Chrome OS beta channel gets Material Design facelift, Google Now

The latest update in the Chrome OS beta channel gets some much-needed modernization. We give you the details and show how to get it on your Chromebook.

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Chrome OS new File Manager (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)
Chrome OS -- a small part of it, at least - is finally getting an updated interface. The latest update to the beta channel has a better looking file manager and a new launcher, along with Google Now notifications.

Material Design is Google's current interface style on Android. It features flat interface elements with a simple color scheme.

The Chrome OS beta has a redesigned interface (see image above) for the file manager that has a Material Design theme. Unlike most Chrome OS apps, it runs in its own window and has a flat blue title bar that looks much like Android.

The new launcher in the beta version is invoked by a search icon on the far left of the task bar. It has a search entry box at the top, which is useful for those of us who have remapped the Search key on the keyboard to provide a CAPS LOCK function.

There are five icons under the search entry box that have the four most recently used Chrome apps on the left, and a static icon to access All Apps. This makes accessing all installed apps a two step process, instead of one as it was before the update.

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New All Apps access (missing Google Now) (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Google is showing Google Now cards displaying underneath the five icons on the launcher, but don't fret if they aren't there. They do appear as notifications on my Chromebook, popping up from the lower right of the task bar when I click on the notifications icon (see image, right).

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Google Now

One new feature in the beta channel is useful for frequent travelers. The time zone will now update automatically based on location.

Those who deal with password protected zip files will be happy to hear those are now supported in this update. It's taken far too long to get this support, but better late than never.

The new Material Design is expected to be added to other web apps in Chrome OS. Hopefully the basic Chrome browser interface will get updated soon, as it is very plain with its aging gray style.

The beta channel update is rolling out now to all Chromebooks except the Chromebook Pixel. Google should get that device updated quickly as it is the new flagship Chromebook.

If you like what you've seen and want to convert your Chromebook to the beta channel, follow these steps:

  1. Open Settings by tapping the icons on the lower right of the task bar.
  2. Locate "About Chrome OS" at the top of the resultant window and tap it.
  3. In the About window, just below the "Check for and apply updates", click "More info...". Your currently installed channel, most likely stable, will appear.
  4. Hit the Change channel button and choose beta. It will download and then install after a system restart.

That's all there is to it, and the whole process takes about five minutes.

Don't worry too much about possible issues caused by the beta version. I have been running the beta channel for a year and a half without a single problem.

See additional Chromebook coverage:

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