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Google exec discusses future for Google Apps, Chromebooks

Google's manager of Chrome for Business posits that Chromebooks are the next step for Google Apps, and the "sharability" of these netbooks are unmatched by any other device.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chromebooks represent the next stage in enterprise collaboration, but there are some idealistic (and technological) hurdles to overcome, according to Rajen Sheth, Google's group product manager for Chrome for Business.

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While speaking at GigaOM's NetWork 2011 summit on Thursday, Sheth frequently compared the budding stages of the Chromebook brand to that of Google Apps.

After joining Google in 2004 when the enterprise division was just getting underway, Sheth was assigned the task of figuring out "some enterprise product," which evolved into Google Apps. In fact, the department started off with only one engineer.

Now, the Google Apps unit employs roughly 1,400 people.

Sheth explained that small businesses gravitated to it first, but most companies were horrified by the idea of putting emails and files somewhere else away from a firewall.

Obviously, times have changed.

"Almost every CIO we talk to now is building up their cloud strategy," Sheth remarked.

Sheth identified three characteristics that enterprise customers are gravitating towards today:

  • People want to be more collaborative and social.
  • They want to work from anywhere.
  • They want to have tools that involve them rather than be static.

"It's just so much easier to set up and for the end user to get to," Sheth said, adding that there is associated cost there as well, positing that it costs just a fraction of what most companies are spending now.

Sheth asserted that the Chromebook is just the next step in this field. However, there is a sort of "mind shift" that personal and business customers need to understand before buying into the Chromebook brand.

"We're not selling a device, we're selling a new paradigm of web-based computing," Sheth said. He added that Chrome developers want to get to a point where any device is your device -- meaning that any time you log into a device, regardless of whether or not you bought it, you can access your account.

The example here is that you can pick up any Chromebook and log in with your Gmail account, and your bookmarks, apps, and everything else tied to that account is readily available.

Here, Sheth used the example of Google's partnership with Virgin America. Passengers on select flights can rent a Chromebook for free and access the Internet (and their accounts) while in-flight. Sheth argued that the "sharability" of the Chromebook is unmatched by any other device, and such a program couldn't happen otherwise.

When asked by an audience member about why does the Chromebook experience not work as well as that on Android, to the point where he labeled the Chromebook experience as "mediocre," Sheth replied that there are many people who like the Chromebook UI, but that web-based technology is still evolving.

Sheth likened the path for the Chromebook to that of Google Apps a few years back when users weren't as excited about cloud-based apps. Additionally, he predicted within a few years, users won't be able to tell the difference between an app stored on the hard drive versus a web-based app.

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