More Mobility from Google: Chromebook in the Enterprise?

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — October 23, 2012

The new version of the Google ARM-based Chromebook by Samsung became available for pre-order late last week. Sundar Pichai, SVP, Chrome and Apps blogged, “A few years ago, we set out on a journey to build a better computer that’s faster, simpler and more secure. When we introduced a few Chromebooks into the market, many of you early adopters joined us on this journey. For folks living entirely in the cloud, the Chromebook is now a primary computer.”

While Pichai did not specifically mention use of the Chromebook in business, certainly, many of the “folks” living in the cloud are enterprises. Also, the device is listed under the business section of the Google site and is clearly positioned for enterprise use.

The company asks and answers, “What is a Chromebook? Skip the waiting. Forget the manual IT set-up. Leave the anti-virus software behind. The Chromebook is a new computer from Google for getting stuff done, for sharing, everywhere you go.”

There’s an obvious avoidance to characterizing the device as a laptop, which leads to an obvious implication that the “new type of computer” is highly mobile. Picahi wrote, “You can easily carry it around all day — it’s 2.5 pounds and a mere 0.8 inches thick, with more than 6 hours of battery life for the typical user.” The basic device does not have a fan or moving parts, so it stays cool and silent.

Chrome OS and App Power

The computers are run by the Chrome operating system, which is said to provide the “best” of Google Apps, built-in security, easy central management and “other features that make them an improvement on traditional computers.”

There is no software to install, update or patch because the Chromebook uses Chrome apps to manage the usual tasks of emailing, chatting and creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The apps, which work on and offline, and utilities are built in so the device works out of the box, allegedly on in 10 seconds. It also syncs with Android smartphones, tablets or any other device running on the same OS.

Security, Security, Security
Google Drive is built-in cloud storage for saving work without backup. The company emphasizes its highly secure data centers and says that users own the files and control sharing.
 
A manifesto-like explanation of the OS explains the security of the OS, which uses the principle of “defense in depth” to provide multiple layers of protection.

Web and download histories can be avoided by browsing in “incognito mode.” Using guest mode on the login screen deletes all browsing information and downloads once the session has been closed. Other security features include verified boot, system call filtering, rollback protection and TPM-backed certificates.

Manage Thousands of Devices

The base price of a Chromebook is $249, but the “management console” costs and additional $150. Google says the web-based console "makes it easy to deploy and control users, devices and apps across a fleet of devices of 10s, 100s or 1,000s."

Management functionality includes:

  • Track assets: Assign devices to users and get configuration and usage reports
  • Pre-install and block apps: Blacklist, whitelist or pre-install apps, extensions and URLs
  • Create user groups: Apply policies, apps and settings to different sets of users
  • Control user access: Control who uses a device: prevent outside users from logging in, disable Guest Mode or designate the specific users within a domain
  • Configure network access: Set network and proxy settings to make it easy for users to get up and running, and ensure they're protected by web filters and firewall
  • Customize user features: Modify user settings, like bookmark and app sync across computers and brand devices with custom themes

Specs of the basic device include:
  • 1.6’’ (1366x768) display
  • 0.8 inches thin - 2.5 lbs/1.1 kg
  • Over 6.5 hours of battery
  • Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Processor
  • 100 GB Google Drive Cloud Storage with 16 GB Solid State Drive
  • Built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • VGA Camera
  • 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • HDMI Port
  • Bluetooth 3.0 Compatible
The Samsung Chromebook 550 is slightly larger and weighs less than 0.5 pounds more. It also features an Intel Core Processor, 4 GB of RAM, an HD camera, 2 USB ports, built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Gigabit Ethernet and a 3G modem. The price is slightly higher as well at $449. A 3G version is $549.

Gadget Appeal
There’s the usual mix of “wow” and “wah” in gadget geek world, with Chromebooks being described as “a contender for the enterprise,” “representing history in the making,” “a tipping point” or “another face in the crowd.”

The device may appeal to consumers because of the pricing and touted ease of use, but is it "cool" enough to bring to work? Or, in this case, will IT be driving adoption for similar reasons.

The positioning and marketing obviously shows that Google is making an  enterprise play with this device. But at the time of writing this article, Apple had yet to hold its press conference regarding new offerings. They are rumored to include not just an  iPad mini, but new versions of Mac books. These could change the game. Again.


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