Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

Summary: Google's Chromebooks will be great for businesses, but first there are some problems to be cleaned up.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Google
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Make no mistake about it. I like my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook a lot. I think it will become a major challenge to Windows on light-duty business desktops... eventually.

You see right now, as I'm well into week two with my Chromebook, I'm finding holes that need to be filled before I can see many businesses rolling work out on Chromebooks. Mind you, even as it is, I can see people using them for work. I am right now. But, until these problems are fixed Chromebooks aren't going to be major business desktop players.

1. Where's the VPN?

Chrome OS, and thus Chromebooks, actually have Virtual Private Network capability built-in, but it's still a beta feature and it's a pain-in-the-rump to find and activate. To turn on the VPN functionality-and other "experimental" features you need to run:

about:flags

from the address bar (aka URL bar). Then Enable VPN support from the list of Experiments.

After that, you can add a Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol/Internet Protocol Security (L2TP/IPSec) private network from the Chromebook's network control. Currently Chrome OS supports L2TP/IPSec with either a pre-shared key or a user certificate. While L2TP/IPSec works with many VPN services, such as those from Cisco and Windows Server, it doesn't work with all of them. For example, you can't use L2TP/IPSec with my own favorite VPN server, OpenVPN.

It may be experimental, but I did get it to work with my Windows Server 2008 R2 VPN server without any additional trouble. The real question to me though is why the heck wasn't this built-in and perfected before the first Chromebook shipped? To me, the market for Chromebooks has always been business and, to a lesser extent, education and both often require VPN use.

2. Some Wi-Fi Security still not supported.

While Chromebooks support most common Wi-Fi security methods, it doesn't support all of them. The most glaring of these is that it can't handle Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) Enterprise with Extensible Authentication Protocol-Transport Layer Security (EAP-TLS) or Cisco's Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol (LEAP). Like VPN support you can activate experimental support for WPA EAP-TLS and LEAP from the obscure about:flags command page.

To me, this is another "what the heck" failure. All the important Wi-Fi security mechanisms should have been in there from the start. This isn't rocket science. The Samsung Series 5's Qualcomm Atheros AR5BHB116 802.11n Wi-Fi card with its Atheros AR9382 chip is already certified for WPA2 EAP-TLS so there's no technical reason the Chromebook can't work with this network security protocol out of the box.

Page 2: [Busted File Manager, System Access & Documentation] »

Busted File Manager, System Access & Documentation

3. The Malfunctioning File Manager

To get to the Chromebook file system you use the keyboard command "Control M" or place a memory card in the reader. Fair enough. When you pick a file to work on though, strange things start to happen. You see Chrome OS isn't sure what to do with different kinds of common file types.

For example, Chrome OS knows that it uses Google Docs to open Microsoft Word .DOC or OpenXML or LibreOffice's Open Document Format files (ODF), and it can do so... if you upload the file to Google Docs. If you just try to double-click on it or otherwise open it from the file manager all you'll get is an unknown file type error message? Huh!?

With other files, such as PNG graphic files, you're given what you would expect when you try to open a file: a choice between viewing it or sending it to the Picasa Web site. You're also given a preview of the image in the left sidebar of the file manager.

In the case of Adobe Acrobat PDF files, which Chrome OS can read natively, you're not given a choice of what to do with the file or a preview. But, if you double-click on a PDF it will open.

This is just dumb. First, Google's Chrome team needs to assign the common file types to the appropriate actions. Next, they need to provide a common interface for how the file manager deals with these files.

4. Easier System Access

You would think that everything of any importance on the Chromebook could be accessed via the Chrome Web browser. You would be wrong.

As you may know Chrome OS is based on Linux and the Chrome Web browser is its graphical user interface. Most of its system controls are accessed via the Wrench tool and the setting control. But, not only do you need to know about the about:flags to get to experimental services, you also need to know how to get to Chrome OS' restricted command-line shell--the undocumented crosh shell--to do such basics as setting up a secure shell (SSH) secure network connection.

To get to the shell you need to simultaneously press control-alt-T. This command sequence is not listed in the Chrome OS keyboard overlay, which you can find by pressing control-alt-?.

From crosh the most important commands you can access is ssh, which can serve in place of a VPN in some circumstances, and modem. This last lets you access, if it's installed, your 3G modem.

If you want you can set the Samsung Chromebook into developer mode. I recommend only Linux experts give this a try. Once there though you gain access to the far more powerful Bash shell.

5. Better Documentation

For 95% of what you want to do with a Chromebook, it's as easy as using the Chrome Web browser. For most of its users it is, after all, 95% of it is the Chrome 12 Web browser. But, if you want to go one step further to do something as simple as setting up a VPN you're pretty much on your own.

For instance, if you wanted to set up a VPN, as I desscribed above, what you're more likely to find as you search for a way to do it is this "inspiring" message from the Chromebook FAQs:

We've heard from our pilot customers that VPN is an important feature for businesses and schools, and we're working very hard to bake this into Chromebooks soon. Support for some VPN implementation is already in the product and we'll both extend support for more VPNs and get these features to stable soon. Remember that unlike ordinary computers Chromebooks get better through seamless auto-updates every few weeks. Stay tuned!

Come on! Some documentation is easy to find and use. For example, despite what you may have heard it's really not hard to set up printing from a Chromebook. Far too much of the Chrome OS is scattered as bits and pieces all over the Web.

That's fine for someone like me. I make my living from finding the hidden nooks and crannies of hardware and software. It sucks though for anyone who just to use their Chromebook for work instead of using it as a hobby.

It may seem minor, but I think this documentation problem is the biggest one of all. I mean, who reads the manual right? Google has shown itself to be more than capable of revising their software at an incredible rate. It wouldn't surprise me to see all the other problems fixed by the end of July. But, if the documentation is still in its current lousy state, how many users are going to know that can now easily set up a VPN, connect to a Wi-Fi network using WAP2 EAP-TLS? Not enough of them, that's how many!

So get on the stick Google. You've got the potential for something great in the Chromebook. Don't fritter it away with half-baked functionality and documentation.

Related Stories:

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Chromebooks officially on sale: Is your school buying?

Will Chromebooks Speed Cloud Adoption?

Google's tepid Chromebook reviews meaningless: It's all about business

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook cracking open hardware analysis

Topics: Mobility, Google

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36 comments
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  • Ah ha! See, what did I tell you...

    <I>"For example, Chrome OS knows that it uses Google Docs to open Microsoft Word .DOC or OpenXML or LibreOffices Open Document Format files (ODF), and it can do so <B>if you upload the file to Google Docs</B>.</I><br><br>See, this is where I have a HUGE problem with the OS. What if it's a document I don't want online? <br><br>PS: .DOC? Really? .DOC is so 2003. ;)
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @Cylon Centurion I figured, WTH, try DOC on it as well. Nada.

      Steven
      sjvn@...
  • 5 chromebook concerns for businesses?

    No, not quite. This article should be entitled "5 Chromebook Concerns for men still living at home in their 30s".

    The business concerns are many, but here are a few:

    1. predictability of Chromebook client updates. When and where will Google push down a patch or festure that will impede my ability to work?

    2. security on the device. Can I do full disk encryption? If so, what happens?

    3. wired access. My facility has high speed network cables...how do I plug this device into one? oh...you can't. it is crippled.

    4. app compatability. Do my word documents still get badly mangled when loaded into Google docs? how do I push my docs to my web server other than google?

    5. application freedom and vendor locking. Looks like the system is engineered to lock you into Google. Google once made a big announcement about their Google Data Liberation group. What ever happened to those guys anyway?
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @facebook@...
      1) It does this when you reboot, so it won't impede your ability to work.
      2) Yes, local cached files are automatically encrypted. You can also set it not to store any local data.
      3) You can plug WiFi router into your office LAN. You are unlikely to need anything faster than that for web browsing, video playback, and Citrix, and because you don't store large files locally. But yes, it would have been nice to also have a LAN socket. ChromeBoxes will have LAN sockets.
      4) Probably some files with complex formating, and ODF too. Try Microsoft Azure, or Zoho Office if you want to do that, or better still, drop MS Office altogether and create your documents in Google Docs. Unlike MS Office produced documents which have lousy compatibility with others, Google Docs documents have 100% compatibility with MS Office and OpenOffice users and others.
      5) Not really, you just type a different URL, and it takes you somewhere else. How is that lock-in?
      Mah
      • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

        @Mah

        1. it is not a question of when it occurs, but the impact when it occurs. Google has a poor history of app management, rolling out patches without first notifiying their customers what the impact would be. This is basic Change Management 101.

        2. Not the same thing

        3. OK, so if I settle for the limitations of the hardware and software, I will like it. Again, not the same thing.

        4. OK, exactly the same thing as #3

        5. not even close to addressing the matter. Where are my docs? by default, google docs. What happens when Google drops a technology, like Friend Connect, Buzz, Wave, Google Sites, and a host of other technologies that Google simply drops? Where is my data.

        So, again.... Like the Chromebook, this article does not address legitimate business needs at all.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

        facebook @
        1. The apps are on the web, not the device, so device apps will update when the ASP updates the app on the web. Google app management has nothing to do with Chrome OS.

        Chrome OS is effectively a thin client with a very limited set of standard protocols like HTML5, Citrix remote access etc. to update. These shouldn't really change except in a trivial way to fix bugs. So upgrades should be manageable in a way that tightly bound dlls aren't, if Google doesn't go overboard.

        2. Your docs are where you put them. If you logged into Zoho Office, they will be in Zoho's servers, if you logged into Microsoft's Office 385, they will be on Microsoft's servers, and if you logged onto a web entry form or web app, or virtualised Windows desktop on your company's servers, the data will be on your company's servers.

        5. The only thing that you need to use Google for is their authentication service. Even that is not necessary with the open source Chromium OS version. somebody will eventually create a version which uses a corporate server for authentication services.
        Mah
      • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

        @Mah
        OK, it is an expensive thin client, on that we can agree. It brings nothing new to the game. However, unlike a feature-rich thin client, Chromebooks require too many sacrifices and compromises with regards to functionality. At best, Chromebooks are a beta product.
        Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @facebook@...
      1. What's going to break? Your browser?
      2. Everything is encrypted and signed.
      3. Get a USB to Ethernet adapter. It's thin. The Macbook Air needs an adapter, too.
      4. It's a web browser. You use whatever service you want to use, including your company's home-rolled one.
      5. Google is used only for login. After that, you use whatever service you want. Google Data Liberation is still going strong and you can find it at dataliberation.org, but you would know that if you were serious instead of just being glib.
      daengbo
      • So Chromebook is a Do Nothing Device?

        @daengbo
        1. Business need reliability. What is going to break? What new functionality will be introduced into the browser that will causes a critical line of business application to not render correctly.

        2. References to that?

        3. So the device is not complete. Now I need to buy additional hardware to elevate this utterly useless device to just useless?

        4. And what are the defaults set to? Do you think that Google is going to add choices to the apps list like Microsoft has for browser installation.

        5. OK....so I need a google account. dataliberation.org has not added any substantive content in over year. But you would know that if you were being honest instead of just being disingenuous.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

        @daengbo

        Gotta agree with @facebook on #5, even if most of his other concerns have workarounds or may be fixed in the near future (except #1, he's right: yikes).

        Answer to #5, this team was probably Liberated.

        Seriously though, the File Manager thing though... yuck. Dealbreaker.
        bri719
    • Who holds the decryption keys for encryption? Google?

      @facebook@...

      If Google holds decryption keys for data, what access rights do they reserve for said data? Likewise, if it's not encrypted, does it still fall under their umbrella all-access rights to your data?

      This is where it fails in the corporate world.
      Joe_Raby
  • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

    Sheesh... This thing is TOTALLY WORTHLESS for business, unless the only thing you do in your business is surf the web. Unsecure. Pathetic lack of business application support. Unsecure. REQUIRES Internet access. Unsecure. No wired network connection. Unsecure. Did I mention is it unsecure? The Cloud... No way Jose.
    notme403@...
  • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

    I have other major problems for using Chrome OS: <br><br><br>First: Can't listen to my CD's I have dozens of CDs which I would like to listen or rip in my notebook so I can listen to the music, but I think the Samsung 5 Series or the Acer Chromebook don't have removable disc drive, so <br>what is going on with this OS!<br><br><br>Second: No 3D modeling, animation, rendering and post-production software. Linux supports Blender on all major distributions: Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. why if Chrome OS is based on Linux it can't support such a productive software like Blender.<br><br><br>Third: No application to View, alter and save images from a webcam.<br>Linux supports Camorama webcam viewer, so how exactly camera software exists for Chrome OS? None <br><br><br>Fourth: No E-book library management: Convert, view, share, catalogue all your e-books. <br>How do you transfer your ebooks to your Kindle?, with this OS is impossible since you can't manage your ebooks.<br><br><br>There are other needs you can't do on Chrome OS, so I think Google should reconsider into building a new desktop OS from scratch which is based on Gnome or KDE.
    Gabriel Hernandez
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @Gabriel Hernandez
      Chromebooks aren't really intended for heavy duty graphics and video editing work. That is something better handled by a power workstation with serious graphical capability.
      Mah
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @Gabriel Hernandez

      Re: "first", you could probably rig up some USB CD-RW drive, though I'm not sure how Chrome handles the drivers. But seems to be worth looking into.

      "fourth", isn't there a Kindle app for Android that could work on this thing? Assuming Chrome has access to their store... anyway it's just a thought. if Kindle can run on my locked down iPod Touch, I don't see why not.
      bri719
      • shouldnt have to &quot;rig up&quot; anything though

        @bri719
        but if chrome os and chromebooks want to be user-friendly or business-friendly, there should be NO NEED to "rig up" anything. techies and geeks have the time and patience to deal with chrome's shortfalls - businesses dont have that kind of time -- because time costs money.

        we just want the damn thing to work, no "rigging up", no "about:flag" crap, no "experimentals". just make the thing work simply, quickly, and interoperabily.
        rivardau
  • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

    The crop of tablets that have so far made some sort of impression don't impress on the business side. They are more toys than anything else. Business applications, remote desktop, local printing, Windows network compatibility, etc... We have a pile of iPads sitting because the users don't like to carry a tablet size brick when on remote locations. They opt for 4 year old notebooks that actually work.
    notme403@...
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @notme403@...
      Tablets are fine for web browsing, Internet navigation, and tabular data entry, but aren't ideal for serious text data entry because of the lack of a keyboard. That is where Chrome OS comes in.
      Mah
      • You are kidding ... right?

        @Mah ChromeOS doesn't even have 10% of the capabilities of today's tables .... even the pathetic Android tablets in today's market.

        Do you seriously think that having a keyboard will make it better? Guess what? You can get an add-on keyboard for a tablet and get the same benefit you claim is the core advantage of ChromeOS without losing the other 90+% of capabilities.

        Besides, if you really need a "serious text data entry" devices, why the hell would anybody select a device that is MORE EXPENSIVE and LESS CAPABLE than a low cost laptop (with better specs)?
        wackoae
    • RE: Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

      @notme403@...
      I use tablets for remote computing including VPN and remote desktop. I can VPN then remote to a server and reboot it or restart services. Our sales force uses them with custom web apps that have been created for them. It's just a matter of commitment to the platform. I'm now testing the Chromebook for the office too. So far so good. The concerns in the article are real but not insurmountable.
      tomthetoe