Windows free? More businesses turn to Chrome

Google’s cloud system offers low cost, simplicity

Chromebooks — the cheap, cloud-based computers that use Google’s operating system — are becoming increasingly popular for business use.

While IT professionals still prefer Windows-based PCs for desktop publishing and other high-powered processing, Chromebooks offer a cheaper, more secure way to handle many other business functions such as file sharing and video conferencing.

Jason Towns

Firebrand Strategic’s Jason Towns forecasts that Google’s Chrome OS will enjoy mainstream adoption within three years.

UKNetMail Ltd., a British-based Google Enterprise Partner specializing in the financial sector, has made a rapid switch to Chrome over the past 12 months.

“We have implemented the Chrome OS in several financial institutions,” says co-owner Pavel Dolezal. “And the only feedback we receive is from users who’ve tried them and want to get more of them for the entire organization.”

Because Chrome systems store all their information and software in the cloud, there is little risk of sensitive data being lost or stolen. And Chrome devices, whose main purpose is simply to connect to the Internet, are attractively priced at less than $300 each.

Built for online

“Chromebooks are built to be used online and to be honest, 90 percent of the time that we’re on the computer, we are online,” says Jason Towns, managing partner of Firebrand Strategic, a Washington, D.C.-based boutique business development and strategy agency servicing social improvement startups and nonprofits.

The Chrome OS is maintenance and virus-free, lightweight and doesn’t need much processing power to operate, Towns explains.

Integration with Google means that collaborative tasks are easy and all changes are synced to multiple devices automatically.

“The beauty of the Chrome OS is that…data and collaboration flow seamlessly from one device to another, thus making it easy for everyone to choose their own configuration,” says Dolenzai. “In addition, users love the ability to switch devices and resume the work from exactly where it was on the other device.”

Most businesses, of course, can’t switch completely to Chrome because there are still some functions that only Windows can handle.

Depends on need

“It really depends on what that user uses his computer for,” says Towns. “For instance, a graphic designer or photographer that needs apps like the Adobe Creative Suite will not be best served by a Chromebook…because the Chromebook won’t run the main apps that they use [every day].”

Users also can’t do anything without an Internet connection, so working on airplanes or remote areas can be a problem.

“During the 10 percent of the time that we are not online, the Chromebook isn’t as useful,” says Towns. “However, there are many apps that function offline and every month, more offline apps are available.”

The same is true with word-processing functions, Towns notes.

“Those expecting to run Microsoft Office, for example, will be disappointed,” he says. “But let’s remember that Chromebooks run the Google-owned Chrome OS , which is integrated with Google Apps and wide range of Google services. This means that, in most cases, an alternative application is available for most tasks.”

Chrome in schools

A Google-sponsored survey from IDC touts the advantages of Chromebooks for schools, such as reduced IT support, cost of ownership and increased productivity. All of these advantages can translate to businesses, as long as companies understand the limitations of the device.

“Whether or not an organization is an educational institution or business entity, the IT themes are the same,” says Matthew Vollmar, CEO at Newmind Group Inc., a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based provider of managed IT services for transferring legacy systems to the cloud.

“Some of those benefits that relate to Chromebooks in education are also highly apparent in companies,” he adds. “Remote device management, remote document access, user collaboration on project files. The list goes on.”

Though comparing Chrome to Windows is “almost like comparing apples to oranges,” Vollmar says, the gap is beginning to narrow.

VMware’s plan to bring a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution for running Windows applications on Chromebooks is likely to entice more businesses to switch.

“Businesses and individuals within businesses that require the use of software that is hardware intensive or dependent on the Windows OS will find Windows a benefit,” says Vollmar. “But even this is being overcome by new technology being developed by VMware.”

Michael O'Dwyer
Born in London but living in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer spent over 15 years in the electronics industry, managing information technology, process improvement and supply chains. He writes for a variety of online portals on IT and related topics.
Michael O'Dwyer
Michael O'Dwyer
Michael O'Dwyer
Tags: Education,Productivity,Software,Technology
  • Adam Greenblum

    While businesses have been slow to adopt Chromebooks, the technology does make sense for certain use cases. As the devices improve, more and more businesses will find groups of employees or even entire departments that can enjoy the benefits that Chromebooks offer, such as ease of use, quick start-up, etc.

    Not all businesses can give up on Windows applications, however. While Google does have alternatives to Microsoft Office, many companies have legacy Windows-based applications that are not easily converted to cloud or web-based. However, there are solutions, based on HTML5 technology, that allow browser-based access to such applications. For example, Ericom’s AccessNow HTML5 RDP solution enables Chromebook users to securely connect to Terminal Server or VDI virtual destops (or almost any RDP host) and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    AccessNow does not require any installation on the Chromebook, so it’s easy to deploy and manage.

    AccessNow has been on the market for almost three years now, while VMware’s solution is only now becoming available.

    For an online demo open your Chrome browser and visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/demo_AccessNow.asp?URL_ID=708

    Please note that I work for Ericom.

  • Jason Towns

    Great points Adam. AccessNow and VMware are solid solutions for business users needing access to Windows desktops or applications. Also, let’s not forget that Microsoft released a free online version of the Microsoft Office Suite at http://www.office.com. So now Chromebook users can create and edit Word, PowerPoint and Excel docs online that way as well.

  • BinaryStar34

    Chrome is a very tempting idea for businesses, however, if your business depends on any type of client data that needs protection, it’s an absolute no-no. I have never had an NDA with a client that would have let me push their data products onto a Google server without being potentially on the line for million dollar damages.

    I imagine that is true for more businesses than most people realize.

    • CAC1031

      If financial institutions, the IRS, health insurance companies, etc. can secure customer information online–and try to find a bank that doesn’t offer online services–than any company should be able to encrypt and store their information online. It is a question of having the right security in place. If your company uses computers that access the internet then the information stored on servers that connect to them will be just as vulnerable to hacking. The whole the “cloud storage is risky” is a red herring. Any network computer is just as vulnerable to the NSA and any other hackers.

  • Larry Patel

    I have been done with Windows for a year now. I have been “over” it for years. I would not take Windows for free. If one were give me hardware with Windows loaded, I might use it if the giver promised to maintain it too.

  • Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

    I’m a programmer and rely on my computer to make a living, that includes graphics and documentation. I use a free operating system that’s been around much longer than windows, linux. I can also run windows applications, so if I don’t like libreoffice and gimp I could use office and photoshop.

    • Jeremy Steele

      Absolutely surprised no-one has corrected this month-long incorrect post written by a so-called “programmer”

      “I use a free operating system that’s been around much longer than windows, linux.” – FALSE

      As a programmer (of 12+ years) – let me correct you: Linux is a kernel, not an operating system. You use a distribution of an operating system which relies on the Linux kernel. Linux (the kernel) has only been around since 1991. Windows has been around since 1985.

      You can run Windows applications via virtual machine or Wine. A VM is still running Windows, so it is not technically “running windows apps on another system”, and Wine’s application compatibility is lackluster at best, often taking years to add support for the new software (give Adobe CC a try, it doesn’t run).

      I personally use Linux-based OSes daily, and I’m saddened when people state such false statements.

  • checkman69

    Good points and love Chrome…unless there is ever an interruption with connectivity, in which case, you better have a full back up system or a great liberal leave policy. And that of course assumes that the other guys’ system is never hacked or monitored by some nefarious group. Having relied on internet phones I still want all my data in house along with my programs, just in case.

  • Hawkscrye .

    Having just read about the Ouroboros virus, I’m less inclined than ever to make use of any cloud based services. My business doesn’t qualify as anything other than tiny, but HIPAA rules and potential fines for accidental disclosures no matter who is at fault guarantee I won’t use cloud based services, I won’t use Office online, and I won’t lower myself to using Google products. With Ouroboros the Russians can steal your data, and with Chrome and Google, the NSA can steal your data. We can’t win. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me. Of course, lots of pro-government people have been saying for years that the NSA and the rest of the government isn’t spying on Americans, and look what we know now.

    My advice? If your network needs Internet access, have one pipe in, heavily protected, monitor your own packets in and out, and shut the entire network down when you don’t need it up. Yes, I’m aware this is only peripherally associated with this article, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that the security we think we have with our networks is merely blowing sunshine, and not actually secure. Now imagine Ouroboros sitting in Google’s cloud banks right next to the NSA. Yay.

  • James Francis

    Microsoft: do you hear the rumble of an approaching storm? If they offer an XP-like interface, it’s going to be a hurricane!

  • Jim Emerson

    Does this mean Google will have access to the docs, email and web activity of everyone in your company, as it does with its existing customers? I don’t trust Google with that information any more than I ever trusted Microsoft. (Google just happens to make leaner, less expensive and more innovative software. It’s better spyware, but it’s still spyware.)

  • TerminatahX

    “Increased productivity” is something that the Chrome OS cannot tout, especially when compared to a standard Microsoft image.