Mobility

How to pick the right Chrome OS channel

Have you ever wondered what the different Chrome OS channels have to offer, and which is right for you? Here's an explanation of the difference between each channel, and how to switch.

Image: Jack Wallen

If you're a Chromebook user, you may or may not know that there are different channels you can install to get a different experience. You can only install one at a time and it would behoove you to understand how the channels vary. I will outline each channel for you so that you can, in the end, decide which one best suits your needs.

Before we get into this, know that switching between channels is as simple as opening up the Chrome OS Settings window, clicking About Chrome OS | More info | Change channel (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Changing your Chrome OS channel.

Do note that in recent updates to the Chrome OS Developer channel this process has changed. In fact, the entire Settings tool for this particular channel has a completely new layout. If you wind up on the Developer channel and want to get back, you must open Settings locate the button for Detailed build information (in the current build, the buttons are actually missing, so you have to move your cursor around until it changes to the hand so you can click) and then click CHANGE CHANNEL. Hopefully that missing button bug will be resolved soon (as the Dev channel updates frequently).

It is important to know that if you go from the Stable channel to either the Beta or Dev channels, your local files will be retained. Going from either the Beta or Dev channels to the Stable channel, however, will require a powerwash, so you will lose your local data.

What makes these channels different? Let's take a look

Stable channel

This is the channel your Chromebook runs out of the box. It's called "Stable" because it is the fully-tested channel, wherein everything works. The Stable channel is updated every two to three weeks for minor changes and every six weeks for major changes, so you're not only dealing with non-cutting edge releases, but you're dealing with software that has been fully tested and patched. Anyone looking for the most reliable platform for the Chromebook, this is what you want. The only drawback to choosing the more reliable route means you will lose out on getting an early glimpse of any upcoming features for Chrome OS. For the average user, that's a solid trade-off, as the Stable channel is just that — very stable.

Beta channel

The Beta channel is exactly what you might expect — a chance to see some of the new features coming to Chrome OS before they have cleared for stable release. This particular channel is a great middle ground for those that want the stability of the Stable channel, but still want to get a sneak peek at what's coming. The Beta channel is updated every week with major changes arriving every six weeks. The difference between the major updates for the Stable and Beta channels is that the Beta channel will get the updates more than a month before the Stable channel. So if having a slightly cutting edge build of Chrome OS, while enjoying a relatively stable experience is important to you, Beta is what you want. I have one Chromebook Pixel that has been running the Beta channel for over two years and have yet to run into a single stability issue.

Developer channel

If living on the edge is what you prefer, the Developer channel is what you want. This particular build of Chrome OS gets updated once or twice a week (with a mixture of minor and major updates). Although all the updates are tested, there can still be bugs involved. However, with this particular channel, you are getting a first glimpse at all of the new features that may (or may not) wind up in the Stable channel. I have a Pixel 2 (one that I do most of my writing with) that runs the Developer channel and some of the more recent updates have brought major changes to the way the platform looks and feels. As mentioned earlier, the Settings app in the Developer channel has recently undergone a very Android-like alteration (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

The Developer channel Settings window.

Although the Developer channel does release numerous changes frequently, I have yet to experience any catastrophic issues. Even so, this is a Chromebook, so if you wind up with a major issue, the fix is but a channel change and powerwash away. If you want to get an early glimpse of what Chrome OS will look like in the future, there's no need for a time machine, just run the Developer channel and you're good to go.

It's all good

I've run all three Chrome OS channels and have yet to experience anything that a channel switch and powerwash couldn't handle. And considering that process can most usually be executed in under 15 minutes, there's really no reason to not (at least) give the Beta channel a try. But then, I don't store anything of value on the Chromebook local drive, so even if there is an issue, I won't lose precious data (should a powerwash be necessary).

Step on up to the Beta channel and see what there is to see. It's all good.

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About Jack Wallen

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 jackwallen.com.

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