Following increased backlash, Google has decided to extend Chromebook support from 8 years to 10

Today, Google made an announcement regarding the extension of automatic update support for Chromebooks. Specifically, they revealed that for devices released from 2019 onwards, the duration of automatic updates is being prolonged from 8 years to 10 years. This decision comes in response to growing concerns expressed by consumers, educational institutions, and advocacy groups about the presence of numerous Chromebooks in circulation, as well as those currently available for purchase, which were approaching their end-of-support dates.

According to Google’s official blog post, “All Chromebook platforms will now receive regular automatic updates for a full 10-year period.” This move addresses the imminent expiration of a significant number of Chromebooks released in 2019, ensuring that no Chromebooks will reach the end of their support within the next two years.

Google’s blog post goes on to provide further details:

Starting in 2024, if you have Chromebooks that were released from 2021 onwards, you’ll automatically get 10 years of updates. For Chromebooks released before 2021 and already in use, users and IT admins will have the option to extend automatic updates to 10 years from the platform’s release when they receive their last automatic update.

Achieving a decade of support is a significant milestone for Chromebooks, especially considering their often budget-friendly nature. In comparison, the typical Mac receives around seven years of macOS updates. On the Windows side of things, there’s typically a 10-year support cycle, but you can still install and update Windows on devices dating back to the late 2000s. Chromebooks stand out due to their unique approach of assigning automatic update expiration (AUE) dates to individual models, a practice that has garnered criticism for years.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, the Director of Sustainability at iFixit, shared her insights with Absolute Market, saying:

Basing update and service timelines on first manufacture date instead of last new sale date is a fundamentally flawed model. It allows for the awful possibility that someone might buy a new retail product with expired security support, which should never happen.

Somehow, Google has managed to find a solution.

Google’s recent announcement comes approximately three years following its initial announcement to extend automatic update support for Chromebooks from five to eight years. This decision was prompted by the release of the “Chromebook Churn” report by the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in April [PDF], which highlighted that the average Chromebook had only four years of updates remaining. At that time, 64 Chromebook models were set to expire by the end of summer 2024.

PIRG’s report, which featured insights from repair technicians, repair advocates, and US school districts that saw a surge in Chromebook sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, raised concerns about Chromebook Automatic Update Expiration (AUE) dates, describing them as “arbitrary” and “aggressive.” PIRG called on Google to commit to providing 10 years of support.

However, Google had previously stated that changing AUE dates was a complex task due to their dependency on various non-Google hardware and software providers collaborating with Google to ensure high-level security and stability support. This was the reason cited for older Chrome devices not receiving indefinite updates to enable new operating system and browser features.

In an August Wall Street Journal report, ChromeOS product manager Forrest Smith explained that AUE dates were closely tied to vendor support for the laptop’s components and were not arbitrarily determined.

A Google spokesperson informed Ars that they conduct rigorous testing, including test updates, every four weeks for the entire support lifetime, involving hundreds of models and thousands of units.

Increasing the support time is a substantial engineering endeavor for both Google and its partners, according to Google’s representative.

PIRG’s report drew significant attention to the lifespan of Chromebooks, particularly since many public schools and taxpayers had invested in Chromebook fleets to facilitate remote learning during the pandemic. For instance, the South Kitsap School District in Washington expected to spend a minimum of $2.8 million to replace 9,483 Chromebooks in 2026. Schools were also concerned about the cost of disposing of unwanted Chromebooks, which lacked the resale value of other laptops such as MacBooks.

It is possible that this extension is related to Google’s exploration of decoupling ChromeOS from Chrome, which would allow users to update Chrome (arguably the most critical app on any Chromebook) even after the device’s AUE date. However, Google has not officially confirmed the existence of Project Lacros (Linux And ChRome OS).

Regardless of the reasons behind this development, PIRG appears satisfied with Google’s announcement. Lucas Rockett Gutterman, director of PIRG’s Designed to Last campaign, expressed in a statement that this news would lead to fewer laptops being discarded.

He added:

Google and other tech companies should continue to innovate ways to commit to a circular economy and stop pressuring us to replace our phones and laptops. The environmental harms of manufacturing and e-waste mean we can’t consume technology at this rate. Longer-lasting Chromebooks are a meaningful step towards an industry with products designed to last.

Opportunity for Enhancement

Chromebooks have been promoted as an accessible and budget-friendly solution for individuals seeking an affordable system or a fleet that is easy to manage. However, Google and its Chromebook partners have faced criticism regarding the durability of these devices. While today’s announcement aims to address some of these longevity concerns, not all issues have been resolved.

The April report from PIRG also highlighted complaints regarding the expenses and availability of replacement parts for Chromebooks, pointing fingers at the inadequate inventory and repair programs offered by OEMs.

Google’s blog post today briefly touched upon the topic of repairability. It discussed methods that schools employ to repair Chromebooks, the global recycling drop-off points feature on Google Maps, and the Chromebook Repair Program.

“Our new repair processes enable authorized repair centers and school technicians to perform repairs on Chromebooks without requiring a physical USB key,” the blog post mentioned.

However, these efforts do not fully alleviate concerns about the costs associated with repairing Chromebooks, especially since these devices are often priced lower and feature plastic chassis.

Jeannie Crowley, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the Scarsdale, New York Public School District, raised a valid point in PIRG’s report, stating, “[In a] typical repair, you need to replace 50 percent of the device and discard it.”

It is worth noting that these issues should be addressed in future releases by OEMs. Google creates Chromebook reference designs, but the final laptops are a collaborative effort between OEMs and Google, allowing room for improvement.

Furthermore, there have been complaints about refurbishers encountering difficulties accessing Chromebooks tied to previous users, a concern that has also affected MacBooks.

Furthermore, expired Chromebooks continue to be available for purchase on online marketplaces without any warning to potential customers. Take, for instance, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302, released back in 2018, which is no longer receiving extended update support. Despite this, as of the time of writing, it remains available on Amazon for $387 and Walmart for $603 (please note that these links are provided solely for illustrative purposes).

Google has an opportunity to extend the lifespan of Chromebooks by officially endorsing ChromeOS Flex for use on these devices. It remains unclear why Google has not offered support for ChromeOS Flex on Chromebooks, as the company appears to be primarily focused on its deployment on macOS and Windows devices instead. Enabling ChromeOS Flex support would provide a Google-sanctioned means to maintain the functionality of Chromebooks that have reached the end of their software support but still possess functional hardware.

Google’s blog emphasizes that even when a Chromebook ceases to receive automatic updates, it still maintains robust built-in security features. For instance, through verified boot, a Chromebook conducts a self-check each time it boots up. If it detects any tampering or corruption within the system, it typically initiates repairs, returning the device to its original state.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that software updates play a vital role in ensuring cybersecurity, a fact that doesn’t require specialized IT knowledge to understand.

Beyond security concerns, educational institutions have reported difficulties in accessing online state testing using Chromebooks running outdated versions of ChromeOS.

PIRG’s Gutterman conveyed the following statement:

There’s still room for improvement on other issues identified in the “Chromebook Churn” report, such as standardizing parts across models and manufacturers and ensuring the availability of spare parts to all fixers. Continuing improvements in technology means products should last longer each year.