Google's Chromebox: A better business play?

Google's Chromebox: A better business play?

Summary: For business users, the Chromebox may be a better play than the Chromebook for enterprises fiddling with their desktop setups.

TOPICS: Browser

Google and Samsung have launched new Chromebooks, which feature the latest Chrome OS, and an interesting desktop play dubbed the Chromebox.

Google's Chromebox. Credit: CNET

The Chromebook overhaul features better hardware, revised software and improved handling of cloud documents. CNET's Stephen Shankland has the hits, runs and errors with the Chromebook. In a nutshell, Google's Chromebook is improved, but still out of the mainstream.

However, the Chromebox could be an interesting corporate play as well as a way to dabble with the Chrome OS. Google's Chromebox is akin to an Apple TV or Roku box form factor. The price tag is too high at $329, but you see where this could be headed: Cloud desktops for $199 and below.

Shankland noted:

The Chromebox could be useful for corporate environments such as call centers, schools, and libraries, where people don't need full-fledged PCs and where Chrome OS's management benefits stand out. For those customers, Google dropped its subscription pricing plan and now charges the retail price plus $150, which gets customers the administration tools, hardware warranty, and lifetime support including 24-hour phone support.

CNET Reviews: Chrome OS (screenshots) | Samsung Chromebox Series 3 | Gallery: Samsung's Series 3 Chromebox

In other words, a corporate Chromebox will run you $479 for hardware and support. If that hardware price comes down---and there's no reason to believe it won't---Google shops that use Google Apps or browser-based SaaS tools may have an entry point.

Given that Google handles updates, security and admin the Chromebox could be appealing. It's unclear how Google would compare with the virtual desktop movement, but clearly the back-end infrastructure would be cheaper. Virtual desktop arrangements typically require data center enhancements.

For business users, the Chromebox may be a better play than the Chromebook. Although Chrome OS has improved offline document handling, the reality is that a Chromebook is a dud without a Wi-Fi or mobile connection. Desktop users on the Chromebox would theoretically always be connected. In that situation, a Chromebox could serve as a desktop replacement.

Google has also tossed in a Chrome Remote Desktop extension to run old PC software. That extension is still a work in progress.

The Chromebook and Chromebox efforts are still largely beta program, but Google is getting closer and could close gaps should its Chrome OS improve. CNET's Scott Stein noted:

I would not recommend the Chromebox for general purpose budget computing due to the lack of general hardware and software compatibility. It's miniscule local storage also prevents the Chromebox from working well as a small home theater PC. If you follow either Google or operating system news, you will know that this PC represents Google's first attempt at expanding its Chrome operating system to the desktop. Given that the Chromebox's laptop counterpart, the Chromebook, is such a difficult proposition, I was surprised by how much I actually liked this computer.

Bottom line: Chromebox may resonate with vertical industries and SMBs much better than the Chromebook did. Businesses looking for a thin client won't be sweating home theater uses.

Topic: Browser

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  • Raspberry Pi is still a greater bang for the buck

    Sorry ChromeBooks and Chrombox' are a solution still searching for a problem to fix with it.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Agreed.

      In reference to the concept -Here is a stick, and here is a dead horse.

      Go to town.
      William Farrel
      • Ditto

        Google really just needs to give up on these Chromebooks and just provide end users with the OS. Bottom of the line desktops are more powerful and cheaper. The pricing scheme reminds me a lot of Apple, except Apple's hardware is actually usable as a full computer, while these are even more featureless than an Android tablet.
    • Raspberry Pi is too slow

      I mean really, really slow. The most powerful component of Raspberry Pi is the GPU, other than that it's really nothing write home about it. Let's say you're trying to use Raspberry Pi in call center, just to make voice input work would require seperate hardware component and software hack to work. No way in hell it's suitable for any production environment work.

      Raspberry Pi is still an awesome hobby board, BTW.
  • I like the idea from a nerd standpoint but I don't think it will take off

    The problem is that the price is not right to disrupt the status quo yet, even at the projected lower prices. IT managers are going to have a hard time convincing CEOs to change unless they could save hundreds of thousands a year.

    I think the key will be to convince companies to switch to Google docs first to save money and then show how they really don't need Windows because everything they do is in the browser anyway. They have a long way to go but it might be a good strategy.
  • Chromebooks?

    My IT guys would just stare blankly at me. All our application software is Windows based. Any established system would be insane to try and switch over. I am not talking just Office to Docs either. We have specialized formulation, statistics, inventory, and financing software. The training time alone would be prohibitive.
    • re: chromebooks and chromeboxes

      We are looking at many different ways of lessening the cost of machines (we have approx 5000 employees and 43000 students). While the initial cost is important, its the upkeep and the replacement costs that really add up. If the chromebox/chromebooks could hit a $200 or less price point, it could really make a difference. Many things can be done with them without having a full OS installed (I use a chromebook all the time). This new product I just discovered last week and am testing now looks quite promising for those time when you need a full OS: SparkView (RDP over HTML5)...
      • Chromebook TCO in schools is 30% of the TCO for Windows desktops.

        Most of the posters on this blog are cash strapped computer hobbyists who find it hard to scrape up the up front cash to buy a computer, but on the other have have plenty of time to burn, and indeed for them spending time configuring Windows or Linux operating systems, installing hardware and troubleshooting drivers, installing and benchmarking applications just to try them out, defragging the hard drive and overclocking the CPU, these are all a labour of love for them - and for them it is the whole point of a computer. For them Chromebooks have no appeal because it doesn't allow them to do all these things.

        A computer hobbyist, is happy to set-up, configure, maintain and support their own PC for free and maybe do it free for friends and family as well. The reason is that personal computers like the Windows PC are in essence the same concept as the earliest personal computers like the Apple II, TRS 80, and Commodore Pet which were hobby computers. These designs require the users to maintain, configure, troubleshoot etc. the computers. Why wouldn't they do so, after all that's what hobbyists want from their personal computers. The Windows PC, Linux desktop, and Apple Mac all basically do the same thing.

        However if you are a school or a business, your priorities are different because a school or business has to pay someone to provision, configure, update, support and maintain desktops for users, and as anybody who has provided Windows desktop support knows, Windows desktop/laptop support is very expensive. In the past businesses adopted PCs to replace networked server cased computing because computer hardware, (particularly mainframes, and networking), was prohibitively expensive, and so high maintenance low cost PCs were a way of saving a lot of money. Now, computer hardware and networking cost is dirt cheap, but labour costs are very high in comparison, so the tables are completely reversed. For this reason, you will see businesses replace desktop and laptop PCs with server based computing, which the Chromebook exemplifies. The Desktop PC model doean't make economic sense at present, and it is only intertia, vendor lock-in and lack of applications that is preventing a wholesale transition to server based computing.

        Zero maintenance is main advantage and selling point of Chromebooks is missed by most posters. Chromebooks require no maintenance whatsoever - zip! zilch! nada! and the management of Chromebooks, Chromebook users and Chromebook user data is very simple, and does not even require you to set up your own authentication server. If you can make use of it in your organisation, it will save you 70% of the TCO of Windows desktops/laptops, mostly on IT labour costs. It will also make your users more productive, because it removes from users, the need for many user maintenance aspects of Windows which cannot be handled by IT administrators. Both the TCO advantages and improved user productivity has been proven beyond any doubt in large scale school trials and deployments in the US. Basically to use Chromebooks, a school doesn't have to set up and maintain an authentication server as is required with Windows and Macs. On top of that Chromebooks don't require local desktop data or applications on every desktop to be managed - these are managed on the a web based console from a browser from anywhere. Chromebooks don't require any maintenance. If one fails, you just post it back to Google and they will send you a replacement Chromebook which just needs to be connected to the WiFi network, to carry on where you left off - no data transfer or backup is required.

        If you are running a school or business, you will understand that going to $200 netbooks which are slow and aren't well built and break, is a false economy, and you won't find schools businesses buying netbooks or budget laptops with short battery life because it impacts on productivity if your battery runs out.

        The current Chromebooks are spec'ed and priced to suit schools, libraries, public sector organisations, and businesses, whose priorities are very different from computer hobbyists. Chromebooks have $1000+ ultrabook build quality and battery life (real battery life under continuous use unlike those quoted for most Windows netbooks and budget laptops), and people who compare them with budget Windows laptops or netbooks (mostly hobbyists) aren't comparing like for like. Schools and businesses will simply not buy el cheapo budget Windows laptops/desktops or netbooks. The fact that school deployments went mostly for the higher spec and more expensive Samsung Chromebooks over the cheaper Acer Chromebooks.

        There is a pent up demand for cheaper Chromebooks aimed at consumers, as comments about price testify, but I think the current range isn't really directed at the consumer market. Maybe a cheap ARM based Chromebook based on a Quad-core ARM processor and decent graphics and audio/video acceleration hardware will be on sale later on to cover this market.

        Chromebooks are of most benefit in schools for general education - schools are all about access to information to research, and there is no better source of information than the Internet. For teaching narrow technical skills like MS Word typist training or MS Excel spreadsheet, you will of course need Windows desktops, (just as you will need a MacDonalds chef to get a degree in MacDonalds hamburgerology). Unfortunately many schools do teach such narrow technical courses rather than providing a general education. If you are not one of these MS Word/Excel or hamburgerology academies, then you don't need Windows, and Google Apps for education will serve you better. Most courseware servers like Blackboard and Moodle which are widely used in higher education is web based and a natural for Chromebooks. You can also match Chromebook clients to virtualised Windows server based applications, as many Universities do using a Citrix remote client. This also removes the problematic licencing and piracy issues associated with installing commercially licensed applications on student laptops, as students cannot misuse or pirate software.

        The same sort of opportunities for large scale savings and productivity improvements exist in businesses, particularly large enterprises which have a significant server based IT infrastructure or heading in that direction, since that is a natural for Chromebooks. It is quite easy to mix and match Chromebooks with Windows desktops - for example you could provide typists, CAD technicians, and graphics artists with Windows workstations, information workers with Chromeboxes, travelling sales executives with Mac Airbooks and Android smartphones, office executives with Chromebooks with Citrix clients for access to virtualised Windows desktop apps etc. The Chromebook data and infrastructure is Internet based and interoperates seamlessly with all these devices - just install a Chrome browser, and you have the same access on all these devices.
    • Chromebooks?

      I'm sure a large conversion effort could be funded if not backed with savings from a reduction is maintenance contract costs. I've personally been through such efforts and given a willing workforce and a powerful sponsor it can save ton's of cash annually.
  • Google's Chromebox: A better business play?

    The chromebox is just a polished turd like the chromebook. I often wonder if there is anything that Google can do right.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • COULD have possibilities...

    ...IF the price comes down quite a bit. I could see new businesses that aren't already dependent on specialty software to utilize these in some way. But based on Chromebook's history, I would have to go with the polished turd theory.
  • Would you like a $600 pizza with that?

    Who would pay $330 for a web browser?

    That's what we're talking about here. A browser is free. I've got three of them. How much could the hardware be worth? Isn't it probably true that the single most expensive thing in a Chrombook is the shipping from Asia?

    For LESS money, you can buy a netbook. And download Chrome for FREE.

    How could anyone justify paying $330 for a web browser?

    You have to be the ULTIMATE homer to defend this, to say how much everyone needs a Chrombook. Because everyone already has it. It's a web browser.

    The only way I can see this being useful is if a million of them are donated to elementary schools. Give Google a tax break, and give the kids an educational toy. That's what this is. A toy.
  • For $99-150.... Maybe...

    Anything over that is a joke for a browser in hardware form..
  • Why would companies which to Chrome Box?

    Here zdnet goes again with it's hard on for anything google. Chome Desktop like Linux Desktop is a toy, a play ground for Google loving techno geeks. It can NEVER work in reality, it' the most outstretched pipe dream ever imagined.

    Companies can get i5 PC runing Windows 7 that way more compatible with old software which companies love to use. They do't cost much around the 300 to 400 range depending. A $199 crome box is a fantasy, the hardware alone costs more than that, there is not many paid software and licensing to make up for selling Chrome Box under production costs. Re training employees for a totaly new system is also going to costs comapnies time, money, and productivity. All add up to one big whooping chunk of change. It's not worth it. Companies are slowly rolling out windows 7 desktops which means no upgrades for a long long time.

    Face it, even linux has a better chance than Chrome and Linux ain't gonna happen.
    • why wouldn't they for certain jobs

      I give the business example of a large call center where the customer service reps answer phones and query the database via an internal website. The total cost of running windows machines, where a browser is all that's needed, will convince the CIO. There are other gains such as the ability to swap in a new machine in 1 minute for minimal down time, no necessity to recovering locally stored files from a bad hard drive, no lost data if a machine is stolen, makes it harder for an employee to steal data, no malware can attack it so no anti virus software needs to be maintained, nor worried about. The chromebox can swap in where a PC was, using the same keyboard and mouse, and the PC can be reassigned to an employee that really need local apps.

      My second example is small libraries that do not want to maintain technical help for publicly available machines, where they need to continually worry about local patrons loading malware. They do not want people running local apps anyway, they just need the browser available.

      ChromeOS it not for everyone, but there are certain places for them.
      • Using your call center example...

        And all your proprietary customer data is stored on Google???s servers?
        Also wondering about the software for screen pops, tracking etc???
        Is this available for web browsers or are we strictly talking outbound calls only?
      • @thekman58

        He referenced an internal website so Google would just be providing Docs/Mail service.

        Quite a bit ago, I used to work part time in an auto part store that had everything based off of an internal website (tracking, calls, invoicing, etc.) and I never had to leave the browser. The only gripe I had is that the Outlook web interface would sometimes act weird (not an IT guy, so don't ask me why) and it was the only thing we used then.

        Point is, if the infrastructure is there then it would make sense for businesses.
    • Geez, have you heard of the cloud?

      You need to get current.
      • Cloud?

        I've heard of the cloud. It is great until you don't have access to the internet. It is great until your data is more than a few MB in size. It is great until you need real processing power. It is great for email, streaming media, social networking and wading through low-res snapshots of friends and family. In short, it is great for almost everything that does little or nothing with little or nothing and the sundry time-vampire activities which produce little or nothing. The cloud has no processing power of its own and insufficient bandwidth for processing GBs of data quickly. The cloud as it currently and foreseeably exists is NOT a replacement for local or high-speed intranet based data with powerful local processors.
  • Won't take off...

    You have quad core tablets releasing at $200 later this year, that can perform virtually the same tasks as a chromebook and more.