It’s Time For Enterprises To Consider Chromebooks

Since their introduction over two years ago, the buzz around Chromebooks hasn't always been positive. Although recent news about Chromebook growth in the consumer market has improved this picture, negative press still hasn't been hard to come by this year.

Infrastructure & Operations professionals with responsibility for end user computing and device portfolios should ignore the naysayers. In fact, it’s time to take a fresh look at whether Chromebooks might fill a legitimate computing niche for your company.

In a major new Forrester report, we present an analysis of the enterprise Chromebook space. Let me first be clear that Chromebooks won’t replace all or even most Windows PCs, Macs, and tablets. But for companies that are (1) willing to segment their workforces (offering Chromebooks to specific classes of workers in a mixed environment with PCs and tablets), (2) adopting Gmail and/or Google Apps, or who are (3) deploying the devices in a customer-facing (think kiosk) scenario, Chromebooks are definitely worth investigating.

Moving workers to Chromebooks generates these benefits (plus others covered in the full report):

  • Infrastructure professionals can spend time on innovation, not maintenance. Chromebooks offer the prospect of radically reducing the amount of time IT staff spends “keeping the lights on” for devices. As one IT leader told me, “instead of spending time installing software on laptops, or creating images, I'd rather have my desktop services people work on implementation of technologies related to location awareness or 3D printing.” The CIO of another company added, “I want to get out of the laptop business.” Chromebooks offer high uptime, low service costs, and scalable deployment of new web-based applications and content.
  • Employees naturally gravitate toward collaborative computing scenarios. A move to corporate Gmail remains pretty much a prerequisite to the adoption of Chromebooks. Once Gmail is in place, Chromebooks can promote collaborative work styles. One CIO reported that workers at his company started to use Google Drive and other collaboration tools “organically and automatically” after the adoption of Gmail. Chromebooks reinforce the value of these tools and represent the next logical step in empowering collaboration.

Although our analysis shows that Infrastructure buyers should consider Chromebooks, these devices aren’t for everyone. Companies with a large presence in China, for example, will find that Google’s famed clashes with the Chinese government handicaps the performance of Google Apps. Although Chromebooks are highly portable (and offer optional wireless subscription options), for many hyper-portable business scenarios, tablets might be a better choice.

Overall, though, it’s time to take the Google enterprise proposition seriously – and enterprises should conduct a fresh evaluation of Chromebooks. I would invite Forrester clients to read the entire report here, where we help you determine whether Chromebooks might be right for your company.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.

Comments

There are certainly benefits

There are certainly benefits to having a laptop which has no software and updates automatically. The limitations are obvious - it's only a web browser, so purchasers will essentially be tied into web based services. Google's bet is that it'll tie you into their Apps suite, which is quite a clever way to drive adoption and address issues of retention.

You could draw an opposite parallel between Google's strategy and Microsoft. Google is offering the Chromebook to get you to use their services + apps. Microsoft historically offered Office to get you to use Windows (only recently are they starting to expand to other platforms, mostly mobile).

Enterprise issues

While this write-up is certainly true, and Chromebooks are appealing, Chromebooks also have some practical issues in the enterprise:

- difficult to print

- difficult to run popular VPN clients

- difficult to run virtual desktop via Citrix

None of these issues is a long-term killer if Google, popular VPN vendors, and Citrix choose to address them, but given the poor penetration, it's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem....

VPN and virtual desktop

David,

I am using a VMware Hosted Virtual Desktop from a ChromeOS device. It works nicely with their new HTML 5 Horizon View Client. Seamless experience. And the hosted desktop launches in a full-immersive mode on ChromeOS.

I have also used Citrix published apps on ChromeOS using the Citrix app for ChromeOS, works nicely.

VPN on ChromeOS is a challenge. Especially if you want to use RSA Token based 2-Factor Authentication. Google says it is possible. I haven't been able to set that up. It would be nice if Google has a 2FA (using dynamic tokens, not certs) VPN PoC setup for ChromeOS that enterprises can experiment with, and get an idea of the user experience.

Thanks.

Webex

Let's not forget Webex. Where is the Webex app for ChromeOS? Why is Cisco taking so long to develop a pure HTML 5 Webex Client?

Lack of a good text editor in Google Drive / ChromeOS

It would be nice to have an official Google supported text editor in Google Drive / ChromeOS. Right now it is not possible to edit even simple text files, without the use of a 3rd party app.

A good OS should include some sort of text editor.

cost of moving to ChromeOS

Enterprise switching to ChromeOS will not see reduced IT costs right way. In fact there will be an increase in IT cost during the initial roll-out. But overtime, I think, the IT management overhead for ChromeOS will go down drastically. I have been using ChromeOS since 2011, and have forgotten what a virus / malware is. The OS updates itself in a seamless fashion, with no user interruption. In fact, I have become so accustomed to the verified secure environment of ChromeOS that I can’t even think of logging into my bank account, or work related sites if I am not on a ChromeOS device. I do have a Windows PC, but I use it mainly for Webex, and SSHing into other systems. Now with with the new SSH client on ChromeOS, I have moved that function to Chromebox as well. For MS Office documents, I have started to use Google QuickOffice which works offline on ChromeOS, and aims for full fidelity with MS Office document format

Saqib, thanks for your insights

Really appreciate your comments here, which will be useful to others.

best,
j. p.

It's all about the apps...

Until Microsoft office compatibility becomes widely available, it is next to impossible to take Chromebook seriously for the enterprise. It is great news that QuickOffice finally became available on the dev-channel on Chrome. Without the ability to edit office documents natively, Chromebook remain a just a browser that boot up really fast.

Office Web Apps

John,

I am avid user of ChromeOS. Initially when I started using ChromeOS in 2011, working with MS Office files was definitely an issue. But things have changed since then. Now I can use MS Office Web Apps[1] for working with MS Office files. In addition to that Microsoft has released Office Web Viewer[2] which allows any MS Office document to be viewed in a web browser in full fidelity with no formatting loss. The progress of bringing MS Office to the web browser has been slow, but we are getting there.

Definitely would like to see Microsoft Office Web Apps added to the Google Chrome webstore / Google Marketplace so that the MS Office Web Apps can easily access .docx .pptx and .xlsx files stored in Google Drive :)

Hope springs eternal.......

1. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/web-apps
2. http://officewebviewer.com/

Almost there....

Hi Saqib, thank you for the insight. I manage the Google Apps for several small businesses simultaneously. I would love to start offering chromebook to our folks who are on the road. The lack native office editing is really a deal killer. Yes, I know QuickOffice is available on the dev-channel. However dev-channel is slow as hell on Samsung 3. My pet theory is that Pixel is released such that one can actually using the dev-channel build of ChromeOS on the ChromeBook

Error code: 502-3 when trying to access the pdf

J. P., I get Error code: 502-3 when I try to access the pdf. My corporate research portal says that I have rights to this. What gives? Thanks!

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