Networking

Four things you should know before you deploy Chromeboxes

Before you perform a mass deployment of Chromeboxes in the enterprise there are some important decisions to make.

You can read specs and reviews of the Chromebox elsewhere. Suffice it to say, I'm a fan of both the Chromebook and Chromebox. The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 with 3G is my only laptop; the Chromebox has become my primary desktop. As a Google Apps user who moved all of my applications and data online, both work well. I recommend Chrome devices to any Google Apps user whose applications and data are 100% online. People who need locally installed applications or data should consider other options.

Chromeboxes

However, there are at least four things technology managers should consider before a mass deployment of Chromeboxes in the enterprise.

1. Video adapters

I'm sure most users would be happy to have the latest 30" monitor with Displayport connections that support the Chromebox's maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600. HP and Dell monitors fitting those specs cost $1,200 or more.

If you're not lucky enough to have a newer monitor with a Displayport connection, you'll need an adaptor. The Chromebox includes two Displayport connections and one DVI connection, but no HDMI or VGA options. Adapters for Displayport / DVI to HDMI / VGA connections generally cost less than $15. For large deployments, the cost can be significant.

2. Headsets and/or speakers

The Chromebox has a built-in speaker, but no built-in microphone. Fortunately, the audio port works well with smartphone headsets, such as the Etymotic HF3 headset I use. Plug your smartphone headset into the front-facing port on the Chromebox and you're ready to listen to music or participate in a Google Talk voice conference.

One word of caution about speakers, though. I plugged a Dell monitor soundbar speaker into the Chromebox and the audio worked. However, when the Chromebox enters sleep mode the speakers emit a startlingly loud buzzing sound. This can be fixed by adding a ground loop isolator inline, with costs ranging from $10 to $30. If you plan to use external speakers, buy the isolator; it will make external speakers usable. (For my own use, I simply unplug my speakers if I don't need them.) This is an issue that Samsung really should address.

3. Network management and enrollment

If you use a standard retail Chromebox, WiFi security settings are not retained across guest mode sessions, which is a good practice to improve security. However, this also means that guest mode users have to enter wireless authentication passwords every session to access secured wireless networks. (You could permit guest mode users to connect to an unsecured wireless access point. I don't recommend this, though.)

Users who login won't encounter this issue. Wireless authentication settings they have been configured are retained across device sessions when users login with an account.

The simplest way to resolve this is to connect the Chromebox to the network with an Ethernet cable. That way, when people login to a Chromebox in "guest mode", no authentication is necessary. Click "enter" on the screen and you're in Chrome OS.

For most enterprises, though, you'll want to connect the Chromebox to the organization's Google Apps account. Google calls this enrolling the Chrome device in the organization's domain. Once enrolled, an administrator can then configure a Chromebox's wireless settings to permit guests to access secured wireless networks.

As of August 2012, automatic enrollment is only available for Chrome devices purchased directly from Google. Devices from other authorized resellers will need to be manually enrolled. This is not a complicated process, but can take a few minutes. If your organization plans to deploy more than a few Chrome devices, purchase directly from Google to reduce enrollment setup time.

4. Keyboards

Chrome device keyboards are different than standard Windows or Mac keyboards. Most notably, Chromebook laptops have a dedicated search key, instead of a caps lock key. The search key opens a new browser tab. (Shift + the search key toggles caps lock on and off.) Chrome keyboards also have a row of dedicated keys instead of the traditional function keys.

Share Google's Chrome keyboard features guide with users. While I don't typically recommend printing, you might print out a customized version of this guide for frequently used functions. Make sure users know that [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[?] displays an on-screen display of keyboard shortcuts.

If you've deployed Chromeboxes in your organization, what other tips have you learned?

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About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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