Office is the only thing that can kill a Chromebook

Office is the only thing that can kill a Chromebook

Summary: Google wants the enterprise. It's hungry for it. Microsoft has one important defensive weapon to keep it at bay...

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TOPICS: Windows
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Office and Chromebook
Office and Chromebooks. Not a match made in heaven.

Google is coming for the enterprise with Chromebooks.

You could, if you wanted, write these clever little devices off as a technical curiosity with little merit. After all, from one angle they look like nothing more than a web browser with a keyboard attached.

But that's the wrong way to look at them. Chromebooks are very good at what they do. They are [full-on post-PC devices[(http://www.zdnet.com/the-chromebook-its-like-an-ipad-but-with-a-keyboard-7000009905/). What they lack in PC-like flexibility, they make up for in simplicity.

In domestic environments that simplicity translates to greater safety and comfort for users who are able to turn them on, get online, and do what they want to do without having to worry about drive-by downloads, having automatic updates breaking things, and so on.

In enterprise environments the attraction of using Chromebook (and Chromeboxes) would be reduced management effort and cost, providing you can carve out use cases that make sense.

Appliance

The idea of "appliance-based computing" in the enterprise not only is not new, but it's also growing. I've had increasing numbers of conversations with CIO-types who are seeing devices end up in their server rooms that rather than being based on multi-functional Windows are based on tightly controlled Linux distributions.

That appliance-like nature sounds a lot like a Chromebook.

It also sounds a lot like any form of thin-client solution that companies (Wyse, Cisco, and so on) have been trying to sell into the enterprise for years. Make parts of the system more appliance-like in order to gain simplicity in management.

The thing about traditional thin-client is that at the other end you invariably find Windows exposed over virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). That's a win for Microsoft because they are still shifting a license.

Chromebooks don't have the same shape. They're like thin-client, but they don't need a Windows license.

If you use a web-based enterprise application -- Dynamics CRM, for example -- you can go straight from Chrome to either your on-premises or cloud-based CRM, without touching a Windows client.

(The caveat here is that the application in question has to support Chrome, and as we know many enterprise applications lag in their support for the latest browsers. Hence why Microsoft is looking to deliver something called "enterprise mode" in IE11.)

Office

The problem with any form of computing appliance is that once you go outside of the relatively thin use cases, you're stuck. Similarly, you can't use a refrigerator to roast a turkey.

For Chromebook, the problem is Office.

Office has such an enormous footprint in the enterprise that that chances of you managing to develop a universal set of use cases that applies to the whole business that does not include Office is vanishingly small. Or to put it another way, when it comes to Office: "you are gonna need it".

Plus, Office's footprint is set to get bigger as we start to see traditional telecoms systems replaced by Lync and Skype. Neither Lync nor Skype will run on Chromebooks.

The get-around for this is to run an RDP client on the Chromebook and connect into a VDI-exposed Windows desktop.

But wait! If you do that, you're not getting anywhere. All you have is a thin-client solution and there's a reason why thin-client solutions aren't universal. Namely that for most businesses it's easier to roll out a whole bunch of Windows desktops and have done with it.

If you do that, if you make a Chromebook look like a thin-client, you've moved effectively nowhere. All you've done is save (perhaps) a little on capex on the actual devices, but created more management overhead. Plus you'll be "overly innovative" -- none of your peers will be able to support you because you would have done something weird. There's often benefit in being just one of the herd.

Microsoft is a successful business because the enterprise products -- Windows client, Windows Server, Active Directory, and various bits of management guff -- work really well together. It's that whole collection of stuff that Google wants to unseat.

Death of Office

The tension in all this comes from how far Microsoft is willing to separate Office and Windows. At the moment, those two things are tightly coupled -- you can't get the "full strength" of Office without Windows. (OK, so there's Office for OS X, but who's going to roll out Macs in the enterprise over Office?)

However, as Microsoft starts to follow its "devices and services" mantra, and when we start to consider the "devices" in that statement as being about any device Windows or otherwise, we start to run into a problem

If a web-based version of Office existed that had one-to-one functional parity with desktop Office, you could run a Chromebook in most enterprise scenarios and not lose anything.

Microsoft loses a lot. They start by losing a Windows client license. It then goes on to lose dependence on Active Directory. From there it loses dependence on its management tools. The comes its server licenses. The whole Microsoft ecosystem in the enterprise starts to unravel.

Will Microsoft ever make a full strength Office available in any package other than one that has to be installed on Windows?

Somehow I'll doubt whether we'll ever see full strength Web-based Office. After all, Office is the only thing that can kill a Chromebook.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Windows

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42 comments
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  • Huh?

    "Microsoft loses a lot. They start by losing a Windows client license. It then goes on to lose dependence on Active Directory. "

    What? This is only true if Active Directory is nothing more than a framework for distributing and managing office. But it's so much more than that. In fact, that's only a tiny part of what AD does. AD provided centralized management of digital assets including user and computer accounts, as well as authentication and authorization for corporate resources including file shares, printers, intranet sites and a whole host of third party applications (and Microsoft solutions like Exchange). Putting Office on a Chromebook or an iPad gives you... Office on a Chromebook or iPad, and that's about it. Now, that may be all that a small business needs, but if you needed AD in the first place, then you're not going to be able to keep doing what you want when you replace your PCs with Chromebooks running Office.
    dsf3g
    • If you are using AD

      That's at least a two physical server sale, nobody in their right mind deploys AD on a single server. For small businesses it's a big cost.
      Alan Smithie
      • There are simple alternatives to AD

        Zenytal and FreeIPA come to mind if you include SAMBA and a cloud service solution, Chromebooks are a huge threat to Microsoft within small business and home environments.

        Now if you consider that Kingsoft and Quick Office already provide solutions that most users need, you come understand why MS is selling less Office licenses each year.

        You them consider the huge licensing price hikes you will see going forward with MS (ask for a quote post July this year) , you see how how a Linux/cloud service coupled with Chromebooks becomes a no brainer for small business and your home.

        MS is scared, it lost the browser market, it never got into the mobile market, it lost the search market, it's bleeding the OS market and it's starting to lose the office footprint. The only place it still holds a footprint is development, if it loses that their numbers won't look great going forward.

        If Google is smart and just migrates Android to Chrome OS, all the licenses benefits for MS die as well.

        MS is in hot waters now and the future looks bleak. The good thing they have are patents, they will survive on them.
        Uralbas
        • Agree but

          As long as a device has a SD or micro SD which is formatted with FAT ( exFAT), the device maker has to pay the FAT ( exFAT) license to Microsoft.

          However, in December 2013, a federal patent court in Germany has invalidated the FAT patent therefore I am not sure if MS will continue to collect money from Android or Chrome OS devices maker.
          oldman60
    • Thin clients

      my last 2 employers both used thin clients extensively. My current employer as well, although they connect to a mixture of Windows and X-Windows Linux environments.

      Our shop floor solution uses LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) to remote boot touch screen industry terminals, running bespoke Linux touch applications.

      But even so, the back-office people can't get by without MS Office and "clouding" MS Office doesn't really help, because you lose the integration - the ERP solution provides all of its analysis in embedded Excel windows, for example, which you can't get if you run Office in a browser.

      That said, if the Chromboxes come down in price, they might make a very usable alternative to thin clients - as long as they support remote X sessions.
      wright_is
      • RE: Thin clients

        We have almost no PC's on our network. We use thin clients almost exclusively and for good reason. We have multiple locations with a small IT staff; thin clients are much easier to manage than PC's, with fewer people, especially for remote offices with no IT staff. We've been operating this way for the last 14 years and I had started migrating the last company I worked for over to thin clients before that.

        In addition, every single business package we use here is Windows only and we're adding more every year as new needs arise; all the systems are tightly integrated. For us, there's no option but Windows; with the major investments we have in our software systems, I don't see that changing any time soon. Besides, it all works well for us, so there's no reason to change anyway. Plus, the systems we use are all also tightly integrated with MS Office, so no changes there either.

        I've looked at Chromebooks, but for us, they would only be useful as a mobile thin client and tablets work well for that purpose already and have more "sex appeal" for a lot of employees now days.

        I spent the first half of my career on UNIX and IBM AS/400 systems, with a couple years including the HP3000. I've only been overseeing an all Windows shop for the last 10 years and for us it runs great, but so did the other shops I worked in and/or managed. I personally don't see Windows going away any time soon... Not in the enterprise.
        kb5ynf
    • Thin clients

      my last 2 employers both used thin clients extensively. My current employer as well, although they connect to a mixture of Windows and X-Windows Linux environments.

      Our shop floor solution uses LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) to remote boot touch screen industry terminals, running bespoke Linux touch applications.

      But even so, the back-office people can't get by without MS Office and "clouding" MS Office doesn't really help, because you lose the integration - the ERP solution provides all of its analysis in embedded Excel windows, for example, which you can't get if you run Office in a browser.

      That said, if the Chromboxes come down in price, they might make a very usable alternative to thin clients - as long as they support remote X sessions.
      wright_is
  • I'm not convinced it's a big deal ...

    Yes, people need access to a 'Word' clone, and probably an 'Excel' clone, and perhaps an 'Outlook' clone too.

    But you get all of these with a Chromebook. In fact you get all of these for free with almost any post-PC device with the added support advantage that 90% of the bloatware that no-one ever uses has been removed ... or at least hidden from view.

    I don't think lack of MS Office is the issue at all. I'm quite sure there IS an issue ... maybe it just perception, but once we crack that - Microsoft's stranglehold on the Enterprise is broken forever.
    5hagg1
    • There is no bloatware problem in enterprise computing.

      "In fact you get all of these for free with almost any post-PC device with the added support advantage that 90% of the bloatware that no-one ever uses has been removed ... or at least hidden from view."

      No enterprise I know opens a machine and does nothing with it before giving it to a user.

      It generally is first given an image, which wipes the entire drive and puts only what the business wants on the machine. Thus, unless you are talking about BYOD, there is no "bloatware" problem in enterprise machines.

      The big problem for Chromebooks to overcome is really things like Active Directory, which generally works best with Windows machines.
      CobraA1
      • Not sure you are totally right

        My desktop gets IE, Lync, MS office suite that I never used. The only application I actually need is outlook to check my email.

        Hopefully Chrome does not require admin right to install therefore I can use Google Apps that run on all my other office or personal devices.
        oldman60
    • 100% clone

      that is the problem. Even LibreOffice / OpenOffice on the desktop can't provide that. They miss functionality and for a large enterprise with hundreds or thousands of automated systems built in Excel or Word with macros, that means a huge amount of investment in alternatives.
      wright_is
  • Power users

    need Office. The vast majority of cubicle drones don't use or need the full set of features that Office offers. If Google can offer a simplified enterprise offering with better security, simplified and lower cost licensing terms, easier management, and enough functionality to keep the cubicle drones productive, then they can make significant inroads into the enterprise. There will still be a percentage of users that need a fully equipped Windows box with the full Office Suite. Most large business have an army of users whose primary job is just to process paperwork, not actually create complex documents. Currently, having MS Office is a standard part of just about every PC in the corporate world. I suspect that is about to change.
    krossbow
    • What is a "power user"?

      I bet many of them don't use Office much at all. You can do a lot of powerful things on a computer without needing/touching Office at all. Unless your responsibilities include a lot of document preparation, Office is not a big deal.
      Economister
      • Excel, Word and Outlook

        are the power user apps. People who know how to make good presentations don't use PowerPoint, and the converse is absolutely true: presentations made with PowerPoint aren't good. Honestly, there should be laws prohibiting accountants and actuaries from using PowerPoint.

        Anyway, power users make use of arcane features. For Outlook, that'd be highly customized e-mail filters and scheduling/calendaring. Things no web mail portal would provide. For Word, lawyer's pleading templates, footnoting and e-filing with courts. For Excel, PowerPivot, heavy use of tables and structured referencing, and calculation-intensive add-ins. There's more stuff available for connecting GNU R with Excel than with either Gnumeric or LibreOffice/OpenOffice Calc.

        Such users make up less than 10% of the Office user base, but they have disproportionate say in enterprise software purchasing.
        hrlngrv 
        • A person who knows what he is talking about

          Well said.
          kenosha77a
  • Office vs Web Office

    "Somehow I'll doubt whether we'll ever see full strength Web-based Office."

    The question is how close to full Office will the web version get. Most people do not use every feature that is available. So if they get close with the web version, businesses might not see any extra value with the full (desktop) version and decide that the web version is all they really need. If that is the case and if businesses do everything else on the web, then Chromebooks, or something like it, will appear in the workplace and will replace the traditional desktop.
    CPPCrispy
    • As long as...

      the COM interface is provided, to give the automatic generation of documents and tables out of the ERP system etc. then no problems... Oh, wait, no chance.

      For simple users (as in not using much functionality and not using automation and integration features), moving to a cloud alternative isn't much of a problem. For users of heavily automated systems integrating into Office, they are a non-starter, without investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in re-writing those systems.
      wright_is
    • anecdotes

      Load MSFT's 2013 Annual Report in Word 2010 or 2013. Look at the first few tables. They look OK. Now load it in the Word web app. It doesn't look so good, maybe not as bad as it does in LO/OO Writer, but not good.

      As for Excel, forget add-ins, user-defined functions, and array formulas.
      hrlngrv 
  • Meh, all I see here is opinion.

    "But that's the wrong way to look at them."

    Opinion. Who is really to say your way of looking at them is any better?

    "In domestic environments that simplicity translates to greater safety and comfort for users who are able to turn them on, get online, and do what they want to do without having to worry about drive-by downloads, having automatic updates breaking things, and so on."

    Minor worries, to be honest. Doesn't happen as much as you think.

    "The idea of 'appliance-based computing' in the enterprise not only is not new, but it's also growing."

    Evidence?

    "I've had increasing numbers of conversations with CIO-types "

    Is not evidence, due to being a small sample size - and the fact that I can't trust your conversations to be without bias. And the fact that you probably didn't record those conversations for us to hear/read, so you really don't have any evidence at all.

    "For Chromebook, the problem is Office."

    And Active Directory, and SharePoint. You can bet that Microsoft will continue to make sure that Office integrates with them better than anything else.

    Not to mention that Active Directory and SharePoint by themselves present considerable value to businesses, even without Office. Active Directory is management of devices, accounts, and users across the enterprise. SharePoint is management of information and workflows across the enterprise. Both are valuable in their own right.
    CobraA1
    • I don't think SharePoint is any real problem

      it is just a web content manager, and Chrome knows how to do Windows challenge response authentication. I think the author got it right - Office is the killer app. Not sure much of anything else, except for specialized users who need specialized tools (like devs or media production people.)
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter