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Your Web Browser As Your Computer

Google announced a new project. It’s really an clean up of an existing open source project but the shine and polish will position it well.

Google Chrome OS Flex is a version Chrome OS—the operating system that runs Chromebooks—ready for older PCs and Macs.

Install the operating system from a USB drive and you’ll boot up into what is essentially an oversized Chromebook.

The advantage? You can easily extend the life of your older hardware and provide an environment that’s “good enough” to accomplish most computing tasks.

Only A Browser

The downside of Chrome OS is that it’s essentially just a web browser. There are a few features around it to drive hardware settings and other maintenance tasks. But at the end of the day, this is a system that is just running the Chrome web browser 24/7.

That may sound restrictive—and it can be—but it’s also freeing.

The Chrome OS approach relies heavily on your Google Account. You can safely and securely log into any Chrome OS system and quickly gain access to your data and documents in the environment you’ve already configured.

This makes the hardware somewhat disposable, or at least easily replaceable. No longer are you tied the configuration of your laptop. Any Chrome OS device will work the same for you.

Security Model

Running Google Chrome as your OS has some solid security benefits.

The simplified architecture reduces the areas where hackers can find vulnerabilities to exploit. Chrome also has a strong sandbox model which keys web pages and apps isolated from each other. This makes sure that an issue with one site doesn’t impact your overall system.

However, like any other software, Google Chrome still has security issues.

Google recently confirmed several serious vulnerabilities were patched in the latest update. This is a good reminder that the “Update” button in the top right of your browser is something that you should be clicking any time you see it.

Those updates can provide valuable protection for your system.

Not Perfect, But Better

Running all of your computing needs through Google has obvious privacy impacts. Their business model relies on tracking behaviour and running Chrome OS provides more information than a stand alone browser.

You can conduct a Google privacy check up online at any time.

That additional access is a trade off for the convince and simplicity of a Google Chrome based system.

We’ve long been trying to build reliable thin client computers or desktop-as-a-service systems. They haven’t worked well at scale.

Google Chrome is the most practical and usable version of that idea to date.