Chromebooks and Chromebox aren’t such an alien concept for the enterprise

When we initially heard that enterprise users (read: companies) would be able to purchase Chromebooks for $28 per user as part of a monthly subscription scheme, we simultaneously heard the walls shake over at IBM and other solutions providers that charge two arms and part of a leg to provide provisioned machines to employees. Granted, a Chromebook isn’t a full-scale Windows or OS X-based machine — far from it — but given just how often our work is shifting to the web, Chrome OS is becoming dangerously close to “good enough” for most. Chalk it up to serendipity if you must, but Chrome OS is becoming more and more relevant with each passing day, as we’re dealt far fewer offline-only apps and far more cloud-reliant ones.

If you are one of those people still shaking their heads about the Google’s Chromebook concept, perhaps a comparable technologies to think about is desktop virtualisation and thin client computing. These approaches are already popular in some companies, despite the risk of a single point of failure.

For example, I once worked in a large organisation running this kind of environment where a server room failure also disabled the computers and IP telephone system – everyone went home for the day. In another example – many years ago, I also ran a tender process for an organisation that implemented a thin-client environment with some of its staff using thin-client only laptops, while working offsite (they had the ability to plug into the LAN at those sites or via dial-up).

So, in a way Chromebooks aren’t such an alien concept.

I don’t use Google Apps much, but I do use Atlassian’s Confluence as my main workplace desktop environment and I work with clients using this and other similar solutions – so I could see myself working entirely online (although I would miss Mac Keynote for presentations!). The reason I mention Confluence in particular is that it already supports special plugins for online versions of tools, such as Balsamiq mockups (a lo-fi wireframing tool), that I already use.

Actually my main reaction to the enterprise Chromebook plans was the low bundled MBs with the 3G versions (or rather, in the US at least the data plans look expensive). This might not be an issue if you are working within a Wifi enabled work environment or are even using a “Chromebox” (a desktop version), connected primarily to a corporate intranet.

Having said that, for business and consumer users who are on the move I would still be nervous about relying on a Web OS-only device unless key tools had a seamless ‘offline’ mode (this is based on my own experiences of mobile Internet connectivity here in Australia). These are also only netbook-sized devices too – so I’m really sure if these are seen by Google as replacements or to augment existing devices (and if so, wouldn’t most exec and managers prefer an ipad?).

There are still some other gaps, but it looks like Google are evolving the product reasonably quickly to fill them, such as VPN support.

Probably the other issue is if Google (and its hardware partners) can actually support the products to keep that total cost of ownership down. But overall, I see a stronger proposition for Chromebooks/box for the enterprise market than I do for consumers.