I believe that the Google Chromebook is one of the best new tech products to come out in the past few years. Google had a very ambitious idea – to create a notebook or laptop format device that runs a customized Linux OS and boots right up to the Chrome browser that many of us already use and love. The device promises fast, safe, and easy connection to the web on the Chrome browser, without the headaches and dangers common to Windows devices (dangers such as viruses and malware). I have to commend Google for having the guts to challenge the Goliath we know as Microsoft. As a consumer and a purchaser in the IT world, having more tech choices can only be a benefit. As a tech purchaser for a nonprofit, having lower cost choices such as Chromebooks is fantastic.
Google delivered 110 percent on their promise. I’ve used both the Samsung 500 series Chromebook (black) and the newer Samsung 550 (silver). Both are fast, easy-to-setup, and great to manage in our Google Apps console. They are very usable machines in our work environment. They have great battery life and comfortable keyboards. In most cases, I’ve deployed then as replacements for Windows laptops at my nonprofit, and people love them. Some managers have even requested them as “supplemental devices” – meaning that they use them in addition to their standard-issue computers. These are the computers that they grab as they dash out to meetings.
My only complaint with Chromebooks was really a very old one – that these machines did not have a way to run some Windows programs such as Microsoft Office. I’ve had this complaint for a very long time, going back many years in fact as I’ve played with various Linux distributions. I believe that in a business environment, there will always be some programs or applications that require Windows (unfortunately), and that Linux-based machines (such as Chromebooks) need some way to be Windows-compatible. I know there has been some success with Linux initiatives such as Wine (for Windows emulation), but there needs to be a better, easier way. I believe I’ve found one: Windows Remote Desktop Services or RDP.
When I attended Dreamforce 2011, I was very excited to see Chromebooks firsthand and was intrigued by Google’s claim that they would have Remote Desktop support out of the box. Immediately, my brain’s gears were turning; if Chromebooks had Remote Desktop support, then they could be used for Windows applications within Remote Desktop sessions! However, instead of allowing Chromebooks to connect to a Windows Remote Desktop server, Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop application gives Chromebook users and administrators a remote support tool. I already had a robust Remote Desktop (Terminal Services) infrastructure at my organization, but I needed an inexpensive, Chromebook-compatible, Remote Desktop client that could be deployed to all my Chromebooks. After some googling, I found ChromeRDP by Fusion Labs.
ChromeRDP was the missing piece to this puzzle. With ChromeRDP, my Chromebook users had an easy-to-use and secure way to connect to our Remote Desktop server. Network security is very important, so I was very happy to find that Chrome RDP uses the RDP protocol with Network Level Authentication (NLA) and CredSSP. Remote Desktop and ChromeRDP give us the flexibility to use the Windows versions of apps in cases where native Chrome OS versions do not exist. Kudos to the Fusion Labs folks for creating such a great app!
I’ve deployed around 22 Google Chromebooks at my nonprofit charity and most have ChromeRDP installed. This gives each user access to all the benefits of Chromebooks, plus access to the full Microsoft Office Professional suite, access to our shared network files, and access to any other proprietary Windows apps – all from within a secure Remote Desktop session. It’s really great that more of our Program Directors are ordering Chromebooks for new employees since they know that Chromebooks will give staff all the functionality that they need – while saving at least $600 each compared to the price of a new laptop purchase. Also, it is important to note that most applications accessed from a Remote Desktop server only require one license, even if multiple users will access the application in their Remote Desktop sessions. This can result in additional cost savings for expensive programs like Office and Photoshop.
I’ve also helped another nonprofit, a private K-8 school, to deploy a new server for Remote Desktop for their Chromebooks. They also use ChromeRDP to give their Chromebook users access to their gradebook application that requires a local install of a Java client. I believe that they are also quite happy with this system and are planning on deploying more Chromebooks this year.
In closing, I have to say that I’m thrilled that Google is doing well with Chromebooks. As much as I love tablet computers, the notebook/laptop form factor is not going to disappear from the business environment, for good reason. Businesses need a computer tool that managers and staff can use every day. Increasingly, this tool needs to be mobile. Chromebooks are a great, reliable, inexpensive computer that – with Remote Desktop and ChromeRDP – becomes a device that can replace a Windows laptop in most cases.