Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Chromebooks Keep on Ticking

by Tony Thomas

Tick...tick...tick. Can you hear that sound?

That is the sound of my Chromebooks approaching their expiration date.

Unlike many other computers, Chrome devices have an expiration date baked in. For older models, it is five years after the date of introduction (not the date of sale). Newer models get a date of 6.5 years.

That means that if you were an early adopter of the Chrome platform like me, chances are that time is running out for your Chrome devices.

What happens when that day arrives? According to the Google AUE (auto update expiration) website:

“Chrome devices receive automatic updates regularly that enhance both the device itself and the software on the device. However, advances in hardware and technology eventually make devices out-of-date; and as time goes by, we cannot indefinitely ensure that older Chrome devices will receive updates to leverage new OS features.”

“When a device reaches Auto Update Expiration (AUE), it means that the product model is considered obsolete and automatic software updates from Google are no longer guaranteed.”

That doesn't mean that the devices will suddenly stop working. It just means that they will not get any more updates or new features. At some point, they may cease to function correctly as new web technologies are created and added to Chrome. More troubling is the fact that security updates may also cease when the expiration date is reached.

Does this mean that you should discard a perfectly good device? Not necessarily. If you are technically inclined, you can install Linux on the device by reflashing the device to wipe ChromeOS and replacing it with SeaBIOS. However, that is not for the faint of heart or anyone who lacks some serious technical chops. In addition, this will only work for devices with Intel CPUs (not ARM).

A simpler solution is to enter developer mode on the Chrome device and install Linux via Crouton (Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment). It is a much simpler process and is easily reversible as it does not make any permanent changes to the device. Crouton gives you the option to install a number of Ubuntu variants and update them as needed. If you install Chrome on your Linux distribution, it mirrors much of the functionality inherent in the Chrome operating system while also enabling you to run Linux applications such as Libre Office even while not connected to the Internet.

If you are buying a new Chrome device, it would be wise to check the AUE expiration database To find out how long the device has before it reaches its expiration date. There are many older Chrome devices (especially used ones) still on sale that are close to or even beyond their expiration date. Buyer beware!

Here is a link to Google’s AUE database:

And a link to the Crouton GitHub page: