Buying a laptop used to involve a straight choice between two operating systems – Windows or OS X. But now there's Google's Chrome OS, which offers a low-cost third option. Chromebooks running the cloud-based operating system have become hugely popular and it's easy to see why. They're affordable because as long as you're happy to do most of your work on the web and in your browser, they don't require very expensive processing power.
The same principle can be applied to an older PC, so even if it can't run the latest version of Windows, your older computer may still have more than enough power to run the Chrome OS. CloudReady brings the Chromebook experience to your PC and can either replace your existing Windows installation or run alongside it. The operating system is intended commercially for schools but is distributed free of charge to home users.
What you will need
In addition to the CloudReady image file, which is a 600MB download from the website, you will need the Chromebook Recovery Utility. This is an official Google tool that lets you create recovery drives for Chromebooks, but it can also be used to install Chrome OS (via CloudReady) on your PC.
It requires the Chrome browser to work. You also need an empty USB stick (or SD card) to write the installer. This should have a capacity of at least 8 GB, although 16 GB would be better. You can pick one up on Amazon for a few dollars.
How to turn your old laptop into a Chromebook
- Go to www.neverware.com/freedownload and select the 32-bit or 62-bit download file. Do not unzip the CloudReady download yet, as this may cause problems.
- Insert a blank USB drive (or one you're not worried about losing the data on), open the Chrome web browser, then install and run the Chromebook Recovery Utility. Do not click on the Start button. Instead, click the gear icon and choose Use local image.
- Navigate to the saved file and select the media you want to use for installation and click Open.
- Make sure you select the correct drive, then click Continue.
- Then confirm that the details on the next page are correct. Assuming they are, click Create now.
- Accept the UAC prompt that appears.
- Creating a recovery image should only take a few minutes – don't unplug the USB drive during the process. When done, restart your PC and boot from the USB drive. The CloudReady installer will load. Set your language, keyboard, and network, then click Continue to start the installation process.
- During installation, you will need to agree to install Flash and then sign in to your "Chromebook" using your existing Google account. If you don't have an account or want to create a new one to use with CloudReady, click More options and choose Create a new account. Click on Next and enter your password.
- Choose an image to use for your account and you'll be given the opportunity to take a tour of your new device. All apps are accessible through the launcher in the lower right corner. The system tray provides access to settings, where you will find the option to install CloudReady.
- Click it Install CloudReady button. You'll have the option of installing it as a standalone operating system (which will completely erase everything on your hard drive) or as a dual boot alongside Windows. If you select the latter, you will be able to choose between loading Windows or CloudReady on startup.
Installing Chrome OS is a fairly simple process using CloudReady, the free version of Chromebook.