Introduction and Chromebook Pros
They don’t boot up a real operating system. They don’t even run any apps at all, and many of them are meant more for consumers than a business user. Yet, the Chromebook is encroaching on the enterprise, one laptop or convertible notebook at a time.
For anyone thinking of deploying these “light” notebooks that boot directly into the Google Chrome browser in a business setting, here are some pros and cons to consider.
There’s no question a Chromebook is a good match for a certain type of corporate employee, one who relies mostly (or completely) on the cloud for data storage and web apps for productivity. There’s no reason to have local storage and desktop apps.
“If the explosive growth of Chromebook in the education space is any indicator, the potential for rapid Chromebook adoption among business users is very strong,” says John Russell, a product manager at Dell. “Chromebooks are appealing to businesses of all sizes due to their mobility, ease of use and affordability. Chromebooks are a great option for people who primarily work within the Chrome OS and cloud-based environment.”
Brian Rehg, the CEO of Blue Stingray Digital Agency, who uses a Chromebook to do development work, says a low-cost model like the Acer Chromebook he owns is a good match for the low-cost nature of doing work in the cloud. For smaller companies, there are fewer barriers to entry – such as a costly infrastructure, local servers, and management tools. A Chromebook matches up with that low overhead startup mentality.
Rehg also says there is an advantage in data management. He says, as long as a Chromebook is properly configured to use the cloud for all data storage, it can be incredibly secure and there is an extremely low risk of data theft from the local device. (As you can imagine, this strategy relies heavily on encryption between the device and the cloud to be effective.)
Kamesh Ramalingam, a Senior Product Manager at Acer America, made several good points about how the Chromebook is a good match for a specific type of user. Chrome OS is highly centralised in the sense that there is not much the end-user can do to load local apps. For real work, IT handles all of the cloud-based storage and provides cloud-based apps.
For productivity, Ramalingam says there are key advantages in a fast boot time when the worker needs to quickly access web apps. Also, Chromebooks meet the multi-user sign-in capability required in many companies so multiple employees can use the same device.
Not everything is perfect with Chromebooks. Even at a low price point, there are several serious drawbacks beyond the basic “not running Adobe Photoshop” problem. There may even be costs related to new employee training, management services, security, and lost productivity that offset the lower prices of most models from Acer, Dell, and Google itself.
Rehg noted one important con. Many larger companies rely heavily on desktop apps. For example, it can be difficult or impossible to find a photo or video editing suite that has the power of an Adobe application. He says cloud apps are getting there. There are new fully-fledged cloud apps released on a daily basis. And Adobe is working toward a future when even the most powerful desktop-bound apps will run in a browser and therefore on a Chromebook.
That’s not as much of a concern if the company already uses virtual applications delivered through the cloud using services like VMware, Citrix, or Dell vWorkspace. And, that is a definite trend – moving data and apps off the machine and into the cloud.
Rehg mentioned another obvious drawback. Employees in a large company will be left almost completely helpless and unproductive if there is no internet access. You can’t just switch over to a desktop app, although many Google apps such as Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail can run in an offline mode and then sync the data later when access is restored.
In some cases, companies may find that it is difficult to complement a Chromebook with the same level of device management services available from Microsoft or other PC vendors. Russell says this is still possible, particularly for asset management, service desk, and reporting using a service like Dell KASE. That said, Russell acknowledged that some large companies require the device management tools to be on-premise and not cloud-based.
Rehg says one of the key decisions companies have to make is who will end up using the systems. In schools, there’s little chance that a student will need to develop complex applications that require data redundancy, but in a larger company, a Chromebook might not have the processing power, compilers, and graphics capabilities required. He says Chromebooks are more ideal for project managers, salespeople, executives, and knowledge workers.
Not a “real” computer…
There may be a political issue as well in a larger company. When you hand someone a Chromebook, they might scoff and question whether they should have a “real” computer, particularly if they are not familiar with the Chromebook’s advantages, like speed and fast boot times. Some users are simply more familiar with a Windows laptop (or even a MacBook).
There is also the issue of raw performance. Many entry-level Chromebooks come with only 4GB of RAM or even 2GB and rely on a slower processor, a compromise manufacturers make because the system has such a low overhead to run the Chrome OS. Yet, Russell says that perception is changing with newer models that have more powerful CPUs.
In the end, every company has to decide if there is a target market with employees who will benefit from the Chromebook. The notebooks work well in education but may not be a fit for large segments of the workforce, such as developers and marketing. However, as the tech industry moves more and more into cloud computing, a Chromebook is worth a serious look if there is a good match with your infrastructure, employee use cases, and budget.