At Least Google's Chromebook Is a Cool Idea

Wayne Rash
Google's announcement that it will be selling a storage-free netbook that depends entirely on cloud-based applications has been greeted by its would-be audience as everything from a Windows killer to something that's totally useless. As is always the case in such hype-ridden discussions, the truth is somewhere in between.

The new Google Chromebook is basically a small laptop computer that runs the Chrome OS and depends entirely on cloud-based storage and applications. Google is reportedly planning on charging $28 a month for the device. Google does warn that you must have access to a wireless network for the device to operate. There does not appear to be a provision for wired Ethernet, and there's no means of using locally stored applications.

At first look, this sounds attractive. You don't have to depend on a specific computer to do your work - all you have to do is pick up any Chromebook and log into your Web-based apps and do your work. And as long as you're located in an office with good Wi-Fi connections that could be true, provided of course that the current iteration of the Chrome OS supports your cloud computing environment.

Already you can see some potential problems. You can't actually travel with the Chromebook if you plan to get work done while traveling. Worse, unless you know for certain that you'll find a secure Wi-Fi connection at your destination, you'll fare no better once you get there.

While it's true that you can take along a 4G Wi-Fi access point to provide connectivity for your Chromebook, you're already starting to introduce cost and complexity just to get your basic work done.

Meanwhile, you have another choice. You can get a regular, old Windows notebook computer. Hewlett-Packard is offering those to businesses for a lease rate of $16 per month and you get Windows 7 included in that price and you get local storage. If you're worried about data loss, Windows devices will also work with cloud-based applications including Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, and if you want the Chrome experience, you can download it for free. And there's a plus: If you need to work on a document while you're out of the office, you can. You can either download it to your hard disk or create it there, and transfer it to your cloud-based applications when you get secure network access.

There's also one other concern about the Chromebook computer and the Chrome OS. I've been told by users of this OS that Google's updates are frequent, and that they happen automatically. Google makes a big deal about this, claiming that it is the only OS with such automatic updates. Apparently it hasn't heard about the automatic update features that come with Windows, Mac OS and Linux. But in those latter cases, you have control over the updates - with Chrome OS, you don't.

This version of automatic updating may not sound like a big deal, but in many companies, the updates need to be vetted before they're distributed throughout the company. This is because the IT department needs to confirm that they work with applications critical to the company. If you can't do that, and it's not clear with the Chrome OS that you can, the company could find that it's suddenly cut off from applications critical to its business. Sure, you can assume that Google Apps will always work, but suppose you're using Office 365? Or a custom-developed Web app?

The bottom line is that while the Chromebook is a nice solution for some specific applications, it's clearly no Windows (or Mac or Linux) killer despite the hype. Instead, it's a niche product that will work very well in some cases. But for many businesses, it may not work at all.

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May 14, 2011 1:05 PM Ralph Riley Ralph Riley  says:
Wayne - What was interesting was the raising of the specter that Google Chrome might not always effectively support a third party solution using, in your scenario, Microsoft's Office 365 offering. The vetting process is critical, I agree. But the example was interesting given that a more significant concern is that Microsoft products are seen as requiring (as Bill Gates put it) a consistent platform (all Microsoft) to allow systems to effectively work together. Thanks for the insights (intended and otherwise). Reply
May 23, 2011 7:05 PM Brad-Lee LaDawg Brad-Lee LaDawg  says:
I travel a lot. Getting online is really not an issue in the USA, so the notion that "you won't be able to get work done when you get there" is pretty much 1995 thinking. And a 3G/WiFi device is not that big a deal - you'd have that for your conventional laptop as well. Reply
May 28, 2011 9:05 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
The author is missing the big deal with Chromebooks which is zero maintenance, and data security. You basically switch it on and work away - there is nothing more to do or learn. The huge desktop maintenance cost savings associated with this simplicity that have IT departments in large enterprises which have web based information servers, and small business with no IT departments that rely on externally hosted IT all drooling about Chrome OS. The simplicity will also ensure higher productivity with users spending less time on computer tasks like OS configuration and management of backups of local data. Because the OS contained in the device is minimal and does not allow local installation of applications, it doesn't require any configuration, it can be updated without checking the updates will not break applications, it does not need installation of drivers, defraging the hard drive, troubleshooting hardware. Installation and updating anti-virus programs is not required because viruses cannot infect the OS if nothing is permitted to be installed, and you don't have to remember back up local files or sync them to the server because it does this automatically. You also get 8 second boot and instant resume. Chrome OS is basically more for less - more time to do what you want to in terms work or leisure, for less time spent wrestling with your computer learning how to configure, manage and backup your computer and data, and spending a significant part of your time doing all of these. The cost $28 per month may be more than for a low end Windows laptop, but if you include the cost of desktop support and maintenance, Windows software subscriptions, anti-virus subscriptions, locking down the desktops and managing backups etc. a Windows desktop costs well over four times this. From a geek/hobbyist's perspective Chrome OS doesn't make a lot of sense because these people want to do things like configuring their computers and installing and trying out applications on them. Chrome OS doesn't allow you to do these things. Geeks/hobbyists also want to buy hardware as cheaply as possible, and don't worry about maintenance cost and effort since it is a labor of love for them. If you look carefully, this is exactly where a lot of criticism of Chrome OS is coming from: "I can't install apps to try them out or games, can't configure the OS, I can't install drivers, has only xxx GB SSD when this Windows laptop has yyy GB" etc. etc. From a business point of view Chrome OS makes perfect sense from both a productivity and cost point of view. PS. You can get Chrometops which do have LAN connectivity. WiFi on Chromebooks will give you the same functionality as LAN with freedom to move around the office. You can get 3G if you want to work outside the office and there is no convenient WiFi hotspot. Reply
Jul 24, 2011 2:07 PM Adam Adam  says:
One factor that might prevent some businesses from adopting Chromebooks is lack of access to Windows/Enterprise apps. One way to overcome this is with Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops � and run their applications and desktops in a browser. Ericom�s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices � an HTML5 browser is all that is required. The City of Orlando has selected Ericom AccessNow as part of its deployment of 600 Chromebooks. AccessNow will be used to connect to VMware View virtual desktops. For more info, and to download a demo, visit: Reply

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