Are Chromebooks The Machines Businesses Want?

    January 5, 2014
    Chris Crum
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Are Chromebooks the right choice of computer for businesses? Google certainly thinks so. The company’s rivals (namely Microsoft) obviously disagree. Either way, recent data indicates that the light, low-cost machines are gaining significant ground in the B2B space, not to mention among consumers.

Are Chromebooks ideal for business? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The NPD Group put out a report just before Christmas, which has generated a lot of discussion about just how popular Chromebooks are.

“Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, up from negligible share in the prior year, and 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales through November, up from one tenth of a percent in 2012 – the largest share increase across the various product segments,” it said.

While notebook sales grew 28.9%, the group said Windows notebooks showed no growth over 2012, while Apple sales for notebooks and desktops combined fell by 7%.

It should be noted that the term “notebook” comes with an asterisk of preconfigured desktop and notebook sales only. There’s another important caveat to this report, however, and it’s all about the B2B.

As USA Today’s Michael Comeau, who was critical of the media’s coverage of the report, points out, NPD says its data comes from US commercial channels, which is comprised of US B2B sales using distribution partners. In other words, the picture being painted here reflects more on business sales of devices rather than consumer sales.

He’s certainly not the only one to pick up on the B2B implications of this report.

“The message? Businesses are turning to the Web, which Chromebooks almost exclusively run,” writes Mark Hachman at PCWorld. “And those low-cost, Net-focused devices are becoming engines of productivity. As a result, they’re receiving validation from traditional PC vendors including Acer, Asus, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard, plus Google’s own Pixel.”

As with many of its other products, Google has long had businesses in mind with Chrome OS, the operating system that runs on Chromebooks. Here’s Google’s basic pitch for Chromebooks for business from 2011, which pretty much holds up today.

“Life has become pretty complicated for IT managers and employees,” it says. “Everybody juggles a fleet of different devices and operating systems, all running their own local applications and requiring endless cycles of patches and upgrades. All this complexity adds up to constant maintenance, less security, much higher costs, and headaches for users. Google realized that a better solution would be to make the web the platform for all these applications, so they would simply work on any device running a browser.”

“Chromebooks securely access all of their data and apps on the web, which means manually configuring, updating, patching, migrating data, and securing PCs becomes a thing of the past,” Google continues in the video. “An entire fleet of Chromebooks is simple to configure and manage centrally through the web. Once configured, users have the applications and settings they need as soon as they log on, wherever they are, and since data and apps aren’t stored on the PC, a lost computer won’t mean the loss of any vital company data. Chromebooks are also fundamentally more secure than traditional PCs because they run in a ‘sandboxed’ environment that restricts viruses and malware from reaching the operating system, and every time the Chromebook starts, it runs a process called verified boot that ensures the operating system has not been tampered with or corrupted.”

Google goes on to make the case that Chromebooks make users happier and more productive by getting them on the web quickly, where they can access apps, documents, and settings using the familiar Chrome browser.

Frankly, having dealt with clunky computers and operating systems for all of my Internet-using life (both PC and Mac), I can vouch for that user happiness of getting to the web quickly. As Google notes, the battery life on these things has also been pretty great in my experience.

“Companies will write fewer checks for software licenses, complex hardware, and data recovery, and IT will spend less time on tedious maintenance tasks,” Google says.

None of this is to mention the generally very low prices of Chromebooks themselves. It’s no wonder that businesses are flocking to Chromebooks more and more.

Here’s a more in-depth discussion about Chromebooks for business between product specialists Will Paulus and Adam Naor and user Eric Hunter, which Google shared last year:

Google says that deploying Chrome devices in place of traditional PCs can save your business, on average, about $5,000 per device over three years. They offer a savings calculator tool here:

Savings Calculator

Here, you can browse the business-oriented apps that Google highlights for Chromebooks. These include Gmail, Hootsuite, Insightly, MailChimp, Podio, UberConference, Zendesk, Evernote, Google Drive, HelloSign, Lucidchart, Weebly, Asana, Google Calendar, MindMeister, Harvest and Wave (no, not Google Wave).

It appears that the Chromebook craze is really just getting started. As previously reported, Samsung, HP, Asus, Acer and Toshiba are all expected to unveil new Chromebooks this year. Asus is said to have two in the works – an 11.6-inch and a 13.3-inch, both expected to cost less than $350.

NPD’s findings aren’t very encouraging for Microsoft, as many have pointed out. In fact, even before the report, Microsoft was taking aim at Chromebooks in a recent “Scroogled” ad campaign with the Pawn Stars guy.

It’s “not a real laptop” because it doesn’t have Windows or Office, according to him. “And when you are online, Google tracks what you do so you can sell ads,” he says.

Strong argument.

Of course that ad is geared towards consumers rather than businesses, which may even be more troubling for Microsoft.

“None of this has been lost on the OEMs. In 2012, only Acer and Samsung had seriously invested in Chromebooks,” writes ComputerWorld’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in an article that calls Chromebook a Windows killer. “By the end of 2013, all the major OEMs were making them. Of the top five PC OEMS, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer and Asus are all onboard. Dell, the last holdout, announced its Chromebook in December 2013. If Dell is selling Chromebooks, it’s because Michael Dell is sure that Chromebooks are here for the long run.”

During the holiday season, by the way, two of the three bestselling laptops on Amazon were Chromebooks.

“By this week on Amazon.com, the Asus Transformer had slipped to No. 3 in the laptop category behind two Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung,” notes Fortune senior writer Miguel Helft. “It all suggests that the one getting Scroogled is Microsoft.”

Of course the notebook picture painted by NPD wasn’t all that rosy for Apple either (though the tablet picture is another story). ComputerWorld wonders if Chromebooks are killing off the Macbook. They do note that this is unlikely the case, but also that Macbooks are “being hurt worse” than Windows machines.

Will Google continue to win over businesses with Chromebooks and Chrome OS? Should Microsoft and Apple really be worried? Tell us what you think.

  • Peter

    What always surprises me about these figures is that they seem far removed from everyday experience. I would say that I see almost equal numbers of PC and Mac laptops in business whilst my sons at university report that most of their peers have Macs. None of us have seen a single Chromebook in use other than predictably at Google’s Zeitgeist conferences. Maybe they are yet to make inroads into the UK market.

  • Nancy

    The Acer Chromebook can NOT download any software. You can’t download MS Suite, your printer software, Internet Explorer, nothing! I tried using this computer for business for 6 months and swore I’d never use it again. I could only use this computer for the internet and Gmail. Extremely frustrating!!!! Kept having to switch it another computer.

  • http://www.paulgubaphoto.com Paul

    Having used some of the google apps I am not impressed. I think security will be the biggest issue. Do you want google selling your business information at a wholesale level. Basically Google want more access to your information in exchange for cheap stuff. How about you client database ready to give that up.

    Its a myth to believe Chromebooks will require less work. As long as people are involved the work will be there.

    • Peter

      People seem to view Google with very rose tinted spectacles, as the company that can do no wrong. I am sure it won’t last forever but most of the people I speak to will hear no wrong said of them. Even the fact that they pay little corporation tax in the uk seems to be ok with most people. No one really cares about the potential privacy issues of having your entire life deposited with one corporation – yet.

  • http://www.ericom.com/RDPChromebook.asp?URL_ID=708 Adam

    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.

    But the major issue for many businesses will be giving up their Windows applications. Not everyone can do that. 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.

    Please note that I work for Ericom.

  • http://www.MagnaSites.com Pat Marcello

    I love my Chromebook, which Google sent to me during the pilot program at the end of 2010. It is small, light, and great for casual participation in the Web or even for more business-related work.

    But… And this is a big BUT… If you’re doing more than checking email, watching movies, or performing other light activities online, it’s great. If you’re a heavy user, like I am, not so much.

    I mean, you can’t render videos on a Chromebook. You can’t use Dreamweaver or other Adobe apps, for example. You can’t build websites very easily, unless you’re using WordPress, and on and on. It’s totally NOT my work computer. I still need a vigorous laptop or desktop to do much of what I do online.

    The cloud services have most definitely improved since 2010, and they make using Chromebook much easier than way back then. (Let’s face it, people, three years is a LONG time online.) Google Apps are great. Microsoft and Adobe now have their suites of products available for low monthly prices, which is great. There are better games in the cloud and you can hook up to Netflix, Xfinity, or HBOGo, for example.

    So, if you’re using your Chromebook to communicate or for a business activity like customer service, I’d say Chromebook is great.

    I still love mine, but it does have its limitations, and after three years, it still works great, so it’s sturdy and quick because it has no hard drive! (Just be sure yours has a USB port so you can use a thumb drive with it.) I’d recommend Chromebook to anyone for casual usage, but for business, it really depends on the business you’re in.

    • http://www.homebiz4less.com Rose Vidal

      I agree with you Pat, it will take time for everything to fall into place but I think it will. There are many more hassels with the regular PC. I think they don’t want to admit that the Chrome book works because they know it will cause a big loos of revenue for all these PC makers and Microsoft too.

  • Ian Ray

    The only reason an organization needs Windows server infrastructure is to service Windows clients. Likewise, the only reason an organization needs Windows clients is to access Windows servers.

    The cartoon of the server rack smashing the IT pro illustrates the situation. IT in businesses is growing beyond just servicing office staff, it is being integrated into all processes. Scaling out is not feasible with ever more server racks and Windows clients.

    Education understands this especially well as the bulk of their users are not office staff. As more organizations move toward expanding IT to include all employees, we will see more cloud solutions like the Chromebook.

    • Jack Marshall

      Well put.

      All I would add is that many business “I.T. professionals” are vendor-trained technicians. “Microsoft Certified” techs of course have a predisposition for the Microsoft infrastructures and protocols.

      Education systems generally have tighter budgets. Their purchases have to be justified to people who might not have such loyalties to a specific manufacturer or service provider. They’re looking for value. Ironically, they’re sometimes doing more research making more informed decisions.

  • Mark

    I am yet to be convinced that Chromebooks and specifically the Cloud is our technological destiny.

    Having been in Corporate IT and Business for 38 years I am regularly speaking with people who are worried about the direction of IT to the Cloud. Having local access and control of ones data and systems is important. In any event, what happens when there is an ISP failure, power outage downline, hardware failure downline,.. a massive number of businesses and consumers are out of action with their chromebooks. It just does not make sense. And to trust all data to be located elsewhere ? Crazy.

    The issue is the large technology companies are dictating the future based on achieving revenue targets. They create the road and steer the consumers/business down that road – like sheep. Security and Independence is lost. Just imagine for one minute in years to come if a data centers were taken out, and all you had was a chromebook to fall back on.

  • http://roundedcornermaker.com Bryan

    I don’t know anyone who owns a chromebook. This cloud stuff doesn’t sit right with me anyway.

  • Bill

    I can see where the Chromebook and the use of the “Cloud,” may be appealing on the surface, but placing one’s business and life-line in the hands of another business is like trusting somebody else to pack your parachute. Larry Page & I are simply not that close…

  • http://www.homebiz4less.com Rose Vidal

    I love Google and all their creative ideas, I long thought that the computers should be run on the cloud. So much easier and it will eventually lead to everyone using it, I think the Star Trek life is getting closer and closer.”Computer read me my email :)”
    Make it so Google !!!

  • John S

    The problem I see with Chromebook’s is their connection to Google and the cloud. Enterprise cannot just switch to everything Google at a drop of a hat. Yes, I think some small businesses could adapt to Google apps and use Chromebooks somewhat effectively. Although I think much of the people who say Chromebooks are business friendly have not even attempted to understand what that involves. If your a business owner, do you put all your eggs in one Google basket? I am not sure with the hardware that comes with Chromebooks and the cloud OS that is installed. Can even satisfy a lot of PC users, let alone business. I personally use a Chromebook for casual use, but still need a Windows laptop for a lot of my work. Special software and even a couple web apps that only work with IE would certainly keep me from using a Chromebook as my primary PC. The Chromebook is just too married and attached to Google to interest me anymore then a casual cheap web access device.