In a welcome turn of events for school districts across the country, Google has announced a significant policy change that will extend the lifespan of older Chromebooks, the budget-friendly laptops that have become a mainstay in educational institutions. This shift comes on the heels of a report by the Bay Area News Group, which highlighted the challenges schools faced due to the premature software expiration of these devices. Despite being in good working condition, older Chromebooks were rendered obsolete as they stopped receiving necessary software updates three to six years post-release, essentially blocking essential websites and applications.
Beginning next year, however, Google will start providing a decade’s worth of automatic software updates for all Chromebooks released in 2021 and beyond. This move will also allow users of older models to extend their updates for up to ten years after the model’s original release date, effectively ensuring no existing device would expire for at least two years. Without this extension, 51 Chromebook models were destined for the e-waste bin in the coming year, impacting thousands of students nationwide. This policy change promises to alleviate the financial strain on school districts, who were previously forced to continually replace otherwise functional devices due to software limitations.
Google Extends the Lifespan of Chromebooks, Saving Schools Millions
In a move that promises to save school districts across the US millions of dollars, Google has announced a policy change that will extend the lifespan of older Chromebooks. These low-cost laptops, widely used in schools, have been prematurely discarded due to limited software support that lasts just a few years.
A Shift in Policy
Up until now, each Chromebook model had a built-in expiration date, causing the hardware to lapse three to six years after release. Despite the hardware remaining functional, these devices would no longer receive the necessary software updates, rendering basic websites and applications inaccessible.
Starting next year, Google will provide automatic software updates for all Chromebooks released in 2021 and beyond for a decade. Owners of older models will also have the option to extend updates for up to ten years after the original release date. This means no existing device will expire for at least two years.
Without this policy change, 51 Chromebook models would have become e-waste next year, rendering the devices useless for thousands of students. For Oakland Unified, this would have meant the expiration of 40,000 Chromebooks over the next five years, necessitating the purchase of new devices even if the old hardware was still functional.
Significant Savings for School Districts
“Schools are telling us that now, they’ll be able to use their fleets of computers longer — and that obviously saves schools money,” said Lucas Gutterman, a director at the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG). Doubling the lifespan of Chromebooks sold in California in 2020 alone could save schools $225 million, according to US PIRG — and $1.8 billion nationwide.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools bought Chromebooks in droves, hoping to connect students to their classes without breaking the bank. By the end of 2020, global Chromebook sales were nearly 300% higher than a year earlier.
Google’s Commitment to Repairability
Apart from extending the software lifespan of Chromebooks, Google also plans to make these devices easier to repair. Starting next year, Chromebooks will allow school technicians and third-party repairmen to fix software issues without a physical USB key, reducing repair time by half.
Previously, Google had extended the software lives of Chromebook models manufactured in 2020 or later, guaranteeing them to last until eight years after their model’s release date. But this wasn’t extended to all devices. Now, every Chromebook is guaranteed to work for a decade.
This move by Google is a significant step towards creating a more sustainable tech industry. By extending the lifespan of Chromebooks, not only is e-waste reduced, but schools can also stretch their budgets further. The commitment to making these devices more repairable also highlights Google’s willingness to adapt its policies in response to public concerns. As consumers and institutions continue to demand more from tech companies, it will be interesting to see how other companies respond.