Currently, the browser and operating system are closely interwoven, meaning whenever Google wants to issue an update or fix, the firm has to deliver a blanket package that spans both elements.
While not ideal, this system is generally workable. However, it poses more significant issues when Chromebooks (opens in new tab) reach their Auto Update Expiration (AUE), six and a half years after purchase.
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At this point, not only will the OS no longer receive security and quality-of-life upgrades, but the Chrome web browser will also be frozen at the point of expiration.
Separating out Google Chrome and Chrome OS will both make updating each service simpler and also allow the firm to deliver security updates to the browser even after the OS version has reached end of service.
Google Chrome vs. Chrome OS
The move to disentangle the two entities is referred to as Lacros (taken from “Linux And Chrome OS”) and the change is currently live in Chrome OS test builds via the Canary channel.
Whereas before, the system UI and web browser stemmed from the same binary, Lacros pulls apart the two functionalities into two distinct binaries, known as ash-chrome (system UI) and lacros-chrome (browser).
In practice, the change will mean little to the everyday Chrome user, but will have a significant impact in the long term as devices reach AUE.
While it is still inadvisable to continue to use an outdated operating system, which may be vulnerable to attack, the ability to ensure Google Chrome remains as secure (and feature-rich) as possible will head off a significant proportion of threats.
Schools and small businesses in particular stand to benefit; the ability to extend the lifespan of Chromebooks beyond six and a half years could drastically cut hardware costs in the long term and the risk of purchasing a fleet of second hand devices is also minimized.
It is not clear at this stage precisely how and when Lacros will be rolled out to stable Chrome OS builds, but users of older laptops will be hoping to see the change take effect sooner rather than later.
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