with speed or performance but one of the more profound things is that Windows won't stay as performant on year five as on year one."

The company noted that Flex had some limitations, mostly related to running an OS on another company's hardware.

This means shortcuts won't be the same and some device drivers - like the webcams on some MacBook models - may not work properly.

Thomas Riedl, director of product for enterprise and education on Chrome OS, also said that it's more secure than a Windows PC but wouldn't be as secure as a Chromebook given the disconnect between OS and hardware.

Google plans to publish a list of certified devices Flex will work on, detailing which features do and don't work, it said.

Chrome OS Flex can be run from a bootable USB drive so it can be tried before installing, the company said.

As well as wide deployments via USB, businesses using it will also be able to use Google's Admin console to manage updates and configure devices remotely.

The OS is still in early access on the dev channel, Google said. That may mean early users get some instability.

A stable version is expected in the coming months, it said, with early users getting the chance to play around with Flex and provide feedback before a wider push.