Update: On August 22, 2017, Google announced Chrome Enterprise, an effort to accelerate Chromebook for business use.
Chromebook runs on Google’s lightweight operating system, Chrome OS. Chrome OS is so lightweight that it doesn’t support running traditional locally installed business applications.
Many developers will need to make changes to their Android apps in order to fully support Chrome OS. Even if an app is made compatible with Chrome OS, it may not be as robust as its Windows or macOS counterpart.
Chromebooks ship with under 32GB of local storage. But this is more than enough space to run multiple Chrome extensions.
Chrome OS updates are easy and fast to apply. This makes Chromebook an attractively secure choice in light of recent ransomware attacks, in which older unpatched operating systems were exploited.
Update: Google has created an online calculator that shows the cost savings associated with moving to Chromebooks.
Chromebook and Business Applications
Chromebooks are a great fit for almost any type of classroom setting. Chromebook became the leading computer in education in 2016. A Chromebook is an excellent choice for a consumer who only uses a computer to access the web and web apps.
But is Chromebook ready for business use?
For a subset of business users, it’s ready. For a given user, the viability of switching to a Chromebook partly depends on whether there are substitutes for all of the key installed applications that person uses day to day.
In order to make a full time switch to Chromebook, a business user would need to find cloud applications, Android apps and or Chrome extensions that are on par with the installed apps that they are accustomed to. Here are several popular installed application types and potential cloud substitutes.
Word Processing and Spreadsheets
For companies that are using G Suite, users can manage and share virtually all of their documents (Docs), spreadsheets (Sheets) and presentations (Slides) in the cloud.
Some business users exchange complex, formula-laden spreadsheets with Microsoft Excel users at other organizations. In some cases, these spreadsheets will simply not open in Google Sheets.
Corporate attorneys often make changes to the language in contracts. Heavily redlined and commented Word documents do not always translate well into Google Docs and back.
The Android for Excel app may not be the answer. A CNET reviewer points out, “to be able to use all of [Excel for Android’s] features, you need an Office 365 account.”
Cloud supplement: Subscribe to Office 365 Business to get the cloud versions of Excel and Word.
Online Meetings (With Desktop Sharing)
Traditional online meeting platforms such as GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx and Join.me require locally installed plugins for Windows and macOS users to participate in online meetings.
GoToMeeting offers a Chrome extension, but the reviews suggest that it’s not ready for prime time.
The classic version of Google Hangouts was sub-optimal for general purpose online hosting of business meetings. However, Google has released a new version that’s more viable for this use:
Cloud alternative: The new Google Hangouts Meet
Legacy Enterprise Applications
Often, a company’s IT department will set up remote desktop access to legacy enterprise apps that run on Windows Server. Users need access to these applications via RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).
Chrome extension alternative: Chrome RDP
1Password is an example of an installed popular password application for Windows and macOS. It allows passwords to sync from the desktop to the 1Password iPhone or Android app over a Wi-Fi network.
After cloud-based password application LastPass’s site was hacked many people, including this author, were reluctant to use an online password app. Since that time, LastPass has added multifactor authentication.
Cloud alternative: LastPass
Camtasia is a popular screencasting application for business users. TechSmith, the publisher, offers both Windows and macOS versions.
Many marketers have started company podcasts. Installed applications such as Adobe Audition and Audacity allow business producers to clean up and balance the audio. Intro and outro music tracks can be mixed in.
Cloud alternative: TwistedWave Online
Chromebook for Business Use by Job Role
For some organizations, Chromebooks could be allocated to employees based on their job role. For example, an inside salesperson may need nothing more than access to G Suite and a CRM system, both of which are easily accessible on Chromebook.
Certain businesses, such as small retail operations, that do not require the use of locally installed apps by any users, may be a candidate for providing Chromebooks to all employees.
As more cloud apps and Android apps meet or exceed feature parity with their traditional, installed counterparts, more business users will be in a position to switch to a Chromebook.
In the meantime, Chromebook can still be slotted into various areas within an organization based on user requirements. Business users can also look to Chromebook as a light use, secondary option.