Is Chrome OS ready?
Chrome OS is not ready to take over for most of your power users. Otherwise, Google is ready.
Chrome OS is a web thin client. It provides access to browser based native apps and more recently has taken on running Android through an abstraction layer over the OS. Put simply, Chrome OS has a bunch of native apps like Windows or OSX. The newer versions of hardware can also run Android applications from the Play Store. Chrome OS is now, in most cases, ready for standard users. While departments with custom hardware and software will be unable to adopt Chrome OS, every day users looking for access to the internet and their productivity applications are easily covered.
Simply put, Chrome OS is ½ internet browser, ½ Android device.
Wrapped in inexpensive hardware that is more than capable of the lifting demanded by the OS, Chrome OS is a reasonable way to look at technology cost replacement on campus.
What is Chrome OS
It is a light-weight Linux kernel that supports a browser based application launcher. All of Chrome OS is built in a similar fashion to Google’s Chrome browser. Chrome is the world’s most popular browser and a lot of the design and intelligence that came along with Chrome’s rise is exactly the reason that Chrome OS is valuable. Native integration into Google’s suite of productivity applications (Gmail, Sheets, etc.) means that you off the hop have the most full-featured productivity suite of any operating system. Now, unlike your desktop or mobile experience all the productivity applications are available in offline modes in Chrome OS. While you are interacting with a browser window, you can operate these programs without needing cloud access. Meaning offline versions are still stable and robust.
This also rings true with the integration of Android applications. Now that new hardware is being shipped with the ability to access the Play Store, you can use most your mobile applications into the laptop form factor. This is great because there are millions of applications in the Play Store. It is also a little silly because I don’t think that I want to play 10,000 variants of Flappy-Bird on my laptop. Snide remarks about the useless nature of mobile games aside, Play Store can do a lot of lifting. The constant complaint in the early days was that workflows that included the Adobe Suite, accounting software and other traditional PC realms couldn’t use them in Chrome OS. The inclusion of the Play Store gives you mobile versions of these applications. So while some aren’t as richly featured as the desktop counterparts, for most users they will have enough of the experience.
On the security end of things Chrome OS offers a similar experience to Chrome. When the browser is closed Chrome runs an update, when the hardware is restarted the update is applied. This means that builds are rapidly deployed and usually barely noticeable. Like Chrome, Chrome OS (I am getting tired of writing the word Chrome) also keeps each instance of the browser separately in RAM. This security feature means that you can have stability in the browser (one crashes you kill it while the others hum away) but also that there isn’t information shared between browser instances. This means that I can be pulling so internet risky behaviour in one instance of the browser while continuing to bank on the other without fear that I am giving my life-savings away.
Why use Chrome OS
One of the constant shorthands that we’ve heard for Chrome OS is that it is easy on the admin side. This is correct. Since Chrome OS brings along all the Google Productivity suite with it, you are never far from your Google Drive/Storage. This allows for device agnostic access, all you do is sign into your account and you are granted access. Since many, if not all, post-secondary campuses are functioning under some form of G-Suite much of the user creation and administration is already in place on campus. Chrome OS removes the layer of abstraction of having either duplicated login procedures for device login and then service log in, or it limits the need for mirrored accounts on both Microsoft and Google accounts.
Simplified access is only a portion of the pie for Chrome. The admin toolkit for Chrome devices lets you manage devices quickly and nearly always remotely. Remotely managing user settings, device settings and app management is familiar to nearly any admin, but simplicity is the name of the game in this instance. With truly customizable, centralized admin system that is device agnostic you are in control of a lot of the devices without compromise.
What are the compromises?
If you are used to the full features of Windows, Linux or OSX you will never recreate that experience in Chrome OS, even in developer mode. There isn’t that deeper layer of customization.
On top of that, those who require hardware intensive applications, even those more intense applications from the Play Store, are going to be disappointed by a $300 piece of hardware. Thankfully, Google is putting itself on the line with the Pixelbook. This is a fully-fledged laptop that lives somewhere between a Surface book and an iPad Pro. The technical specs stack up equally to nearly any other premium laptop, Kaby Lake i5/i7 with 8 or 16 gb of RAM, the retail price tag is $1,299 at the low end and $1,799 at the top. That amount of hardware blows the doors off the competitors. The real question is why would you need it? There simply isn’t enough software that demands all that hardware.
Chrome OS markets itself as being able to thrive on low cost hardware. It does. It does it incredibly well in fact. Chromebooks typically run in the $200 price range. They sport older CPUs and GPUs and inexpensive chassis. But all that said they are very capable at running Chrome OS. The secret is still to just load them with as much RAM as possible.
There are other interesting form factors for Chrome OS including the system on a stick, known as Chromebit, and Mac Mini like cases, known as Chromeboxes. This allows for Chrome OS to travel with the user. Being able to bring your home environment with you to anywhere that has an HDMI plug is a great experience for those who find themselves on the road, and brings the security inherent in Chrome OS along with them.The issue with Chrome OS that comes with functioning in these factors is that power-users and even occasional power users are not going to be happy.
The final foible with Chrome OS is that it is a locked OS. It can only be implemented through certified hardware, so there isn’t much of a customized solution marketplace. Unlike Windows you find yourself purchasing hardware and OS in one, like an Apple product. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does limit implementation. It also means that there is a challenge when it comes to work station replacements as you’re going to be limited to two manufacturers in desktops and a scant handful for laptops.
Chrome OS isn't just a K-12 solution
Security, stability and admin are robust for campus deployment
Power users still need Linux or Windows
The retail demand for Chromebooks is low. If you are looking for SKUs to keep on shelves for retail consider Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, or Samsung during early BTS season.