If you own a Chromebook then you’ll know what makes these laptops so appealing: Their lightweight, browser-based operating system, ChromeOS, will back up your work automatically and protect itself against the latest security threats by always staying up to date.
But you can dig deeper into the software. Just as with Windows and macOS, you can opt to switch from the regular iteration of ChromeOS to a beta version that’s still a work-in-progress. By joining the program, you get access to new features before everyone else, and help Google fix what doesn’t quite work yet by providing feedback about any bugs you might run into.
And now is the perfect time to get more involved with the operating system, as the company recently launched the Beta Tester Hub, where they’ve made it easier to engage directly with ChromeOS developers and read up on what’s new with the software.
But before you put your developer hat on, a warning—no matter the device or service, beta testing always comes with an element of risk and a chance (albeit a small) that a bug could interfere with an app you rely on or files you’re storing locally. So if you choose to try your hand at testing software, make sure you back up any important documents regularly.
Changing the channel
Unlike other beta programs, ChromeOS’ doesn’t require you to sign up for anything—joining only requires you to change some settings in your device.
Open up Settings on your Chromebook (click on the time in the lower right corner, then the cog icon), and under About Chrome OS, choose Additional details. There, you’ll be able to see the software channel you’re currently on, which determines how experimental is the version of ChromeOS your device is running. All users will be on the stable channel by default, which is the best choice if you want to avoid bugs and crashes. But if you want to join ChromeOS beta and test new features, you’ll have to switch to the slightly more unstable beta, or the even buggier dev channel.
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But risk pays off—the beta channel gets new features about a month before the stable channel and is low risk in terms of crashes and bugs. The dev channel, on the other hand, gets weekly updates and new features as soon as they are available, as well as a higher number of issues. If you’re feeling adventurous, give the dev channel a go, but if you’d rather have a more gentle introduction to software testing, we’d recommend going for the beta channel. To make the switch, on the Additional details screen, go to the Change channel, make your selection, and click the Change channel button again to switch. And don’t worry—whatever your choice, you can always switch back.
If you’re switching to a more experimental channel (from beta to dev, for example), you’ll need to restart your Chromebook. But if you’re switching to a more stable channel (such as from beta to stable), then you’ll need to restart and reset your Chromebook. This will be like setting up your laptop from scratch, so make sure you’ve backed up all local files to the cloud.
When you set up your Chromebook once again, things will be back up and running as usual as soon as you put in your Google account details, as ChromeOS is largely a cloud-based platform.
Being a ChromeOS tester
If you made the switch to the beta or dev channels, congratulations—you’re now a ChromeOS tester. Even if you don’t want to offer any specific feedback, Google will automatically gather anonymized data when the early versions of ChromeOS crash or hit a bump. This allows its engineering team to smooth out problems in time for stable releases of its operating system.
If you want, you can also report any issues that you come across manually. With the screen where the problem is happening open, press Alt+Shift+I to bring up the feedback form, where you’ll be able to describe the bug you found (try to be as detailed as possible), and attach any additional information. You can also specify the website you’re having difficulty with, or attach the file that’s misbehaving.
Check the box labeled We may email you for more information or updates and a Google engineer might get in touch with you to ask for more clarification or offer some feedback. The other checkboxes in the form give you the option of sending screenshots of your open tabs and background diagnostic information along with your feedback. It’s up to you whether you feel comfortable sending this information to Google, but the more data developers have, the more you’ll be helping debug the software.
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If you want to get more involved with the ChromeOS team directly, Google has now opened up the ChromeOS Beta Tester Hub to anyone in the beta program. There you’ll find more information about new features appearing on your Chromebook, and you can chat with software engineers if you have any questions.
On the website, you’ll see a list of the new features in the latest beta version of ChromeOS, and the option to report bugs to the development team directly. If you want to invest even more time in helping develop ChromeOS in return for some goodies from Google, you can request to become a Product Expert, which will require you to offer more feedback to the developers, and help out other users on the official Google forums.