One thing to keep in mind when buying a new Chromebook is its “expiration date” or the date when you will no longer receive updates. Google seems to have found a clever solution to reduce the end of the OS update from the Chromebook’s death sentence by separating the browser update from the Chrome OS update.
Updates: For the first time, we’ve seen Google’s efforts to allow Chromebooks to continue updating well beyond the browser’s “expiration date.”
Google releases Chrome updates about every 6 weeks. This is usually followed for fun and exciting new features. However, even if you don’t care about features, it’s important to keep Chrome up to date and apply the latest security updates to keep your computer and information safe while browsing.
Even on older desktops and Android phones, you can easily update Chrome to keep your browser safe. However, on Chromebooks, the browser version is directly associated with the OS that gets the update. This means that as Chromebooks reach their update expiration date, browser vulnerabilities will gradually weaken.
Thankfully, this is subject to change. Google has been working on a new Chrome project codenamed “LaCrOS” for several months. This project was discovered this week through a new flag added to chrome: // flags.
Experimental lacros-chrome browser support.
This flag is obviously not very descriptive in itself, but after digging in, I think you got a pretty good idea of what’s going on. First, I noticed that the project was to be called “linux-chrome”. This seemed strange because Chrome OS already comes with a Linux-based Chrome browser.
So we dug deeper. Fortunately, we found a conversation between two developers with two main citations that explain exactly what LaCrOS is trying to do. check it out:
Did you think the point of lacrosse is to ship trunk chrome to older systems?
For reference, “trunk chrome” here refers to Chrome Canary, which is updated daily from the latest code or “trunk”, as described in the Chrome developer documentation. Therefore, this quote shows that LaCrOS is designed to bring the latest Chrome possible to “older” Chromebooks.
From what I understand, one of the motivations for LaCrOS is chrome-for-chromeos on other systems, os binaries, os binaries built as we (browser team) want.
A more complete picture is formed between these two citations and the old “linux-chrome” name. Google seems to be trying to isolate Chrome OS system updates that bring cool new features such as virtual desks and quick answers from browser updates by including a separate installation of Chrome that can be updated independently.
Update 9/14: Almost five months later, LaCrOS is up and running on Chrome OS Canary, as discovered in Chrome Unboxed. If you enable the above flags in chrome: // flags, the new “LaCrOS” app will first appear in the app list in gray and then in the regular yellow of Chrome Canary.
Right-click on the icon of this app and select “New Window” to launch it. This describes the normal onboarding experience you’ll find in Chrome for Linux or Windows. This makes sense given that it’s a completely different browser. Once onboarding is complete, you’ll be able to use this LaCrOS browser just as you would use Google Chrome on your Chromebook.
Of course, this browser isn’t as deeply integrated with Chrome OS as regular embedded browsers, and there are some other minor weirdnesses. For example, instead of using the Chrome Canary icon, the browser opens in a separate window that uses the default penguin icon from Linux app support in Chrome OS. There are also visual differences, such as scrollbar styles and slight window borders.
Left: LaCrOS browser. Right: The default Chrome OS browser.
The current version of Chrome OS Canary is 87, so the effort to separate LaCrOS from the Google Chrome browser and Chrome OS updates will be Chrome OS version 87, scheduled for December.
That said, we believe it will take more time to develop LaCrOS before this version of Google Chrome can be deeply integrated into Chrome OS and feel like a native Chrome OS browser. All of this can require weeks or months of additional development, which may indicate that LaCrOS will be properly released in a new release sometime next year.
This means that even if your Chromebook expires, you can continue to refresh your browser and use the web with the latest security updates. This greatly extends the security and ease of use of Chromebooks beyond their normal expiration date.
Obviously, this is not a small task and requires thorough testing before reaching the average person’s Chromebook. In the early stages, this “LaCrOS” version of Chrome will appear side by side on the Chrome OS shelf with a typical Chrome icon. This helps developers and early testers find differences and bugs between the two. To distinguish between the two, LaCrOS initially uses the all-yellow Chrome Canary icon.
This is a major change, and given the fact that Google’s Chrome team is currently working on a coordinated schedule, it’s too early to say when to expect LaCrOS to arrive. However, it’s clear that Chromebook owners are less afraid when their devices expire.
Chrome OS Details:
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