7 reasons Chromebooks are ideal for enterprises

New data shows Chrome OS on target to become the No. 2 operating system among PCs. Is it time for your business to replace Windows or macOS devices with Chromebooks?

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Acer

Are Chromebooks on their way to becoming mainstream computers in the enterprise?

Not quite yet. But there’s no doubt that laptops that run on Chrome OS have gained traction in the market and will continue to do so as enterprises move deeper into cloud infrastructures and apps.

There are several well-known reasons for adding Chrome OS devices to your arsenal, including tighter security, easier management and greater ease of use for your workforce. If users know their way around the Chrome browser, they can use a Chromebook. Here are seven additional reasons why your organization might want to consider Chrome OS computers in 2020.

1. Chromebooks are hot

In terms of traditional desktop and laptop device global sales, Windows is expected to comprise 83% of the market in 2020, with Chrome OS and macOS in second place at 7.5% each, according to Linn Huang, research vice president of devices and displays at research firm IDC.

However, Chrome is expected to sell slightly more units, 18.7 million, than macOS, at 18.6 million. “If that happens, it would be the first time we’d have a new OS in the No. 2 position for traditional PC sales,” Huang says. Typically, macOS has occupied that second slot.

“Chrome and Mac computers are both trending up,” Huang adds. “But Chrome’s ascent has been fairly rapid, as it’s gaining traction among consumers as well as enterprises. The cloud-first world is only going to grow, and from a device perspective, that trend serves Google well.”

2. You’ve got lots of Chrome choices

There’s a growing selection of Chrome OS devices available in a broad range of styles. At the moment, Chromebooks for consumers and businesses start at $179 for Lenovo’s N22 and N23 models and go up to the Google Pixelbook starting at $999. Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, and Samsung also make Chromebooks. Some have touchscreens; some work with a stylus; some are in traditional laptop styles; some are detachables; some are convertibles.

There are Chrome devices specifically designed with enterprise cloud users in mind, including Chrome OS laptops as well as Chromebox devices, which are small desktop computers. Among those listed on Google’s website are Dell Latitude 5300 and 5400 models, Google’s own Pixelbook Go Enterprise, plus models from HP and Acer.

Chrome OS tablets exist but haven’t caught on. Though the 2018 Google Pixel Slate ($799 and up) is still available, it didn’t receive an update in 2019. And earlier this year, Google decided to discontinue all work on Chrome tablets as part of the company’s push to scale back its hardware efforts.

There’s at least one developer working on an offbeat Chrome OS tablet, however. Called the castAway, it’s a Chrome OS-based device that attaches to an Android or iOS smartphone and can serve as the smartphone’s second screen. The device is currently an Indiegogo project that has reached more than 500% (!) of its funding goal and is promised to ship in May 2020.

Before you invest in any Chrome OS device, especially an older model, check its expiration date first — the date by which the device will no longer receive automatic software updates from Google. Google has published a long list of devices and their expiration dates, including devices that have already expired. In general, Chrome OS devices are supported for six and a half years, though there are some inconsistencies.

3. You can turn old hardware into Chrome devices

Have old laptops lying around that aren’t being used? You might turn them into Chromebooks. Neverware’s CloudReady lets you convert old Windows and macOS computers into Chrome OS-based thin clients. An Enterprise Edition ($49 per device per year) provides additional device management features.

4. More management services are available

Google’s Chrome management console lets IT admins manage Chrome devices. Google’s Chrome Enterprise service offers a variety of features such as support for single sign-on and managed OS updates as well as Grab and Go, a program that helps businesses create stacks of Chromebooks that any employee can pluck off a shelf and start working on within a few minutes.

Third-party services are also available to ease IT management of Chrome devices. VMware’s Workspace ONE Unified Endpoint Management service, for example, offers management of Chrome OS devices as well as Macs, Windows PCs and mobile devices running Android and iOS — while also enabling enterprise applications to be run in a virtualized environment on Chrome devices.

5. Plenty of businesses use Chrome OS devices

As more businesses move applications to the cloud, there’s less need to provide their workforces powerful desktop computers, making low-cost, thin-client devices based on Chrome OS more compelling, says David Dingwall, a business development executive at global security company Fox Technologies. With many cloud services now offering stronger security via multifactor authentication and other methods, “why invest in all that infrastructure if you don’t have to?” Dingwall wonders.

Indeed, Gartner predicts that the global public cloud services market will grow to $266.4 billion in 2020 and will increase to $354.6 billion in 2022 — a huge jump from the $196.7 billion public cloud market of 2018.

Chrome devices have attracted some high-profile companies, too, such as the Better Business Bureau, HSBC and Charles Schwab, and a number of healthcare organizations. For example, Chapters Health System provides its caregivers with Chromebooks to give them more time to spend with patients and less time fussing with technology.

6. More students use Chrome OS — which means more young workers are already comfortable with it

Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller recently dissed Chromebooks in the education market, saying they’re not going to help kids succeed. To some, the comment smacked of sour grapes, because the reality is, Chromebooks are eating Apple’s school lunch.

During the first three quarters of 2018, 7 million Chrome OS devices were sold in the U.S. K-12 education market, followed by Apple with 2.3 million and Windows with 1.8 million, Huang said. During the same period of 2019, Chrome OS shipments rose to 7.8 million; Windows rose to 2.1 million; and Apple devices slipped to 1.4 million.

Chromebooks are popular among schools because the devices are rugged, inexpensive and easy to manage. The “Googlification” of classrooms has been nothing short of a “profound shift in American education,” The New York Times reported, accomplished in part by Google’s outmaneuvering Apple and Microsoft “with a powerful combination of low-cost laptops (Chromebooks) and free classroom apps.”

The upshot, Huang says: More students today join the workforce with years of experience with Chrome OS and G Suite, Google’s cloud-based office suite, and that can make it easier to onboard new employees. “Students entering the workforce want to use the same software and devices they’re familiar with, and that gives Google a leg up,” he adds.

7. Chrome OS devices are ideal in an emergency

Preparedness Solutions helps set up and run emergency operations centers (EOCs) at universities and county emergency management agencies across the U.S. The company often equips EOCs with Chromebooks to help facilitate fast responses to emergencies, says Marc Burdiss, the company’s president.

For example, Preparedness Solutions used Google Forms and Chromebooks as well as Windows PCs in some cases to facilitate and coordinate quick responses and communications during the Miami Valley (Ohio) Memorial Day tornado outbreak in 2019, Burdiss says. Also, the company used G Suite apps, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes to help coordinate planning and communication efforts at Family Assistance Centers set up in the aftermath of a mass shooting in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio.

“Much of the technology used in an emergency is web-based,” Burdiss explains. “And during an exercise in 2013, many of the Windows-based laptops required almost half an hour to apply updates and restart prior to being ready to respond to the training exercise. Once they were ready, there were several problems identified with updates on Office, Java and Internet Explorer.”

G Suite and Chrome OS devices help avoid those roadblocks. “In an emergency, having common bookmarks with stored passwords and login credentials helps overcome the paralysis of stress, and the ability to craft a shared document from different locations is invaluable,” Burdiss said. For example, talking points for hotline workers during an emergency could be collaboratively written between various departments, with the talking points becoming available in real time in a Google Doc. Any computer can run Google Docs, of course. But the instant-on capabilities of Chrome OS devices coupled with their low cost make them highly desirable for emergency operations.

And yet: Chrome devices still aren’t suitable for all workers

Chrome OS frequently receives useful new features, such as Google Assistant and Virtual Desks. Google even has a dedicated web page focused on new Chromebook features.

But two potential limitations remain: the need to be online for many apps, and the lack of some powerful desktop apps that meet certain user needs.

The Chrome web store has a growing list of offline apps that include Google apps such as Google Drive. But the vast majority of third-party offline apps, with the exception of a few such as Pocket, are cheesy-looking games (Flappy Turd!) and minor utilities. Of course, a lack of connectivity isn’t as big a problem as it was a few years ago, as many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi (though security is sketchy). And most smartphones can double as mobile hotspots.

Also, aside from Software as a Service (SaaS) apps such as Salesforce, you may find yourself limited by the apps you can run natively on a Chrome OS device. A growing number of Chromebooks let you download and run Android apps from Google Play Store, both offline and online, and many can run Linux apps as well. But powerful desktop applications such as Adobe Photoshop remain missing in action.

The bottom line? Chrome OS devices are great for certain types of enterprise users — especially mobile users who are on the go frequently and perform most of their work in cloud apps. And quite possibly, as cloud apps and infrastructures continue to gain momentum over desktop clients and on-premises infrastructures, many more workers will be using Chrome OS machines — or cloud-first, thin-client devices like them.

This article was originally published in October 2017 and updated in December 2019.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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