Chromebooks – Which Release Channel is Right for You?
If you want early access to the exciting new features that Google have planned for future updates, why not change your release channel?
Chromebook’s three release channels act as a filter system, ensuring they snare any errors, bugs and problems before updates are released to the public. They also act as a test bed for new ideas and features that Google is planning.
How to Change the Release Channel
The process of changing channels is simple and straightforward. Head to the ‘Settings’ page of your Chromebook and choose ‘Help’ and then ‘More Info’ from the column on the left. The screen will present you with information about what version of the OS your device is currently running, a prompt on whether your machine is up to date, and finally, the option to change the release channel. If you want a more detailed set of directions you can head to Google’s website and read their own instructions.
Before you start changing your channel, a word of warning. If you switch to an experimental channel and then try to return to a stable channel you will need to perform a ‘Powerwash’ on your machine. This will delete all locally saved data and means if you followed our recent guide about installing Linux on your Chromebook you will lose your new OS.
What are the three channels available to you? Stable, Beta and Development.
This is the channel that all machines use when you switch them on for the first time. Major updates are released on a six week cycle, with small tweaks and updates being released every couple of weeks. As its name suggests, this is the most secure and well-tested of all the release channels. It is the least likely to crash or face other unknown problems.
Although it’s the most stable release, this channel is not for everyone. It lags behind the other channels in terms of the release of cutting edge features. A recent example is that of voice-activated search, which a blog post on the official Chrome blog indicates has been available to users on the Beta channel since February 27th.
However, if you’re happy to wait for new features and want a Chromebook that is guaranteed to work at all times then you should stay on this channel.
Fancy seeing what the next major update will bring, but without risking too much stability? Then Beta is the release channel for you. Updated on a weekly basis with a major update every six weeks, the Beta channel is perfect for your inner geek.
Bugs and errors on this channel are rare, but not unheard of. Nevertheless, they are usually fixed promptly given the frequent release cycle.
Although early access to new features is the main attraction of using the Beta channel, there is a downside… Do you really like that new feature? Have you started using it every day as part of your online routine? You need to be aware that it might not make it as far as the next stable release, potentially disappearing from your device without warning.
Not to be confused with Developer Mode, the Development channel is the most experimental of the main release channels. The idea behind it is to allow users an insight into what the Chrome development team are working on at that moment.
Updates are released twice per week and only receive limited testing – consequently, this channel is the most prone to crashes and other errors.
Nonetheless, if you want access to regular major releases that use the most recent code then the Development channel is the build you should choose.
Hidden Canary Channel
Remember I said there are three channels? There’s actually four, though Google doesn’t really want ordinary users to run the Canary channel on their Chromebooks. The Canary build is designed primarily for developers and (extremely) early adopters, and is updated on an almost daily basis. The channel receives no testing before being released, resulting in a machine that is riddled with hardware issues, poor UI and unfinished features – highly impractical for regular users.
However, if you feel like experimenting and are comfortable with running your Chromebook in Developer Mode, you can head to Kenny Strawn’s blog for detailed instructions on how to install this build. [No Longer Available]
Which Channel Is Right For You?
If in doubt, don’t do a thing. For those who might be wondering, I keep my Chromebook in the Stable channel. I use it so often that I have no desire to risk its excellent stability just to see what Google are planning a few weeks early.
However, if you want access to some exciting new experimental features, or simply want to learn about what is planning in upcoming releases then running one of the more experimental channels can provide you with several hours of entertainment.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the process.