The $199 Chromebook is a Poor Choice for Enterprise Users

Update 1/13/2014: After originally posting this as “$199 Chromebook is Missing THE Point” and some heated discussion on the Chrome OS message thread, I was wrong in my assumptions.

I went back and watched the Chrome OS announcement event from Dec 7, 2010. If you watch, it isn’t until around 1:02:50 that Sundar shifts the discussion to the interest in Chrome OS from enterprise. Even more, it is very clear that Chrome OS was invented to be a consumer os, not invented to be an enterprise os. Under that assumption then, I am asking questions in this thread that are mostly irrelevant. Chromebooks at $199 are totally fine and they are not missing any points. THE POINT was never meant to be an enterprise replacement as I have asserted.
 
I remember watching this Chrome event live, and I think I got all caught up and confused when Eric Schmit had his enterprise discussions at the end. He talks about his time at Sun and the Oracle Network Computer, and thin clients etc., etc…all enterprise driven. Probably because I am an IT pro and despise desktop support as a necessary evil of the enterprise, I believe I heard something that wasn’t actually there.
 
In the end, I declare defeat. I was wrong (or as we say in my family, you were right and I…was less right) I have misunderstood the original intent of Chrome OS. As a consumer device then, a $199 machine is fine. Not the greatest device, and not for me, but not bad for $199.

 

I wrote a post a little over two years ago expressing my opinion around the idea of a then non-existent $199 Chromebook. Among the points, I argued that a $199 Chromebook would present a relatively crappy user experience that would not be positive for Chrome OS. I wanted to take a minute and revisit the post in light of recent Chromebook announcements. It’s time to kick the bee-hive again…

It seems during this exciting, gadgety, CES time of year, major hardware manufacturers can’t enter the sub-$300 Chrome OS space quick enough. Dell, Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba…all have announced new or upcoming Chromebooks. Did I mention, they were all cheap, too? Most likely and often admittedly by the big guys, these new offerings are simply a response to get in on the red hot education space. And it makes sense – these models are a perfect fit for cash strapped education systems, easing administration woes, and allowing access to full-on creative suites of the Google Apps environment. I really like Chromebooks and the sub-$300 models – in the education space.

But where is a real device that could be used by an every day enterprise user? Have you ever used, I mean really used one of these cheap Chromebooks? Not as that ‘other computer’ sitting nearby that’s more convenient to carry around than the 7-pound thing you bought in 2007, but as your A-number-1-go-to-for-everything device. Students won’t complain because they can’t. When the choice is between nothing or a cheap Chromebook with low ram and an Intel celery processor, anything is better than zero. I’ve been in schools and seen the walls of hand-me-down, leftover Optiplex 210’s running Windows XP the students have to wallow around on. Most of them have more compute power available in the smartphone in their pocket.

Amazon may be selling a ton of these things, but do you ever see them in public? I’ve never seen a Chromebook in the wild. Never, not one, not yet. For as many are supposedly being sold, why don’t we see them anywhere and why is there not even a blip for Chrome OS in web stat reporting? Is it because the only people buying them are parents and school systems for their kids and students? Lightweight users who don’t necessarily need a computer to live and probably wish they had an iPad instead but $199 sounded better than $799. Is it because a sub-$300 computer while cheap, is not a very compelling device to use on a regular basis?

The $199 Chromebooks address the problem of cheap compute resources but they don’t address the problems Chrome OS is created to solve. The hardware offerings are Missing THE Point.

Raise your hand if you (a) work in an IT support capacity or (b) deal with those who offer IT support. Everyone who uses a computer should have raised their hand. Either you support computers or you rely on someone to help you support your machine.

Think about those two experiences. If you raised your hand to (a), then you deal with the daily calls from your customers wanting to know:

  • Why is my computer running slow?
  • Why won’t my computer boot up?
  • Why has _____ stopped working?
  • I spilled ______ on my device.
  • My computer was stolen.
  • I can’t find the files I was working on.

If you raised your hand to (b), then likely you have gone to your support go-to (corporate, family, friends) and asked one of the questions above.

The resolution of these and related questions results in hours of lost productivity from both the supporter and the person needing help with their computer – all problems that Chrome OS solves.

Here is the point – consumers are not stupid and sub-$300 computers are – admit it – boring and not very useful. David Pogue nailed it yesterday when he explained his approach to reviewing technology. He said he didn’t care what kind of processor a particular gadget may have, he was more interested in reviewing and sharing the experience. Regardless of the technology, what is the human side to using and understanding the device at hand?

The POINT of Chrome OS is to bring the simplicity and power of the modern compute cloud. It’s to stop wasting time on things like installing software, configuring antivirus, backing up data, and reloading operating systems. It’s the natural progression of modern computing. Just as a passenger airplane can land itself, cars can parallel park unassisted, and a three-minute egg can be microwaved in 30 seconds – Chrome OS is built to change and simplify the way we work computers and the Internet. We live in an age when those computer functions described above don’t have to matter anymore and Chrome OS is the only operating system today with the capabilities to make those tasks irrelevant. Unfortunately, $199 devices are the Fisher Price of hardware for this amazing technological shift.

Please, enough with the $199 Chromebooks.

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