Google Chromebook

Google Inc.’s major push into the business market with a pair of newly announced cloud-based Chromebooks has divided the blogosphere.

Business Insider blogger Matt Rosoff said that the devices could find a home in call centres or other businesses with high employee turnover. But for most businesses, he wrote, Chromebooks will be a non-starter for pricing and IT management reasons.

“For $28 per user per month organizations will get a Chromebook for each user, plus support and free hardware upgrades when they run out,” Rosoff wrote. “That’s $336 per user per year.”

He added that the price will also increase a little more because users will have to add Google Apps for Business, which is available for $50 per user per year.

“By way of comparison, a new desktop PC with the latest business versions of Windows and Office will probably cost no more than $1,500 depending on the exact configurations,” he wrote. “Most companies refresh their PCs no more than every five years.”

Rosoff said that works out to $1,500 for the old standard versus $1,680 to switch to a Google machine that doesn’t come with any productivity software or a corporate-ready e-mail account, and that might be incompatible with certain peripherals and requires a separate management system.

For Computerworld U.S. blogger Preston Gralla, the monthly pricing model could actually help many businesses get their feet wet with cloud-based apps. He added that IT departments could slash support costs and management headaches.

“With no applications to install, manage, update, and patch, Chromebooks can cut an enterprise’s support costs significantly,” Gralla wrote. “As for hardware, if something goes wrong with a Chromebook, there’s no need to spend any time troubleshooting.”

ZDNet blogger James Kendrick approached the issue from a different angle, saying that while some enterprises and educational institutions will be interested in the notebooks, drumming up support in the consumer space — which has been the catalyst to the iPad’s success in the business world — will be a tougher sell.

“What Google is going to run into headfirst is something no amount of positioning or marketing can deal with,” he wrote. “The millions of existing iPhone, iPad and iPod owners cannot use the Chromebook with those devices. That is one task the Chromebook can’t perform, and it is unlikely it ever will. Google will be looking at convincing Apple product owners that they need to switch, or forget the Chromebook.”

The rise of the iPad and several of Google’s own Android-based tablets among business executives could also challenge the search giant’s enterprise play.

eWeek’s Nicholas Kolakowski
said that despite the novelty of its cloud-based OS, Google could find itself squeezed between two very big rocks: Windows laptops that can compete at the same price point and tablets that offer similar features in a lightweight form factor.

“Google will need to demonstrate that Chromebooks really can meet the robust needs traditionally associated with a full-featured laptop, despite its cloud tether, while delivering the updates and upgrades that will make it a genuine value proposition for years,” he wrote. “That could be a tough mission, and one that Google’s competitors — most notably Microsoft — will seek to counter with all the tools at their disposal.”

Another ZDNet blogger, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, applauded Google’s move to target the Windows business desktop market. He listed several reasons why Google’s Chromebook brand would be a “Windows killer” and dismissed the notion that a lack of apps would be a problem.

“People have always been cranky about the perceived lack of applications for Linux. I think this is nonsense myself since there are lots of excellent open-source applications such as LibreOffice for office work, Evolution for Outlook users, Pidgin for instant-messaging and on and on,” he wrote. “What people usually mean when they say there are no apps for Linux is that they can’t run their favorite Windows game or business application on Linux.”

Vaughan-Nichols also weighed in on the business pricing plan, which he said could work as a “rent-a-laptop” plan for many companies.

“With the Google Chrome OS model, though, you don’t even have to throw them away and if something goes wrong, Google will replace the dead unit,” he wrote.

“Would you spend $28 a month for a PC that will never go out of date? I think I would.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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