The Chrome operating system could be the solution to your company’s next hardware upgrades. However, there are a few facts you should have before you decide.
When you think about buying new computers, you think: There are many options and too many questions. Are they compatible with your existing software? What will you have to repurchase? Will your staff need training to use the new equipment? Does it have to be Windows? What is Chrome OS, exactly?
I can clear that last one up for you. Chrome OS is a web-based operating system created by Google, which runs computers in a variety of forms. Though Chromebook laptops are the most well-known, Google Chrome OS is available also as the brains of a Chromebox, Chromebit and Chromebase.
Google Chrome OS is very streamlined and requires very modest hardware. As such, the cost of these computers are typically much less than a comparable Windows or Mac computer. According to NPD, the average price for a regular PC is $448, but rise to much higher prices than Chromebooks. The average top pick from Laptop Mag costs about $340. Putting two machines side-by-side, an Acer Chromebase with a 21-inch touch-screen display costs about $400, while a comparable Acer running Windows with a touch-enabled display is available for about $700.
What Is the Difference Between Chromebooks/Bases/Bits/Boxes?
These are the names of the various silhouettes and embodiments of Chrome OS. A Chromebook is a laptop. A Chromebox is a stand-alone computer that can be used as a desktop computer, terminal or kiosk. A Chromebit is a very small computer that plugs directly into a TV or monitor with an HDMI port, and a Chromebase is an all-in-one device that includes the computer and a monitor, similar to an iMac or all-in-one PC.
Is Chrome OS a Browser-Only Operating System?
Not exactly. True, most of its functions take place in the cloud, in what looks like a browser window. But, Chrome OS is based off Chromium OS, which is a version of Linux, and is extremely lightweight. And because of the less complicated hardware requirements, there is not as much need to focus on drivers.
Since most of the applications are used across the web, you’ll find most of your time working with Chrome OS will be spent in the Chrome browser. For fans of Firefox or other browsers, keep in mind that you won’t have those other browsers on Chrome OS.
Is It Compatible with What I Already Have?
If your business is running an application that is made to run on Microsoft Windows or Mac, you should make sure it’s compatible, as applications that are installed onto the computer won’t be able to install on Chrome OS.
However, many applications have web-compatible versions of their software that can be installed from the Google Web Store. Plus, compatibility with all Android applications in the Google Play Store is currently being rolled out. Currently, the Asus Chromebook Flip, the Acer Chromebook R11 and the Google Chromebook Pixel have the Google Play store. More laptops will get this feature through the end of the year, with the deployment continuing into 2017.
There isn’t an app for everything, however. In some cases, such as full versions of Adobe Photoshop, or vertical market applications designed specifically for your industry, there is no directly compatible replacement on a Chrome OS device. But through virtualization, Windows applications can be made available.
Microsoft Office 365 apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, are available for Chrome OS, but only the online version. While the online versions have most of the features of the full clients, some features — such as the ability to open password-protected files and run Office Macros — are missing.
Is Chrome OS free?
Once you have a Google Chromebook, updates to the Chrome OS are delivered and installed automatically, and for free.
The Chrome OS is designed to be used only with devices made for it, so it’s not something that Google makes available for you to download and install onto your existing laptops and computers. However, if you’re desperate, there are workarounds through such companies as Neverware.
You can also install to a USB drive and then run Chrome OS directly from that USB drive on almost any PC or Mac computer. However, not all features of Chrome OS are enabled. In particular, you sacrifice some of the built-in security features, as both the boot verification and the TPM features are not available on CloudReady.
Is Chrome OS Secure?
Yes. Chrome OS is a secure platform that includes both hardware- and software-based malware and virus protection. Hardware features include boot verification and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) compatibility. Software features include an automatic patching utility and built-in antivirus software.
To help keep network connections secure and in compliance with organization policies, Chrome OS is able to connect to many VPNs, including Cisco VPN through the lightweight and easy-to-install web store apps.
“Using a lightweight and inexpensive Chrome OS device for handling day-to-day computing makes sense.”
Is Chrome OS Better Than Windows (or Mac)?
It’s apples and oranges. The biggest difference between Chrome OS and Windows or Mac computers is that for a Chrome OS, most of the processing is performed by cloud computers and web servers in a data center. So if you’re just connecting to web applications, updating your home page and social media accounts, sending emails and working on documents, then you don’t really need a traditional machine.
Long battery life is another plus in the Chromebook versus Windows or Mac debate. The hardware requirements are less demanding for Chrome OS devices, and so the power requirements are also typically less. The average laptop lasts just longer than 8 hours on a charge, based on the test results from sister site Laptop Mag. But averaging the battery life of the Best Chromebooks on that site proves those machines last about 10 hours on average.
But Chrome OS isn’t for everybody. Most developers will need more computing power than the average Chrome OS device offers. Developers are also most likely to require downloaded, proprietary software. Similarly, though lightweight image manipulation can be done on Chrome OS, graphic designers will want to use a full-powered application such as Adobe Photoshop on a Mac or Windows machine.
How are they managed? Does it connect to Active Directory?
Chrome OS devices can be managed through a web-based administration portal. Users can be assigned to Chromebooks, user and device policies set, and applications can be preinstalled or blocked altogether. You can also customize user features like bookmarks and custom Chrome themes.
If you have a Microsoft Active Directory (AD) domain in your organization, you can set up an Active Directory synchronization so that new users in AD are automatically populated into the Chrome OS management utility.
How Often Must You Replace Chromebooks?
The first browser-based Chromebooks were released in 2011, which means they are almost due to be sundowned. Per the company’s End of Life policy, Chrome OS devices are only feature- and security-supported for five years. The systems won’t automatically stop working after that, but they won’t be getting the regular updates. You can check your hardware against Google’s Chromebook end-of-life chart, but that system may be subject to change, considering the company is continuing to update the oldest of Chromebooks.
Bottom Line: Is It Worth It?
With so many of the commonly used applications in today’s computing environment already being connected to the cloud in one way or another, using a lightweight and inexpensive Chrome OS device for handling day-to-day computing makes sense.
It makes the most sense for users who are switching to or already using Google Apps for Work or Office 365. On the other side, organizations that are reliant on Windows or Mac applications that require clients to be installed will find Chrome OS too lightweight to meet their needs.
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