Reaction to Google’s Chrome book announcement at has ranged from wildly positive to, shall we say, less than positive. To naysayers, I’m reminded of Clayton Christensen writing on sustaining vs. disruptive innovation. Chromebook is a disruptive innovation, and will play a growing role in tomorrow’s IT department. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now – plan ahead to use ChromeOS/Chromebooks in your enterprise.
ZDNet’s Ed Bott isn’t sold on the value or success potential of Chromebooks. He came up with five reasons why Chromebook isn’t a Windows killer. I’d like to respond to Bott’s five points.
1. Google’s pricing strategy a step towards IT as a service
Bott feels that the price is too high “for a glorified netbook”. However, Bott is focusing on the acquisition cost, not the total cost of ownership.
Back in 2008, Gartner estimated the total cost of a $1,500 notebook over a 4 year period could range between $5,033 and $9,900. The ongoing cost far outweighed the initial cost by between 236 percent and 560% percent.
Google bundles the hardware, OS, maintenance and some administration cost into that $28 per user per month. Companies can opt to pay $50 per user per year separately for Google Apps, an alternative to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange. On a monthly basis, these two prices net out to under $35 per user per month.
Another point to consider is that the monthly fee, versus an upfront hardware cost, allows companies to plan their IT budgets more effectively. Some may see the pricing as allowing companies to move capex dollars into opex dollars.
2. Automatic updates don’t have to be a nightmare
Google claims that automatic updates enable a continuously improving system. However, Bott feels that pushing updates to users can sometimes break things, calling them a nightmare.
The key difference between Chromebooks versus Windows PCs or Macs is there is only an operating system to update on the machine.
Google and other providers of apps for Chrome can update their applications on their servers and not have to push out the changed application. Users connect to the web and always use the most current version of the application.
3. All apps that some users need can run in a browser
Bott rightly calls into question whether a Chromebook is appropriate for everyone in your enterprise. A Chromebook isn’t going to be useful for your programmers or graphic designers, as Bott calls out, but could your knowledge workers, or some portion of them, use a Chromebook? Absolutely.
Bott also calls into question the value of using a desktop virtualization technology, like Citrix, to provide access to native applications that a Chromebook can’t support. However, the ability to use Citrix reads to me like a simple way for Google to deflect FAQ questions versus something that a typical Chromebook adopter would do.
4. Universal connectivity and off-line access is not a pipe dream
Bott asks: “Do you really want to bet the productivity of your entire workforce on having reliable, fast Internet access everywhere?”
Most knowledge workers spend considerable time at the office, coffee shops or home, all places where an internet connection is readily available.
Additionally, Google had already announced that off-line access to GoogleApps is forthcoming. It’s only a matter of time before other web applications use local storage to offer off-line functionality.
Bott also mentions the issue of a user needing access to documents stored on a server somewhere, when they are unable to find an internet connection. Apps such as Dropbox for Chrome OS, or the ability to store, say the last 50 documents used within Google Apps on the 16GB of local storage makes sense.
5. Understand the security implications of using Chromebooks
Google claims that its sandboxing, encryption and recovery capabilities provide a higher degree of security than current PC environments.
Bott asks, whether you’re ready to bet your company on Google’s security feature claims. He also asks whether you want your company’s business data stored on Google’s servers.
These are valid concerns. However, these concerns apply to any corporate use of a web-based technology, be it Salesforce.com, SurgarCRM, or Amazon EC2.
Not ever company will be willing to trust their data to Google. But, deciding which users would be the best targets for a Chromebook, and considering the data they access, create and store, will be critical to getting comfortable with using Chromebooks in your enterprise.
Evaluate Chromebooks with a long term view
Consider Chromebooks as a way to make your IT environment more flexible and responsive to users. Don’t ignore Chromebooks because it’s not the right solution for each and every user in your company. Pick a set of users whose needs align with the benefits of Chromebooks and consider a trial rollout.