In 2011, the first Chromebook notebook systems launched sporting a new Chrome OS. The platforms were typically lighter on specs like CPU power, RAM, and storage but focused on running cloud applications and storing data in the cloud. Since the introduction of Chrome OS, we now have Chromebooks, Chromebox, and Chromebase, which cover notebooks, desktops, and all-in-ones. Chrome has changed a lot in recent years. It no longer has the stigma of a low-cost education solution for running light applications and browsing the web but it doesn’t yet have the reputation either for being enterprise ready. Google keeps investing in product, ecosystem and marketing to change this.
The reality is Google is investing heavily in software and tools to try and make Chrome a legitimate alternative for enterprise users using Windows. Enterprise users demand the most of their notebooks in terms of security, productivity, and connectivity. Not only do they need suitable hardware for staying productive at work, but they also need to pair that with software that provides a great user experience. The future of work is looking more hybrid and remote than ever before. Google is pushing hard at enterprise customers looking to adopt Chrome OS as the operating system that powers its workforce.
In light of this, last week, Google launched a plethora of tools, programs, and support for enterprise users who are considering or switching to Chrome OS, and I wanted to provide a summary and my thoughts on the announcement.
Chrome OS Readiness Tool
Google announced the creation of a Chrome OS readiness tool for the enterprise. The device will test an enterprise user's readiness to switch to Chrome OS from a traditional Windows machine. This tool will analyze and categorize a Chrome user's app usage and then use that data to generate a report with the results. From there, a business can take a couple of different routes based on the results. The first is the employee may be completely ready to switch to Chrome OS from Windows, and the company IT department can make a device switch. Another option is to identify application gaps that Chrome OS cannot support and offer those missing applications through hardware virtualization or a VDI (virtual desktop interface). I see a higher likelihood of option two playing out in most cases. The data collected by the readiness tool will remain private information and will not be shared back with Google in any instance. There is a sample test tool available for use now, but the full tool will be available in early 2021.
Chrome Enterprise Recommended program
Google also announced its new Chrome Enterprise Recommended program. In short, the new partner program will identify and call out Chrome optimized applications with a badge. When you see the Chrome Enterprise Recommended badge, you will know that the app developer has optimized its application for pairing with Chrome OS. For Google, this is an essential piece of the enterprise Chrome puzzle. Enterprise users are using a wide range of cloud-native and offline collaboration and productivity applications every day. When applications lack optimization for the correct OS, it provides a poor user experience. I hope Google will identify the most used enterprise applications and optimize them directly with the software vendors. Optimizing applications with the vendors would ensure that enterprise users can seamlessly transition from Windows to Chrome OS. Google didn't call out any specific app developers or vendors optimizing apps for Chrome OS, but I expect we will see some in the coming months as the program gets running.
Zero-touch enrollment for Chrome OS
Google also announced the ability to dropship Chrome devices to remote employees. The goal of drop shipping systems to employees is to reduce IT costs and deploying tools to remote employees faster. Google quoted a recent study by ESG claiming that devices with Chrome OS deploy up to 76% more quickly than the average Windows 10 device. I cannot check the validity of the claim, but it could save IT a little time on deployment if valid. The zero-touch enrollment program works like this. First, a partner purchases a Chrome device, and the business works with Google to create a custom Google Admin Console. Then the service partner registers the device with Google, and it is shipped directly to the employee. When the employee receives the system, they connect to Wi-Fi and log in. Finally, Google confirms the device's identity, and the system will automatically enroll in the customer's domain, and the employee can log in remotely. The ability to streamline the IT process and get remote workers working without a meeting is valuable, especially when considering the in-person risk that still exists with Covid-19.
Parallels Desktops for Chrome Enterprise
Running legacy apps like the Microsoft Office suite locally on your system could prove essential for some employees. For employees that need access to these legacy apps that are not cloud-based, Parallels Desktop for Chromebook Enterprise is available now. Parallels Desktop is a software that provides hardware virtualization for Chromebooks with Intel processors. The virtual interface gives your employees the ability to use virtually any legacy application while still operating on Chrome OS. Once an employee leaves a session of Parallels Desktop, the application pauses in the background, and when reopened, it picks back up where you left off. This addition is a cool feature for those who may be more hesitant about moving from Windows to Chrome OS. It may be a bit of a hassle for users that run offline applications on their device, but that's you can't expect to adopt a new OS and transition with no hiccups.
New Chrome OS productivity features
Chrome OS is continually improving the user experience with an automatic update every six weeks. Google highlighted a few of the recent productivity feature improvements that came with the last update. One of those being Virtual Desks. Virtual Desks are individual workspaces uses that allows you to switch between projects for personal or work use. The goal of the segmented desks is a better ability to focus on the task at hand. Another Chrome OS improvement is the ability to split-screen and uses an external display. Lastly, Chrome improved the Chrome browser experience by bringing better tab management features with grouping tabs by topic or task. One thing is for sure, the Chrome OS you receive today will be better in 6 weeks and will continue to get better throughout the entirety of using Chrome OS.
While covering all the recent additions to the Chrome OS experience, more specifically targeted at enterprise users, it’s apparent Google is very focused on Chrome enterprise. Google is releasing tools, software, and new IT shipping methodologies to get more enterprise users in the Chrome ecosystem, and it seems to be working. I can see the value of a flexible and rapidly deployable IT solution for businesses, and Chrome OS is going after that. Switching operating systems across an enterprise is not an easy task, but Google is working hard to make it as easy and as deployable as it can be. Chrome for enterprise still has a long way to go and a fierce competitor in Microsoft fighting for enterprise device, OS and service sales.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.