“This device will no longer receive the latest software updates. Please consider upgrading”
I think you’ll agree with me when I say: It’s a punch of gut to start your morning with this awesome message in your notification tray. You must have spent a lot of money buying your Chromebook, and your Chromebook is already Telling you that it won’t be updated anymore – leave your device vulnerable to security adventures while missing out on brand new Chrome features. Thanks to an ambitious project known internally as lacrosse, your updates may soon be a thing of the past.
Familiar? Device updates have been a significant problem on Android. Back in October 2017, Android’s delivery rate was abysmal – an embarrassing 0.2% of devices running the latest version of the OS. Although Android fragmentation continues to plague many devices today, thanks to OEM complacency, Google’s Project Treble is making a huge difference in increasing Android adoption rates and pushing older devices. Google now wants to do the same thing as a Chromebook, and the answer is lacrosse.
What is lacrosse?
Lacrosse is an experimental initiative to separate the chrome binary from the system UI (ash, observation mode, shelf, etc.) on Chrome OS. To start, Chrome’s developers renamed existing Chrome binaries to Ash-Chrome on Chrome OS. They then took the Linux version of Chrome, renamed it to Lacrosse-Chrome, refined their Wayland support and architecture and made it runnable in Chrome OS. This allows Google to ship two different binaries independently, despite the variant discrepancy. For example, Chrome OS can run on OS 87, but Chrome binary can be on version 89.
In short, think of lacrosse chrome as using chrome on a traditional Linux desktop, but with improved support.
When I first landed in developer channels as a Chrome flag back in April, I tried to test this feature, but it consistently put a gray chrome canary icon on the app drawer, anything when I clicked on it did not do. I have since kept a close watch on it – keeping the flag enabled and clicking on the icon whenever an update falls.
More recently, I was able to launch lacrosse.
With the most recent Chrome OS Canary Channel update, we get our first initial look at the lacrosse Chrome browser running in Chrome OS. Check it out here:
A preliminary look at experimental lacrosse chrome. It works … for the most part.
As you can see, Lacrosse Chrome functions and behaves like a normal Chrome browser installed on a traditional operating system. Google definitely needs to work on a few things to make the experience more polished, such as the odd white flash, random penguin icons on the shelf, and the dull display. But lacrosse is still early in its development, so these things are to be expected.
why is it important
So it’s nice to have two separate instances of Chrome running side by side, but you might be wondering why this is so important. To answer that question, we have to look at how to update Google Chrome Chrome.
Currently, Chrome is intimately associated with Chrome OS, meaning that Google has to compile and ship an unbroken package across update channels. While this is not a problem in itself, when the Chromebook arrives at the end of AUE or life, there is a big problem. Like Android phones, when your Chromebook hits AUE, you are left out of the new Chrome OS update. Losing a Chrome OS update also means that Chrome itself will not update, leaving the browser outdated, insecure, and unable to take advantage of updated platforms on the web.
Lacrosse may be Google’s answer to this. Since this Chrome binary is distributed separately from Chrome OS, Google can easily update Chrome binaries from the operating system. This means that even if your Chromebook collides with AUE, your browser will get at least the latest and greatest features – and critically, security fixes – from Google. If you think about it, it can have a huge positive impact on the educational space. A large number of older Chromebooks are being purchased in schools for the use of students, especially now that many classes are becoming virtual during the global epidemic. Thanks to lacrosse, school Chromebooks that hit AUE can continue to receive Chrome updates so students can continue to use their web-based platform. Institutions will no longer have to purchase another set of new, updated Chromebooks, possibly saving a very significant amount of money.
It is unclear what path Google will take with lacrosse. For example, there is no information on how lacrosse will deploy on Chrome OS when they roll out this feature on a static channel. I think Google will install Chrome OS to prompt users to install lacrosse after Chrome hits AUE, but I’m not sure. Lacrosse is taking shape as an exciting project, and I’m excited to see Google trying to extend the lifespan of a Chromebook.