The company says managed computing is the solution to the 'fundamentally flawed' business computing model.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

May 11, 2011

3 Min Read

Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain

Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain

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Slideshow: Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain

Google is betting that businesses are ready to embrace managed computing. At the company's annual developer conference on Wednesday, co-founder Sergey Brin described computer management as a torturous process.

Google's alternative to the downsides of desktop computing--slow startup times, software bloat, security worries--is a subscription model that offers businesses Web-only notebooks for $28 per month. For schools and government organizations, the price is $20 per month.

These Web-only notebooks are called Chromebooks and they're scheduled to be available on June 15. They run Google's Chrome OS, an operating system that boots into Google's Chrome Web browser.

"We think this will fundamentally change the way people use computing in companies," said Sundar Pichai, Google's senior VP of Chrome, during the keynote address at the Google I/O developer conference on Wednesday.

Three years ago, research firm Gartner estimated that the four-year total-cost-of-ownership for a desktop PC ranges from $3,413 to $5,867. The TCO for a Chromebook looks to be about one-quarter as much, although this hasn't been proved through actual use (and it's worth noting that $28 per month does not include the annual subscription fee for Google Apps for Business or any other cloud-based software subscription).

At an enterprise-focused press conference Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Verde, CIO of Jason's Deli, an eatery with some 230 U.S. locations that has been testing Chromebooks, suggested the theoretical savings would allow his organization to pursue projects neglected because of lack of resources. "We'll stop dealing with desktops and start dealing with more of these projects we want to do," he said.

Rachel Wente-Chaney, CIO of High Desert Educational Service District in Oregon, suggested Google's affordable cost structure would allow financially strapped schools to retain personnel rather than choose between IT staff or paying expensive license fees.

During the keynote presentation Wednesday, Pichai said that Google's research indicated that 75% of employees at most businesses could switch from a PC to a Chromebook, albeit with the support of a browser-based desktop virtualization client from Citrix or VMware.

Sanjay Dhar, VP of IT at hardware maker (and Google TV hardware partner) Logitech, estimated that with the forthcoming Web-based version of Citrix Receiver, which provides access to desktop and enterprise applications through the cloud, about 90% of his organization's employees could replace their PCs with Chromebooks.

Here's where Google's rallying cry for Chrome OS--"Nothing but the Web"--is misleading. The PC desktop hasn't been eliminated; it has just been moved to a hosted environment. But the writing is on the wall: If Google's approach finds success in the market, desktop computing is destined to become increasingly uncommon.

Brin described the business computing model as "fundamentally flawed" and went so far as to suggest that companies face failure if they ignore the managed computing model.

The Chromebook also faces failure if businesses ignore the managed computing model. But Google and its new plan for corporate computing aren't likely to be ignored.

Update: Corrected TCO figures.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

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 master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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