Earlier this the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) called on Google to extend is software update policy for Chromebooks from 8 years to 10, saying the move could save schools and other users billions of dollars, while cutting down on electronic waste.
And now Google says it’s doing exactly what the non-profit had asked for. Starting in 2024 all Chromebooks released in 2021 or later will receive automatic software updates for at least 10 years from their launch date. And IT administrators will have the option of enabling 10 years of updates for older Chromebooks released before 2021 as well.
While 10 years might seem like a very long time to offer support (especially compared with smartphones), the thing is that the clock starts ticking the moment a Chromebook is released, not when you buy it. And with many vendors selling Chromebooks that are already several years old, the current 8-year update policy means it’s very easy for schools, businesses, or end users to end up buying a Chromebook that only has a few years of guaranteed updates left.
Extending the update policy by two years means that new Chromebooks released in 2024 and later will be useful for longer, and it also means that recent models released in the past few years will also get a few more years of life.
Since Google is only promising that IT administrators will be able to extend the update cycle for models released before 2021, that means folks who aren’t using Chromebooks managed by a school or business will probably still only get updates for 8 years, but this is still a pretty big deal for anyone buying a newer Chromebook and an even bigger deal for schools and other institutions that may have a larger quantity of Chromebooks that won’t have to be replaced as frequently.
Google notes that even older Chromebooks that are no longer receiving operating systems include some built-in security features that should make them relatively safe to keep using for a period of time. But as PIRG points out, Chromebooks running older software may not be able to access websites that require the latest versions of the Chrome browser. This could help with that issue.
Another thing that could help? Google has been taking steps to separate the Chrome web browser from the ChromeOS operating system, which could enable the browser to be updated even after the OS does stop getting updates. That software isn’t quite ready for the public yet, but when it is, it could help breathe new life into older Chromebooks.
Google says it’s also looking to make Chromebooks sustainable in other ways by encouraging hardware makers to use “more post-consumer recycled materials (PCR)” and by “rolling out new, power-efficient features and quicker processes to repair them.”