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?
Google believes that its Chrome OS should be right there in the conversation with Windows 10 and MacOS when it comes to choosing an operating system. This is especially true in the enterprise realm, where the company's ambitions with G Suite and Google Cloud align nicely with the premise of Chrome OS — security, ease of use and maximum control for administrators.
Chrome OS is sometimes thought of as a glorified browser, but there are a lot more capabilities to what the system can do. Whether it's for personal use or to deploy across an organization, here are some key things to know about Chrome OS.
Is Chrome OS just a browser?
This is probably the biggest misnomer about Chrome OS. The operating system runs atop a Linux kernel, with the Chrome browser as the primary interface. However, given how many web applications and services are exclusive to the web, you can likely get a lot of your work done there anyway.
Another major upside to Chrome OS is the ease with which one can access all their content. Just sign in with a Google account, and your bookmarks and key applications are all there. It also makes Chrome devices easy to share given the quick sign-in process.
What are the hardware options?
The most commonly known are Chromebooks, which are laptop computers that run the Chrome operating system.
But there are more choices. Chromeboxes are desktop PCs that connect to a monitor. They're ideal for workstations and conference rooms where work needs to be shared with colleagues.
Then there's the Chromebit, which is a computer stick that can plug into a monitor or television. Also, some Chromebooks are two-in-one PCs, with a touch screen and hinge to fold over for a tablet mode. A Chromebase is an all-in-one PC, which is not ideal for mobility but great if you want a dedicated Chrome device with a large screen.
Using a device in a "kiosk mode" is an increasingly popular use case. By kiosk mode we mean that the browser window itself is full screen and all menus and toolbars for doing anything but interacting with that screen has been stripped away.
Chrome 57 and forward supports kiosk mode, widening the possibility this will work on most available devices. On the one hand, a Chromebook can be had for cheap. And more savvy businesses could repurpose an older device with Chrome to get the same result at a much lower cost than doing so with something like an iPad.
To use Kiosk Mode, a Chrome device must be managed by an administrator. Once this is done, there are different types of kiosk modes that you can enable. You can lock the system down completely so that only the administrator has privileges. Or you can auto-launch a single kiosk app, which would allow an employee or customer to interact with the device.
What's this about Android apps on Chromebooks?
Some Chromebooks can run Android apps from the Google Play Store. The feature is still in beta, with select hardware having this capability enabled.
The goal with Android apps is they will bring extra utility to Chromebooks that can't be accomplished with the browser alone. It works well for some productivity applications that give you a more streamlined interface and offline storage through their Android app.
Is Chrome OS secure?
Security is one of the main selling points with regard to Chrome OS. The platform includes both hardware- and software-based malware and virus protection. Among the hardware features is boot verification and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) compatibility.
Chrome OS can connect to many VPNs, including Cisco VPN through the web store apps. Other software features include an automatic patching utility and built-in antivirus protection.
Can my team get work done on Chrome OS?
Definitely. Google's G Suite is optimized for Chrome and is a crucial part of the company's strategy. You can work individually or with a team on shared files through Google Drive. Docs, Sheets, Slides and other applications are quite powerful and may replace Office for many uses.
However, you don't have to ditch Microsoft's tools completely. Office Online offers web-based versions of Word, Excel and other tools. And Dropbox Paper is another popular way for companies to collaborate within the browser.
What about updates?
Chrome OS is updated every six weeks. New features are released first to the Canary channel, which is the most experimental version of Chrome. They then roll to the developer and beta channel before hitting the stable version.
This tiered approach gives Google time to optimize the versions and allows users to try out new features before they hit the mainstream.
How does Chrome OS compare to Windows or Mac?
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.
If you rely on desktop software on Mac or Windows, then a Chromebook may not suit all your needs. But it can still be powerful, and Google has a rapid development pace that regularly introduces new features and optimizations.
What is management like?
This is an area that Google hopes to distinguish itself from both Mac and Windows. The Chrome Admin Console provides several tools for managing a deployment of Chromebooks across an organization.
You can assign users to Chromebooks, set user and device policies, and select which applications can be preinstalled or blocked. You're even able to customize such features as bookmarks and custom Chrome themes.
If you have a Microsoft Active Directory domain, you can set up Active Directory synchronization so that new users are automatically populated into the Chrome OS management utility.
How often must you replace Chromebooks?
According to Google's end-of-life policy, Chromebooks are feature- and security-supported for five years. The systems will still function, but they won't get the regular batch of updates.
Google offers a Chromebook end-of-life chart that breaks down when devices by specific manufacturers will stop receiving updates.
Bottom line: is it worth it?
For the right set of circumstances, Chromebooks can be very productive and a good value. They're generally easy to use, secure and don't cost very much.
If you don't need specialized software that only works on Windows or Mac, there's no reason you can't get all the day's work done on a Chromebook. And additional tools like kiosk mode give you a lot of different ways to use Chrome across a business.