Ian Hardenburgh looks at the new Chromebook and Chromebox models that seem aimed to create a Google-dominated enterprise, right down to the hardware.
Back in February, in my post, "How does Google intend to compete with Microsoft in the cloud?", I wrote about how Google aimed to position its Chromebook and Chrome operating system as an alternative means to connect to Google Apps, as well as other on-demand Google services. Although Chromebook would have to come a long way in terms of hardware, Google's enterprise cloud strategy was clear — provide users with a low-cost, stripped down and easy to support device whose sole purpose is to connect to the Internet. This would set the stage for unmodified use of Google's SaaS applications that could be exploited in place of any client-server type software traditionally noticed on a stateless operating system like Microsoft Windows.
As straight-forward as the above sounds, there was a major shortcoming to employing widespread use of Chromebooks across organizations seeking to fully immerse themselves into Google's cloud without having to use third-party hardware to some extent — that being the idea that Chromebooks are these small, netbook-type machines that boast a Wi-Fi-only portability. They weren't intended for those locked down office workers who just need to be able to have their phone receiver in one hand, and pound away at large keyboard with the other, all while being suitably connected to Internet the old-fashioned way, through an Ethernet cable. Could you imagine a call center full with customer service representatives typing away, one pointer finger at a time, on a Chromebook placed on a sea of desk?
With the recent release of the Samsung Series 5 550 laptop and compact Chromebox desktop device (similar in style and capacity to Apple's Mac Mini), Google now knocks at the door of any enterprise intending to run their business in Google's cloud, most likely in a hope to shift IT resources to SaaS-based application development, with as minimal hardware support as possible. The two, dare I say - computers — possess a lot of the same features one might find on your traditional PC: Intel Core processor, 4 GB of RAM, multiple USB ports, a HDMI, DVI and VGA compatible display port, DVI output, discretionary built-in Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n or Ethernet port, Bluetooth 3.0 compatibility, and the all-important grownup-size keyboard. Additionally, one can now also purchase a Chrome keyboard and mouse for enhanced browsing/navigation (given my experience with Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, this is well worth the money spent as Chrome hosts a series of functions that aren't easily attainable on a customary keyboard and mouse).
Both devices' prices are a bit steep at the moment, with the Chromebox priced at $329, and the Samsung Series 5 550 at slightly more staggering $449. However, one must consider the idea that this price comes instantly loaded with low-cost software like Google Apps for Business, which now includes Google Drive, as well as a number of online community support resources, like the Chrome OS Help Center, Chromebook Central (forum), as well as the Chrome OS Wiki for developers. Also, if one considers the cost of installing Microsoft Office or subscribing to Office 365, across an enterprise of hundreds or thousands of workers, this price might not exactly seem like Google is giving the devices away, but it is certainly remaining competitive. Moreover, when you consider the fact that the only real software that needs to be supported is an unfussy Chrome OS that was built under the austerity of simply connecting to the Internet, one can realize that there isn't much to be supported in the first place.
It's clear that Google doesn't want to give enterprises any defense as to why not to use its on-demand services. The newfangled releases of versatile laptop and desktop devices that don't do much to stray from Google's model of providing a virtually hardware-less cloud will garner much attention from both hard-nosed Google Apps users and those still evaluating opportunities in consolidating their data center. Now, for Google, it's just a matter of quality control, sustaining the usability of both the Chrome OS laptop and desktop devices. The only waypoint that remains to completely round out Google's cloud infrastructure is the Internet itself, which Google just so happens to be working on as we speak.