Chrome OS Flex and ChromeOS are very similar. They share the same design language and much of the underlying code. When installed on a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, you get most of the features and benefits of ChromeOS. The main differences are the functions which depend upon a security chip.
With Chromebooks being competitively priced, it begs the question “why did Google go to all the effort to create it?” It appears to be a niche product targeted toward the enterprise. Let’s say you run a business which supports 500 desktop computers. These computers run Windows and the software which supports the operation of your business. The decision was made to move to Google Workspace and part of the reason for the change was to reduce desktop support costs. Getting to Workspace is easy, either stay with Microsoft Edge or install Chrome, and point your browser to your Workspace web address. However, doing so does not relieve you of the tasks to keep your Windows OS current and secure. One solution is to replace your computers with Chrome OS devices but your current upgrade cycle is three years which means two thirds of your inventory is too new to replace.
This is the problem Chrome OS Flex was designed to fix. Install Chrome OS devices as desired, run Chrome OS Flex on the rest, and manage them all as one cohesive unit.
The use case for everyone else is a little dirty. One possible scenario is using an Apple Macbook as a Chromebook. I am referring to the models which run Intel silicon as this is a requirement of the software. Let’s say you are interested in a reasonably priced Chromebook with an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage in excellent condition.
A 2015 Macbook Pro in excellent condition can be purchased for this purpose for $595.
Obviously, this would make a great Chromebook. However, there is a caveat. Google suggests the software only be installed on certified devices. The Macbook Pro is certified, but not this model. Moving forward with this decision carries the risk that something may not work. For example, although Chrome OS supports AMD processors, does it support the AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics card? If not, the fall back could be to use the Intel Iris® graphics processor which is a part of the CPU. I tested against a 2011 13 inch Macbook Pro and did not have any issues but newer models with the touch bar and the T2 Security Chip may be challenging. The model above has neither.
Another reason for using Chrome OS Flex is you need or want to use a particular desktop or laptop running Chrome OS. A scenario which comes to mind is you are given a Windows laptop, but you are not a big fan of Windows. Dell has a large selection of products which are certified and some of them like the Dell XPS 13 9380 are current. However, using a newer device may not save you any money.
The last anklebiter issue with this solution is you will lose the Chromebook keyboard with its specialized keys. In the case of a desktop, Chrome OS keyboards are available.
For me, the biggest challenge was getting some devices to boot from a USB drive. I attempted to test an old Microsoft Surface but ran out of patience trying to get to the system prompt which would allow me to select the USB drive as my boot device.
Although it may fall short in some areas, it is also important to remember this is an early beta which promises the software will improve over time.