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Windows free? More businesses turn to Chrome



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“Chromebooks are built to be used online and to be honest, 90 percent of the time that we’re on the computer, we are online.”

Chromebooks — the cheap, cloud-based computers that use Google’s operating system — are becoming increasingly popular for business use.

While IT professionals still prefer Windows-based PCs for desktop publishing and other high-powered processing, Chromebooks offer a cheaper, more secure way to handle many other business functions such as file sharing and video conferencing.

UKNetMail Ltd., a British-based Google Enterprise Partner specializing in the financial sector, has made a rapid switch to Chrome over the past 12 months.

“We have implemented the Chrome OS in several financial institutions,” says co-owner Pavel Dolezal. “And the only feedback we receive is from users who’ve tried them and want to get more of them for the entire organization.”

Because Chrome systems store all their information and software in the cloud, there is little risk of sensitive data being lost or stolen. And Chrome devices, whose main purpose is simply to connect to the Internet, are attractively priced at less than $300 each.

Built for online

“Chromebooks are built to be used online and to be honest, 90 percent of the time that we’re on the computer, we are online,” says Jason Towns, managing partner of Firebrand Strategic, a Washington, D.C.-based boutique business development and strategy agency servicing social improvement startups and nonprofits.

The Chrome OS is maintenance and virus-free, lightweight and doesn’t need much processing power to operate, Towns explains.

Integration with Google means that collaborative tasks are easy and all changes are synced to multiple devices automatically.

“The beauty of the Chrome OS is that data and collaboration flow seamlessly from one device to another, thus making it easy for everyone to choose their own configuration,” says Dolenzai. “In addition, users love the ability to switch devices and resume the work from exactly where it was on the other device.”

Most businesses, of course, can’t switch completely to Chrome because there are still some functions that only Windows can handle.

Depends on need

“It really depends on what that user uses his computer for,” says Towns. “For instance, a graphic designer or photographer that needs apps like the Adobe Creative Suite will not be best served by a Chromebook because the Chromebook won’t run the main apps that they use [every day].”

Users also can’t do anything without an Internet connection, so working on airplanes or remote areas can be a problem.

“During the 10 percent of the time that we are not online, the Chromebook isn’t as useful,” says Towns. “However, there are many apps that function offline and every month, more offline apps are available.”

The same is true with word-processing functions, Towns notes.

“Those expecting to run Microsoft Office, for example, will be disappointed,” he says. “But let’s remember that Chromebooks run the Google-owned Chrome OS , which is integrated with Google Apps and wide range of Google services. This means that, in most cases, an alternative application is available for most tasks.”

Chrome in schools

A Google-sponsored survey from IDC touts the advantages of Chromebooks for schools, such as reduced IT support, cost of ownership and increased productivity. All of these advantages can translate to businesses, as long as companies understand the limitations of the device.

“Whether or not an organization is an educational institution or business entity, the IT themes are the same,” says Matthew Vollmar, CEO at Newmind Group Inc., a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based provider of managed IT services for transferring legacy systems to the cloud.

“Some of those benefits that relate to Chromebooks in education are also highly apparent in companies,” he adds. “Remote device management, remote document access, user collaboration on project files. The list goes on.”

Though comparing Chrome to Windows is “almost like comparing apples to oranges,” Vollmar says, the gap is beginning to narrow.

VMware’s plan to bring a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution for running Windows applications on Chromebooks is likely to entice more businesses to switch.

“Businesses and individuals within businesses that require the use of software that is hardware intensive or dependent on the Windows OS will find Windows a benefit,” says Vollmar. “But even this is being overcome by new technology being developed by VMware.”

Dell, Inc.
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