The Linux-based Chrome OS has a few tricks under its belt that most users don't know about. Why? Because it's based on Linux -- and Linux is all about choice. This means that you can amp up your Chrome OS device by switching it to a different channel. The end result is that you get more features and faster updates. The caveats? Well, you're switching to a beta channel, so sometimes the updates are a wee bit wonky (though I've only experienced any less-than-stable behavior in the Dev channel, not the Beta channel).
There are actually three different Chrome OS channels:
- Stable: The stock channel -- what every Chromebook is set for.
- Beta: A step ahead of Stable. Features here are still in the testing phase.
- Dev: This is the developers' channel. It's the least stable of all the channels and brings with it new features that have yet to reach the beta stage.
The update scheduled for each channel speaks very clearly to what you're getting into:
- Chrome OS Stable channel: Updated every 6 weeks
- Chrome OS Beta channel: Updated every week
- Chrome OS Dev channel: Updated 1-2 times a week
I initially switched my Chromebook to Dev to get the Google Now-like voice search feature (this feature is still not in either the Beta or Stable channels), plus the new App Controls, window snapping, and more. After noticing a few oddities while working with documents, I switched to the Beta channel. As I mentioned earlier, I have yet to experience any odd behavior from Beta. In my opinion, it's worth it. Anyone who wants more than the standard issue should change their Chromebook to the Beta channel. If you don't mind the glitch here and there, and you want to stay on the cutting edge, go with the Dev channel.
But how do you do it? Fortunately, it's quite simple. Let me show you how.
Warning: As you might expect, changing channels will wipe your device. Any data that you've saved locally will need to be backed up (to either a USB device or to your Drive account). After you've backed up your data, follow these steps to switch channels:
- Log into your Chromebook
- Click the system tray (bottom right corner)
- Click Settings
- Click Help
- Click More info... (Figure A)
- Click Change Channel
- Select the channel you wish to use (Figure B)
- Click Change Channel
At this point, you should see Updating your device to Beta channel (or Dev, should you switch to the Developer channel). This will take some time, as it's downloading the new image for your Chromebook. You will then be prompted to restart the device and log back in. You should now be using the new channel.
Should you find the new channel a bit too unstable, you can always switch back using the same process or by Powerwashing the device. A Powerwash resets the Chromebook back to factory defaults.
Congrats! Your Chromebook should now enjoy faster access to updates and new features. Depending on where you left your Chromebook (from the Stable channel), you may or may not see anything noticeable. You will, however, notice faster updates and, after digging around a bit, you'll find new features that you didn't have before. For example, tap the Search button, and you'll see a small mic in the popup (Figure C).
The voice search feature found in the Dev channel.
If you see that feature, you've successfully changed to the Dev channel.
The Chromebook is indirectly helping to bring Linux to the forefront of the desktop platform. And, in typical Linux fashion, you can have your Chrome OS just how you like it. Does switching to the Beta or Dev channel help the Chromebook fit your needs? Sound off in the comments below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.