I suppose it’s difficult to hear that you may have spent a lot of money on your Chromebook, and it’s already warning you that it will no longer be updated, which means your device is subject to security exploits while missing out on great new Chrome features. Your update issues may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to an initiative called Lacros.
Does this sound familiar? Device updates have been a severe issue on Android. In October 2017, Android’s distribution rate was abysmal: only 0.2 percent of devices were running the most recent operating system version. While Android fragmentation continues to afflict many devices today due to OEM complacency, Google’s Project Treble is making a significant difference in growing Android adoption and prolonging the service life of older devices. Google now intends to do the same with Chromebooks, and its decision is Lacros.
What is Lacros?
Lacros is a Chrome OS prototype project that separates the Chrome binary from the System UI (Ash, Overview Mode, Shelf, and so on). To begin, the Chrome team renamed the existing Chrome binary on Chrome OS to ash-chrome. The Linux version of Chrome was then renamed lacros-chrome, its Wayland compatibility and architecture were enhanced, and it was designed to function in Chrome OS. Despite the version difference, Google can ship two different binaries independently. Chrome OS, for example, maybe running on OS 87, yet the Chrome binary may be on version 89.
In a nutshell, think of Lacros Chrome as Chrome on a standard Linux desktop, but with considerably superior Wayland support.
When this functionality first emerged in the development channels as a Chrome flag in April, people attempted to test it. Still, it resulted in a constant grey Chrome Canary symbol on the App drawer that did nothing when they clicked on it. They’ve kept an eye on it since, keeping the flag active and clicking on the icon whenever an update is released. They just succeeded in launching Lacros.
We got our first glimpse at the Lacros Chrome browser operating in Chrome OS thanks to the most recent Chrome OS Canary channel upgrade. Take a look at this:
Lacros Chrome, as you can see, functions and performs just like a regular Chrome browser installed on a standard operating system. There are a few things Google has to focus on to improve the experience, such as the strange white flash, odd penguin icon on the Shelf, and sluggish speed. However, because Lacros is still in its early stages of development, these things are to be expected.
Why this is significant?
Thus, having two independent instances of Chrome operating side by side is advantageous, but you may be wondering why this is so critical. To address that question, we must first examine how Google upgrades Chrome OS.
Currently, Chrome is intimately tied to Chrome OS, which means Google must compile and ship a single monolithic package to the update channels. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, the real issue arises when a Chromebook reaches AUE or end of life. You lose access to new Chrome OS upgrades when your Chromebook goes AUE, just like an Android phone. Losing a Chrome OS update also means that Chrome will not be updated, leaving the browser outdated, vulnerable, and unable to take advantage of updated web platforms.
Lacros could be Google’s answer to this problem. Because this Chrome binary is provided independently of Chrome OS, Google may easily change the Chrome binary without affecting the operating system. That means that even if your Chromebook fails AUE, your browser will continue to receive the latest and most significant features — and, more importantly, security updates — from Google. When you think about it, this may have a significant-good impact on schooling. Schools are purchasing many older Chromebooks for pupils to use, particularly now that many classes are going virtual due to the global pandemic. Lacros allows school Chromebooks that arrive at AUE to continue receiving Chrome updates, allowing students to continue using their web-based platforms. Institutions would not have to purchase a new set of updated Chromebooks, potentially saving a significant amount of money.
It’s unclear what direction Google will take with Lacros. For example, there is no information on how Lacros will be deployed on Chrome OS once this functionality is released to the Stable channel. I’m sure Google will configure Chrome OS to prompt customers to install Lacros whenever their Chromebook reaches AUE. Lacros is turning out to be an intriguing project, and I’m glad to see Google attempting to extend the life of Chromebooks.