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.

    • FollowTheMoneyTrailDotCom

      Supporting ten thousand users on RDP connections to Windows Terminal server to run line of business apps on low cost Chromebooks seems like a pretty crazy notion to me.

  • 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.

      • MrBlue

        I worked down the street from MSFT HQ in Bellevue in 1985, before the City of Bellevue ran MSFT across BEL-RED road.(An early copy of Windows 1 somehow made it down the street one day.).Windows 1 came on at least 12 5 1/4 floppies and took over an hour to install and would barely execute on recommended CPU/RAM. Windows really didn’t become a usable O/S until WIN95 with IP was launched at COMDEX. So “being around” and being useful are not the same thing. I deleted it after an hour and went back to DOS. I’ve been a dedicated Google/GMail/Nexus 4/Chromebook user for a few years and my only problem has been Google running under WIN 8.1 on the desktop. I will soon set up a Linux partition running Ubuntu to escape Windows. Android runs a modified LINUX kernel and will soon run the same kernel. So as Windows Office apps become available in the Google Play store, Android and LINUX continue to rise, Windows continues to slowly sink into Puget Sound.

      • Mark Newland

        Linux has been around longer than Windows? As you have pointed out: FALSE.

        Linux is based on Unix: TRUE
        Unix (developed in the mid-60′s, released 1973?) has been around longer than Windows (November 20, 1985): TRUE

        I’m going to guess that Si was only referring to Linux simply as something to be associated with an OS that has been around longer than Windows .

        Since we are stretching things here (no nit-picking please), since Android is based on Linux which is based on Unix, could we say that Android (or at least it’s early predecessors) is older than Windows?

        Although Linux and Android have not been around longer than Windows, it’s predecessors have been. Anyone remember Xenix?

        • deathdealer351

          UNIX on a power PC would probably be the most stable. even an older mac since mac os is unix based and you should be able to pick up a Power PC mac pretty cheap.

          If you want to ditch windows really for the best shot of being able to replace the software you have with quality software go buy an apple. If you want to keep your current hardware then go get a linux distro.

          I would totally say to anyone who is still running XP who does not want to go mac or windows for the love of all that is good and holy go load linux on your machine. I would not say go buy a cromebook cause its $200 for a tablet that has been cross breaded with a netbook.

  • 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.

    • ready_to_retire

      Agree. I just don’t trust that “cloud” to keep my stuff safe. And, I’ve heard that the license agreement that you agree to (and most of us never read) gives the cloud people lots of rights to your stuff. Clouds are for 1 thing – to make rain.

      • MisterChris

        Google has in their current TOS that they scan all email that comes through your gmail account, in and outbound. If that’s not bad enough, say you run your business on a cloud service as man small offices do. If you are late on a payment they can lock you out – totally crippling your business if you are not careful. I’m with you… stay away from pay-for cloud services.

  • 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!

    • James Van Damme

      That’s called Mint. Or Zorin. I’ve been using Mint for 4 years now. Hasta la Vista, Microsoft!
      And Google doesn’t get to spy on me, either.

  • 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.

  • FollowTheMoneyTrailDotCom

    So a blog article…. from a Google Enterprise Partner… telling us how great the Chrome Book is.

    Wow what a surprise.

    Never mind that Google is building a database of your activity that would make George Orwell proud, and that they happily share this with the NSA… Or that they have a long history of giving away free stuff, and then charging for it…

    To pretend that Google docs is a replacement for Open Office, or MS Office, is absurd.

    If you want to hand your life over to Google, buy a Chomebook, and expect to pay per use in a few years. That’s been the dream of everyone in this industry since the mainframe died. Want to write a letter? Please insert five cents. Want to browse the web? Please insert five cents…

  • elite1

    Dump Windows-based systems and switch to a Linux-based OS. Your life will be much better and your digital security will be increased. You will not be beholden to Google and other so-called “cloud” services when they start charging an arm and a leg to access your own files.

  • 1Gandydancer

    So the future is connecting terminals to a mainframe?

  • DoktorThomas

    The Chromebook is nothing more than a dedicated browser; it has no computing power what-so-ever. If you like being a Google Guinea without having anything private, by all means use the Chomicbook [sic]. Given revelations about NSA backdoors, corporate compliance with violating your rights and the unending cracking of high security corporate and government areas, only a fool would use the cloud … except to store random nonsensical data of no useful purpose to give NSA something to store and to try to make sense of or decipher. Surely such useless data is a sign of terror. ©2014 All rights reserved.

  • Oldtek

    I used a Chromebox at home for almost a year and found it to be good for 95 percent of what I needed.
    Its biggest drawback for me was the inability to print on my Brother laser printer.
    But the Google Drive office spreadsheet and text applications worked fine and did everything I needed.

    For you paranoids out there, you are deluded if you think you cannot be hacked by avoiding cloud apps.
    Get in line with the rest of us and submit to Big Brother.

  • white lightning

    Use PC-BSD and encrypt your hard drive. Make sure you have at least 4 gigs of RAM (8 is even better) and a 64 bit processor. (Dual core is even better) Encrypt your drive partition during set up. UNIX is secure and less people use it then either Windows or MACS. A hacker likely will not anticipate a PC-BSD machine as a target. They’ll get their titillation elsewhere.