Google to Separate Chrome Browser from Chrome OS

Chrome OS Will Soon Get an Android Phone Hub for Notifications and Task Continuation
Image: Konstantin Savusia / Shutterstock

In its initial days, Chrome OS usually got dismissed as a sophisticated web browser due its web-first approach and the lack of app compatibility. Chrome OS has significantly evolved as a platform since then and has reached a position where it can serve as the primary operating system in your PC.

If you’re using a Chromebook as your main computer, you are likely to see an error message that reads “This device will no longer receive the latest software updates. Please consider upgrading” when it reaches end of life. Since Google Chrome is deeply integrated with Chrome OS, this means that you will not receive updates once your Chromebook gets deprecated.

This is quite unacceptable since the user should get browser updates to stay safe from vulnerabilities. Browser vulnerabilities may get exploited, rendering old Chromebooks insecure and leaving them as an easy victim to hackers for web-based attacks.

Setting the security aspect of this aside, dropping support for a web browser can also cause inconsistencies in terms of compatibility on the web. In other words, some web pages and features may no longer get supported, thereby breaking the web browsing experience. As part of Google’s efforts to address this problem, the company is now working on a project codenamed Lacros that potentially separates Google Chrome from Chrome OS.

What is Lacros?

Lacros is coined from Linux And ChRome OS. The project aims to decouple Chrome browser from Chrome OS’ window manager and system UI elements. On the technical side, it makes use of the linux-chrome binary and improves its Wayland support. Engineers at Google renamed the primary Chrome OS binary as ‘ash-chrome’ and tweaked the linux-chrome binary to develop the lacros-chrome binary.

“Lacros can be imagined as “Linux chrome with more Wayland support”. Lacros uses ozone as an abstraction layer for graphics and event handling. Ozone has a “backend” with client-side support for the Wayland compositor protocol,” explains Google.

The changes went live in the latest Chrome OS Canary and was first spotted by the folks over at Chrome Unboxed. After enabling feature flags in the Canary build, it is possible to access Lacros version of Chrome right now and it is functional.

This could mean that in the future, your Chromebooks would continue getting Chrome updates even after their scheduled end of life. At that point, you will not receive Chrome OS updates as such, but with regular Chrome updates, you should be able to use the web without any security or compatibility issues.

It remains to be seen how Google would implement Lacros. The software giant could either go ahead and replace its messy Chrome browser situation right away or implement in such a way that Lacros-based Chrome kicks in once the Chromebook hits end of life.

Now that Chrome could soon co-exist as an independent entity, it will be interesting to see if the platform would let users install all channels of Chrome browser like Chrome Beta, Dev, and Canary irrespective of the underlying version of Chrome OS. Even if it doesn’t, Lacros is a step forward to increase the reliability of Chromebooks.

VIA Chrome Unboxed
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