Google Extends Chromebook Support to 10 Years, Easing Consumer Concerns

Google extends Chromebook update support from 8 to 10 years for devices released from 2019, addressing criticism. PIRG welcomes the move, reducing premature laptop disposal.

Google has made a significant announcement, stating that it will extend the automatic update support for Chromebooks from 8 years to 10 years for devices released from 2019 onwards. This move comes in response to growing criticism from consumers, educational institutions, and advocacy groups regarding the limited support lifespan of Chromebooks.

In a blog post, Google confirmed that "All Chromebook platforms will now receive regular automatic updates for 10 years." This decision has a far-reaching impact, as numerous Chromebooks released in 2019 were on the verge of expiring within the next year. With this extension, no Chromebooks should face obsolescence within the next two years.

The significance of this announcement lies in the fact that Chromebooks, which are often known for their budget-friendly pricing, will now receive an impressive decade of support. By comparison, the average Mac typically receives seven years of macOS updates, while Windows typically enjoys a 10-year support cycle. However, Windows can be installed and updated on devices dating back to the late 2000s, giving it a unique advantage in terms of longevity.

Chromebooks have been the subject of criticism due to their individual models having Automatic Update Expiration (AUE) dates. This criticism has persisted for years, and the recent decision by Google to extend support can be seen as a response to these concerns.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, the Director of Sustainability at iFixit, commented on Google's announcement, stating that this move comes three years after the company initially extended Chromebooks' automatic update support from five years to eight. The decision also follows the release of the US Public Interest Research Group's (PIRG) "Chromebook Churn" report in April, 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 the summer in 2024.

PIRG's report included interviews with repair technicians, activists, and US school districts, which saw a surge in Chromebook purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report expressed concerns about Chromebook AUEs, labeling them as "arbitrary" and "aggressive." PIRG called on Google to commit to providing 10 years of support.

Google, however, had previously stated that AUE dates were not easy to change due to their reliance on various device-specific hardware and software providers, which collaborate with Google to ensure the highest level of security and stability support. This complexity explained why older Chrome devices couldn't receive updates indefinitely to enable new OS and browser features.

An August Wall Street Journal report quoted ChromeOS product manager Forrest Smith, who emphasized that AUE dates were tied to vendor support for the laptop's components and were not arbitrary.

A Google spokesperson clarified that rigorous testing was conducted for every update, including test updates, every four weeks throughout the entire support lifetime of hundreds of models and thousands of units. Extending the support period to 10 years was described as a substantial engineering effort, requiring collaboration between Google and its partners.

The PIRG report garnered significant attention, particularly as many public schools and taxpayers invested in Chromebook fleets to facilitate remote learning during the pandemic. For example, the South Kitsap School District in Washington projected spending at least $2.8 million to replace 9,483 Chromebooks in 2026. Concerns also arose regarding the cost of disposing of unwanted Chromebooks, which lack the resale value of other laptops like MacBooks.

It's worth noting that this extension may be related to Google's exploration of decoupling ChromeOS from Chrome, a move that would allow users to update Chrome, the most crucial app on any Chromebook, even after the device's AUE date. However, Google has not officially confirmed Project Lacros (Linux And Chrome OS) at this time.

In conclusion, Google's decision to extend Chromebooks' automatic update support to 10 years for devices released from 2019 onwards addresses long-standing concerns and is seen as a positive step by advocacy groups like PIRG. This change is poised to reduce the premature disposal of laptops and provide extended utility to users of these budget-friendly devices.

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