Google just explained the business case for Chromebooks in a press briefing at I/O, and it’s crystal clear that they’re not a consumer product.Rather, Google is going after Microsoft’s heart — the corporate IT department.
The pitch: Chromebooks are so much cheaper and easier to manage than PCs, it will free up the IT department to do other more interesting (and profit-centered) things.
According to Gartner, the cost of managing each Windows PC in an organisation is between $3,000 and $5,000 a year. That’s how much it takes for an IT person to do things like push Windows and Office patches out every month, install and maintain antivirus software, answer helpdesk calls, and so on.
Google isn’t claiming that Chromebooks will push these costs to zero, but Chrome OS business manager Rajen Sheth said that they could total cost of ownership in half.
The best example: today when a new employee starts, it can take several hours to image a new PC with all the right apps and get them set up on all the different accounts they need.
With a company that’s already set up to use Chromebooks, all a new user has to do is sign on and he’s up and running. All applications are delivered over the corporate network or the Web.
The IT manager from Jason’s Deli, a chain of 230 restaurants, said that they gave a bunch of sales managers Chromebooks as part of a pilot program. Last month, the company had 70 trouble tickets from regular laptops. It had zero from Chromebooks.
But what about Office? What about specialised corporate apps that only run on Windows?
Those are taken care of through a deal with virtualization company Citrix. Companies can set up a XenDesktop system, where all Windows (and other) apps are running on a server. Users can then access these apps through Citrix Receiver, which runs on ChromeOS (as well as other platforms).
Citrix demonstrated how easy it is — users basically log on to a corporate “app store” and click the apps they need. They’re automatically added to the Chrome OS startup menu.
Open source developer and advocate Carlo Daffara has an excellent take on some of the weaknesses that still remain in Chrome OS. In particular, it would be great if Google made it available as a bootable USB stick so that companies could just put it on existing machines instead of needing new hardware — why throw away all those old Windows XP PCs when you can replace them with something that’s easier to manage?
Google also admits that there are certain apps that will always run better on a local machine and simply can’t be delivered over a network — things like Photoshop and CAD design apps.
But for most employees, the combination of Citrix and a Chromebook will be enough.
Logitech was also a participant in the pilot program, and rolled out 400 Chromebooks to its employees. Its CIO said that 90% of the company’s employees could switch with no ill effects.
That kind of statement has to put Steve Ballmer into a sweat.