How to roll back your Chromebook to an older version of Chrome OS

Chrome OS is still a relatively new operating system and it regularly goes through a plethora of changes, but it’s not always useful. In at least some cases, in fact, it may be desirable to downgrade to an older version of Chrome OS for a Chromebook, but Google doesn’t necessarily make it easy to learn. Especially since the method relies on several Powerwash steps and is effectively masked.

Fortunately, this is exactly the process this guide is intended for. So let’s get started.

Why would you want to move Chrome OS to an older version on your Chromebook?

Probably the most common reason you want to learn how to revert to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook is bugs. While Chrome OS is arguably the most stable operating system for a laptop on the market, it’s not always perfect. On several occasions, an update pushed by Google resulted in serious problems. Whether for security or stability.

Upgrading to an older version of Chrome OS may resolve this issue.

It can also fix issues with user interface and functionality changes, at least temporarily. For example, Google sometimes changes interface elements or keyboard shortcuts. And, in those cases, it may be easier to downgrade to an older version of Chrome OS than to learn how to use it again. At the very least, some users are probably feeling that way and want to keep switching for as long as possible. Which is not always easy to do with automatic updates like in Chrome OS.

Of course, there are also a number of other reasons that a user might want to go back as well. For example, when an older version better supported business software.

The return is easy but not necessarily painless

Now, it’s worth noting at this point that going back to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook can help, but it does require a Powerwash. For those who don’t already know, a Powerwash is almost exactly what it sounds like. Namely, it completely removes user files from Chromebook, effectively resetting it. And this is necessary to revert to an old version.

So it will be a good idea to spend some time backing up important personal files before you start. Or, at the very least, anything that isn’t uploaded to the cloud.

That said, the process itself is easy, requiring only a few steps. And, when finished, your Chromebook should work like new, albeit on an older version of Chrome OS.

  1. Start by following our guide to performing a full powerwash. Or, for faster Powerwash, simply go back to the Chromebook’s login screen and hold down the “shift”, “ctrl”, and “alt” keys. Then press the “r” key to instantiate a Powerwash. When complete, you’ll be greeted by the login screen that was displayed when you first purchased your Chromebook. It will contain basic system information and a blue button that says “Let’s go” or “Get started”. This step is necessary to call up the referral of the appropriate menu
  2. Normally at this point the next step is to click or tap the button to go through the connection process. But, in this case, we need to take an extra step or two before setting up the new Chromebook. Otherwise, we’ll just use the Powerwash rather than going back to an older version of Chrome OS. You should therefore avoid pressing this button for the moment.
  3. Instead, hold down the “Shift”, “Ctrl”, and “Alt” keys on your Chromebook keyboard. Then, while holding down these keys, press the “r” key to recall the Powerwash menu again. Again, TO DO NOT follow the steps to perform a Powerwash again or nothing will be accomplished
  4. Instead, hold down the same “shift,” “ctrl”, and “alt” keys – while still on the Powerwash screen before pressing the “r” key again for the second time.
  5. Chrome OS will then call up a new screen that looks almost identical to the standard Powerwash UI, but with a key change in the verbiage of the message and button to continue. Namely, the latter will read “Powerwash and come back” while the description will inform you that you are about to Powerwash and revert to the previously installed version of the operating system
  6. Click or tap the “Powerwash and come back” option to reset the Chromebook to the previously installed version of Chrome
  7. Set up the Chromebook as new

Upgrading to an older version isn’t always the best solution for Chrome OS

Due to the limitations of rolling back in terms of the version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook, as already noted, there are advantages to downgrading to an older version. But that doesn’t mean it should be the first option. In fact, this should only be a secondary option after a more standard Powerwash.

There have been a few instances where Google has messed things up with an update unintentionally. Chrome OS 91 update contained a number of issues, for example when it was first launched this year. But, more often than not, the underlying issue you might encounter is less with Chrome OS. And more to do with a problem with the individual Chromebook. And in these cases, unless there is a hardware problem, it can often be fixed with a simple Powerwash.

Also, if you wait too long to go back, you might not get the version of Chrome OS you want. This only allows you, after all, to roll back with a single update. This will not necessarily return you to the originally installed version.

You should also actively avoid updating at this point.

Last but not least, reverting to the previously installed version will not prevent the Chromebook from updating Chrome OS. It’s either on its own during a reboot, or via clicking – accidental or not – on any update prompts that may appear on the screen. For example, the prompts that appear in the lower right corner of the user interface.

Restarting the Chromebook when an update is ready will automatically install the update. And that includes a restart caused by a battery failure. So you need to make sure you charge your Chromebook before it dies and don’t turn it off until a fix has been put in place for your problem. Otherwise, it will install the next version of the operating system and thereafter whatever problem you were looking to avoid by coming back.

Be aware that there could also be other issues with the return

Finally, it’s important to discuss some of the potential privacy and security ramifications of rolling back. While the Switch can fix some bugs found in a new update, it also rolls back security patches. This means that any potentially dangerous bug found in the previous version will be a threat again.

As such, downgrading to an older version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook should be a last resort in most circumstances. Or, conversely, it should not be done without considering the potential risks it presents. Especially since the operating system is currently experiencing the fastest growing, at the time of this writing.

Rapid growth tends to lead to more extensive efforts to exploit any operating system. Which, in turn, means Chrome OS is potentially the most likely to be exploited right now for those who don’t have the latest patches. This has, in recent news, included some serious zero-day exploits, for example.

It’s also worth noting that usually when there are issues with an update, Google fixes them fairly quickly. Due to the risks associated with Google’s response times, rolling back may not be the best option. It is often best to wait for a patch or update before reverting to an older version of the operating system.

About Jon Moses

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