Can Chrome OS challenge Windows in the enterprise?

Google is gunning for Microsoft with the Chromebook and Chromebox

Who should buy Chrome OS?

Cost is probably the primary reason that enterprises might start to look at Chromebooks, Farrall said. “You would go for cost, but stay for quality.”

Chromebooks could be particularly attractive to a business that has not previously provided mobile devices to workers and wants to do so at low cost, he added.

The Google devices are also perfect for new businesses that want to be cloud-enabled from the start, the analyst said. “It comes down to the use case where being able to operate from the cloud fits in with how that business is going to operate.”

Chromebooks could be a laptop replacement for workers that mainly rely on cloud applications, Farrall said. While a tablet could also be used, some workers may prefer the form factor of a laptop and so a Chromebook might be a better fit, he said.

Gedda said he sees Chrome OS devices as complementary rather than a replacement for other business computers. “Even if it’s a volume play, [businesses] will still have to hang on to the Windows desktop that they need for the apps.”

Depending on a company’s application requirements, some might be able to give up Windows altogether, he said.

“It might not give you the features that some of the apps have on Windows, but there are alternatives available and most people might not use all the features that a desktop provides.”

One advantage of Chrome OS is the ability to have a contained Web environment, which is good for supporting HTML5 apps and restricting users from installing a lot of applications the business doesn’t want, he said.

However, Chrome OS may not work for organisations that rely on graphic design apps like Adobe Suite or programs designed for Windows, he said. The cloud-based nature of Chrome OS means constant and reliable connectivity is a must, he added.

If Chrome OS provides everything the business needs, the organisation stands to save money on both hardware and software, said Gedda. However, businesses should factor in training and support costs that come with changing platforms, he said.

Cheah said Chrome OS devices are best suited for “desk-bound” workers because they require a steady Internet connection for full functionality.

“I wouldn’t think that field workers like engineers and sales staff would be suited to using Chromebooks because they would need connectivity to be able to use them.”

William pointed out that even organisations not specifically interested in Chromebooks are still likely to have to support them due to the growth of the 'bring your own device' (BYOD) trend. Employees will make the decision whether to use Chromebooks for work, she said.

“We are moving into a space where the one-OS environment is no longer applicable,” she said.

“The IT manager has almost got no choice — he has to support all of the OSes and this is just an addition to that list.”

Preparing for Chrome OS

Companies that use Gmail and other Google Apps for Business will have the most seamless experience bringing Chrome OS into the workplace, analysts agreed.

Larger companies might need to consider mobile device management and enterprise app management services so they can continue to support their corporate apps, said Cheah.

“Otherwise, they would need to convert to Web-based software.”

Farall said the “best” cloud-enabled, web-based enterprise applications will run fine through a Chrome browser.

With a little extra work, organisations that require more apps than Chrome OS can support might still be able to adopt Chromebook or Chromebox.

Gedda noted that it is possible to dual boot with a Linux operating system like Ubuntu in addition to Chrome OS, enabling a broader range of apps to be installed.

Virtualization vendors may come to the rescue as well. VMware has announced a virtual desktop service for Chromebooks that will allow them to run Windows applications.

“This is one way to work around the lack of app support for certain platforms,” said Gedda. “With more of a heterogeneous environment developing we can expect to see more activity this year around application presentation and delivery.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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