Earlier this week, Google blended its Chromecast device with Chrome OS software, introducing what it calls a Chromebit. The small stick of a computer plugs into the HDMI port of a display and supports an external keyboard and mouse. Google says the Chromebit will arrive from its hardware partner Asus this summer and cost less than $100.
It's a clever approach that doesn't just take advantage of the same form-factor as its Chromecast streaming stick but also replicates another aspect: A low price. Granted, you're not getting the latest and greatest x86 chip inside. Instead, Google and Asus worked with Rockchip, which supplies a quad-core ARM-based processor for the Chromebit. Also inside the device are Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 radios, 2GB of memory and 16GB of flash storage.
I think it's a mistake for Google to overlook the enterprise and small business here, however.
Both computing sticks address a key aspect of any company: Controlling costs. It's far less expensive to hand employees a plug and play HDMI dongle than it is to lease or buy laptops, desktops and other costly computers. Sure, employees will need a monitor, keyboard and mouse for either of these new computing devices, but in the case of a company that uses workstations, these should already be available.
Depending on the type of business, laptops certainly make sense. In another lifetime, I managed the deployment and support of laptops for a national mortgage company. Those laptops and their 56k modem cards helped keep the sales force productive when mobile.
The technical help desk I was responsible for in a different role, however, would have been well served by a smaller personal computer. We had shared workstations for different shifts at that time and the sign-in process to run roaming profile scripts and such wasted several minutes a day. Multiply that by each employee and you have a significant amount of unproductive activity.
That same situation with a portable PC that you just plug-in, though? There's opportunity to reclaim that wasted time because a Chromebit or Compute Stick already has the personal data of an employee, plus any locally stored user data. Best of all, it can be used anywhere there's a monitor, keyboard and mouse available; perfect in the example of my help desk shifts.
Neither of these devices will work for a truly mobile workforce. Nor will a Chromebit be of value if you have legacy applications or don't rely on web-based services. Obviously, you have to choose the right tool for the task. If those tasks can securely be done on a low-end computing stick, maybe there's no need to renew those laptop leases the next time they come due.