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2/6/2014
02:50 PM
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Google Launches Chromebox For Meetings

Using Google+ Hangouts, enterprises can now enjoy video conferencing at an affordable price.

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Hoping to simplify the process of setting up and running video conferences, Google on Thursday announced Chromebox for meetings, an updated version of its Chrome OS computer that has been tuned for video streams, backed by peripherals, Google+ Hangouts, and other Google cloud services.

At a media event at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, Caesar Sengupta, VP of product management for Chromebooks at Google, touted the system's affordability and potential to foster a more engaged corporate culture.

Citing the difficulty of setting up audio and video conferences and the fact that those attending audio conferences often spend the time playing games or surfing the web, Sengupta said Google believes it can offer something better.

"Many companies try to deal with [the challenge of audio conferencing] by investing in video conferencing systems," he said. "But these are typically expensive, complicated to set up, and require changes in the room. ... Very few people in a company actually get access to these systems."

Chromebox for meetings is available from ASUS in the US today for $999, with Dell and HP offerings coming soon. It will be available in other countries in the months ahead. That cost includes an Intel i7-based Chromebox, a video camera, microphone, speaker, and remote, as well as a year's worth of service and support. Thereafter, the ongoing price is $250 a year. Displays are not included.

"Companies that have not been able to afford the luxury of a face-to-face meeting system can now do so," said Sengupta. "We think there's a big market for this," he added, declining to cite sales projections as a matter of policy.

A company called Vidyo has been working with Google to provide Google+ Hangouts connectivity with H.323/SIP and IP PBX systems from the likes of Cisco, Tandberg, and Polycom. Those who wish to join corporate Google+ Hangouts meetings from their phones can do so through a service called Uberconference.

Sengupta said a number of companies have been beta testing the service and have been pleased with the results. These include: Brady, Costco, CBC, Eventbrite, Lytro, oDesk, Gilt, Premier Foods, Softbank, Woolworths, the State of Wyoming, and Yelp.

A meeting room with a Chromebox can accommodate up to 15 people and Google says multiple rooms can be linked with each other for large group meetings. All this is handled through a central administrative console as part of the paid service.

It's been a busy time in the Chrome OS world. Two new Chromebook models debuted this week. Toshiba released its Chromebook, referred to by the alphanumeric jumble "CB30-A3120," for $299. It features an Intel Celeron 2955U, 2GB DDR3L 1600MHz (max 2 GB), Intel Integrated Graphics, 16-GB SSD with 100-GB Google Drive included (at no cost for two years), 802.11a/g/n, and a 13.3 inch screen.

Weighing in at 3.3 pounds, it comes with a memory card reader, 2 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a battery that's not user replaceable but promises up to nine hours of usage.

Acer meanwhile released a Chromebook with an equally obtuse designation: the C720P-2666 Chromebook, which also lists for $299. It's hardware specifications are very similar, except as follows: one of its two USB ports is USB 2.0 rather than 3.0; it comes with a 32-GB SSD instead of 16 GB; and its battery life is projected to be 7.5 hours as opposed to 9 hours.

What distinguishes Acer's latest Chromebook, however is that, like Google's high-end Chromebook Pixel, it comes with a touchscreen.

Approximately, 2.5 million Chromebooks were sold in 2013, according to research firm IDC, a figure that represents about 1% of the global PC market. The education sector, however, has been quicker to see value in Chrome OS devices. Futuresource Consulting has estimated that Chromebooks accounted for about 19% of the K-12 US mobile market last year.

The growing appeal of Chromebooks is seen as a threat by Microsoft, despite the fact that the devices can work with Office files through Google Apps or via remote access extensions. Microsoft recently extended its anti-Google "Scroogled" marketing campaign to include Google's Chromebook, which it insists are not "a real laptop" because the device doesn't run Office or Windows.

Of course school administrators are looking at options like Chrome OS and Apple's iOS precisely because they don't come with the management costs associated with Windows.

Google's Chromebook hardware partners now include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, and Toshiba. And Sony’s Vaio VCC11's is expected to ship this spring.

Too many companies treat digital and mobile strategies as pet projects. Here are four ideas to shake up your company. Also in the Digital Disruption issue of InformationWeek: Six enduring truths about selecting enterprise software. (Free registration required.)

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 5:10:54 PM
Video? Meh.
Am I the only one who dislikes video conferences? I'd pay for a Google Chromebox that prevents meetings...
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 7:31:09 PM
Re: Video? Meh.
I'm not super excited by video meetings. Audio is efficient for most meetings. I'd be more excited by some effective and lightweight screenshare or presentation tools.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/7/2014 | 12:30:13 PM
Re: Video? Meh.
Your comment makes me think of the "facetime facelift." Video conferencing sounds great...then you see your aging self on screen...and evidently a lot of people decide it is time for the necklift. Still, it is a useful tool. When you are doing an audio call, you get no visual cues, which is tough.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 5:11:14 PM
Chromebooks and Education
Why wouldn't you want to use a Chromebook in an education setting? I don't see the downside.
jorjitop
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jorjitop,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/15/2014 | 6:38:58 AM
Re: Chromebooks and Education
Obviously, you should be aware that Google is the largest purveyor of spyware in the world.  Every app and service they provide is designed to augment their profile of the user.  Thus, they have the biggest set of profiles on the most people of any organisation in the world.  I am sure it exceeds the NSA.

So, do you want to add yourself and your kids to this databank?  What is the risk of one company having so much data on you and everyone else in the world?  What is the risk that there is a change of management, change of business model, or that someone simply decides to profit by selling a few million profiles?

If nothing else, the risk of identity theft is enormous.  Good luck to all of you who want "free" benefits from Google.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2014 | 7:24:56 PM
About Chromebooks
I was looking into buying a Chromebook last week. I thought that it was an impressive device, but the one thing that isn't well pointed out about it is that you can't readily install software the Chromebook, and that you depend completely on cloud-based applications that you access via the Chrome Browser. With SO MUCH available on the cloud these days, including Google Apps and Open Office, that's not as much of a disadvantage as you might at first think. But, if you temporarily don't have an internet connection, the device is nothing but a paperweight until you're reconnected.

 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 9:03:39 PM
Re: About Chromebooks
>the device is nothing but a paperweight until you're reconnected.

 

That's less true that you might expect. A lot of Chrome Apps and Google Apps run offline these days.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2014 | 11:17:34 PM
Re: About Chromebooks
Appropriately enough, I did some "Googling", and I came across an article where the author asks, rhetorically, if Chromebooks are "useless as a brick" when they are offline. The answer is no, because, as you say, there offline apps available today. I also learned that with a little work, Ubuntu can be installed on Chromebooks, and even if you're not a fan of Ubuntu, it'll certainly provide a workable spreadsheet and wordprocessor that'll do until you get internet access again.

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/8/2014 | 6:32:12 PM
Re: About Chromebooks
"That's less true that you might expect. A lot of Chrome Apps and Google Apps run offline these days."

 

But in recent ads, Microsoft is happy to suggest that it's almost totally true. That messaging has more or less convinced me that Microsoft is getting legitimately concerned about Chromebooks. If Chromebooks eat into the lower end of the market, they'll impact the strategies of HP, Dell, and other Windows partners. Windows devices will have a tough time if, in many markets, they have to find a space above cheap Chromebooks but below premium Apple products (Apple might have small market share, but in the $1000 bracket, it usually does just fine). Makes it tough to find the right balance between price, quality and margins.
x7c00
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x7c00,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 10:05:55 AM
Re: About Chromebooks
I love the Chromebook! My work consists mostly of email, web, and remoting into my clients networks. If the Comcast web is down as it was much of this week outside Philly all my computers are bricks. Until I hook up to my neighbors FIOS connection. I'm not writing a novel on my local machine. I have to have an active internet connection. I think at some point most of us will simply have a desktop delivered to us. I also use it for banking. My only complaint is that Google has to make printing easier for the average user. But even my older Chromebook is a very useful tool. The auto backup to Google Drive has saved a lot of people a lot of grief. If your kid wants a laptop this is the machine to buy. It's a lot harder to mess up. 

Tim
Business Hangouts
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Business Hangouts,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2014 | 2:35:46 AM
Hardware not enough for effective meetings
I think this is great for attending a meeting, but not meant for presenters or the host, as it looks like the user interface is too limited to give access to the apps, such as "Screen Share".
A key application layer is missing in Hangouts and that is the automation of "Business Processes", such as scheduling, privacy, easy live collaboration, less Google+ dependency, etc. and all that is what http://business-hangouts.com is bringing to the Enterprise.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 8:47:20 AM
I'll be watching this
"A company called Vidyo has been working with Google to provide Google+ Hangouts connectivity with H.323/SIP and IP PBX systems from the likes of Cisco, Tandberg, and Polycom. Those who wish to join corporate Google+ Hangouts meetings from their phones can do so through a service called Uberconference."

 

We do a fair amount of video conferencing and one of the biggest issues is giving access to people outside of the organization when we are using our corporate video conferencing system.  Quite often even your own employees run into trouble behind firewalls in hotels so I'm wondering if Google+ might let them work around some of those issues.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 9:46:05 AM
Re: I'll be watching this
Exactly - this is the most annoying part of video conference. In fact it has the impact to all kinds of e-Meetings - how can you maintain the same kind of experience inside and outside the office. Even if there is no firewall troubles, the slow connection in hotel is another contributing factor of bad e-Meeting experience.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 8:28:48 AM
Re: I'll be watching this
What frustrates me most is that many companies complicate video conferencing to the point that the standards they use are almost meaningless.  Do you want to conference with someone across platforms that use SIP?  Sounds like that should be pretty straight forward and in some cases it is, in others it's needlessly complicated to make a call outside of your chosen platform.  Want to use a main stream service with your SIP service, good luck, most of those are using their own non standard connection protocols.  I find myself with a handful of applications installed just so I can have meetings with people from outside my company and I find that very annoying.
Laurianne McLaughlin
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Laurianne McLaughlin,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/15/2014 | 8:42:54 AM
Chromebox privacy
I agree kids' privacy is important. However I don't see Chromebox use as a major factor here. Chromebooks can be used in education setting without revealing kids identities.
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