Google’s Chrome OS upgrade changes are a solid start

Google’s Chrome OS upgrade changes are a solid start

Well, I’ll be: Just over a month after we talked about how Google needed to rethink its Chrome OS upgrade standard, the company has quietly launched a new effort to improve the state of Chromebook software updates.

Now, don’t get too excited yet. This is a small start, to be sure — but it’s at least an acknowledgment that the Chrome OS upgrade situation could and should be better. And that’s a pretty significant step.

Before we get into what’s changing, let’s back up for a quick second to set the stage — because context really is everything in this situation. After all, Chrome OS upgrades are by and large commendable — particularly compared to how upgrades play out over on the Android side of the Google operating system fence. The reason’s simple: Given the close manner in which Google controls Chrome OS and the lack of flexibility it gives device-makers in modifying the software, the company’s able to provide a completely consistent experience from one Chromebook to the next. And as a result, Google itself is able to handle all Chrome OS software updates directly, which means every device gets ’em at more or less the same time — no matter who made the hardware.

Suffice it to say, that’s a pretty sharp contrast to the upgrade situation we see on Android, where device-makers are free to modify the operating system and consequently end up being responsible for processing and delivering updates for their own devices. If I had to sum up the effect that has on a typical Android device-owner in three words, I’d say: “It ain’t pretty.” Or maybe: “Yeah. Good luck.”

So what’s the problem with Chrome OS upgrades, then, if not the speed and reliability with which they’re delivered? Well, the issue is actually three-fold:

  1. Every Chromebook comes with a built-in end-of-life date — a date at which it’ll no longer receive software updates — but that information is absurdly out of the way and difficult to find. It’s listed only inside an obscure Google help document, which no normal person would ever even know exists, let alone think to seek out and consider prior to buying a new device.
  2. That end-of-life timing is wildly inconsistent. It’s based on when a Chrome OS device using any given processor first appeared on the platform, which makes it about as clear as mud to the typical laptop buyer. It also means an $800 device released today might receive less than five years of software support while a low-end laptop released tomorrow might get six and a half. From the perspective of actual human beings who pay for and rely on these products, it’s pretty forkin’ screwy.
  3. The standard maximum amount of time any Chrome OS device receives software updates is six and a half years, which really isn’t much when you consider that lots of high-end Chromebooks now cost anywhere from several hundred bucks to well over a grand — and that similarly priced Windows systems remain reasonably updated for considerably longer.

So that’s the foundation. As for what Google’s doing to address it, well, there are a few things — and the company assures me we’ll see more in the months ahead.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.


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