The Chromebook Conundrum

This device is taking the world, and particularly education, by storm.  This truly has the potential to be one of those superstar devices that changes the face of education, and computing in general.  But, does it live up to the hype?  First, let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of the Google Chromebook.  Here is a fairly extensive list:

Pros vs Cons

Pros Cons
8-10 second boot. Interestingly, Google recently claimed 8. Now that has changed to 10. Still, really quick! Don’t see a con here. Laptops in edu often take a couple of minutes, or even longer, to boot, suspend, and shutdown.  Chromebooks suspend/wake (almost) instantly.
Inexpensive – $200-$450 + $30 per device for the management license No con. We are in the lean times Pharaoh dreamed about. Nobody in education has much money.  This is one of the biggest selling points for most folks.
Auto OS Updates All pro here; I hate updating software. If you love applying updates, I guess it is a con for you…
Cloud-based policy. Manage devices located anywhere from anywhere. This requires you set up a Google Apps domain to manage your chromebooks. That means time and extra management overhead if you already have another management system like AD.
Cloud-based storage. One user per device can get 100GB free for two years, after that it falls back to 5GB free. You can purchase more. These are internet-based devices, and don’t do a whole lot offline.
SD/USB expandability. Access offline files on a thumbdrive or ext hdd.
Nice keyboard/trackpad. This is a content creation device. Actually, we hate the trackpad on the Lenovo…
Battery life – up to 6.5 hrs This varies widely by model, so pay attention.  As with any device, this will also vary according to usage.
Flash-enabled. Access online content that is still inaccessible from most tablets.
No AV software bogging your system down!
Simple to use for anyone who has used a browser. So… for anyone. Not as powerful as a full PC. You can’t run software, yet.  Actually, Google has created an infrastructure for native apps, but this is still a WIP.
Users get a personal user experience anywhere with their Google Apps account. Or they can log on as guest if you leave that option enabled.
Cheap to self-insure compared with tablets or laptops
Absolutely no apps/plugins to keep updated Almost no apps/plugins WORK. Java, Silverlight and most other plugins cannot be used.
Google provides tremendously responsive support to Google Apps customers post-sale. Working with Google presale can be challenging compared with other vendors we have developed relationships with.
Policy can lag in application, making testing difficult.  No gpupdate-type command here.
Policy settings can be inconsistent/inflexible. For instance, Google Docs sharing cannot be controlled per OU. Timezone cannot be set centrally – each device has to have this manually done. This is frustrating.
Folks with firewalls may not be able to manually enroll devices without a special rule unless your proxy is transparent.
There is a bug which prevents proxy from working, by default, on “shared networks”.  Again, transparent proxy works best with these devices.
No native RDP. If you need RDP, you will have to set up a HTML/RDP translating server.  No VMWare View support yet.
For some folks, the cloud-based mindset is a welcome change. Save money on storage/server infrastructure. A new workflow and mindset is definitely required now that you can’t easily open a .doc attachment and edit it.  You need to be ready to truly commit to the cloud if you are going to implement these.
Student accounts (under 13) can be suspended requiring a call to support before they are re-enabled.  This can happen if they sign up for Google+.  I’d recommend proactively disabling Google+ for these users.
2-factor verification, if enabled, is NOT remembered by the device. You will have to enter the code on each boot.

It probably looks like I have a lot of cons there. So, is this a good device for you? The answer is: It depends. Does it meet your needs? If so, then it is a good choice! Do you need a lot of windows or mac-specific software, or iOS/Android apps? Then you should stick with that platform. Are you afraid/unable to put your content in the cloud? Stick with devices that support a more local storage model.  Same if you are strapped for bandwidth or have an unreliable connection to the internet, although, let’s be realistic. In today’s world, if you have a slow/unreliable connection, that is a problem in itself that needs addressing.  Do you have limited wifi access and no intention to expand any time soon? Maybe Chromeboxes would be a better fit.
Think hard about the pros and cons, and your particular needs. This isn’t going to be the solution for everyone, and the majority of folks are going to settle on a hybrid solution. The list does contain a lot of cons, but some of those pros are quite powerful, and shouldn’t be overlooked.  If you do want to forge ahead with Chromebooks, here are some considerations!

Considerations

  • Google Apps domain (GAFE = Google Apps for Education, if you are a k-12 or higher-ed entity)
    • This is a must if you want to be able to manage the devices. Having a domain allows you to configure many settings on the devices, such as proxy and who can log on, and do so on a per-org basis.
    • This will also allow you to take advantage of Google Apps content creation and collaboration features. These devices are cloud-computing devices, and really work best with an entirely cloud-based workflow. So, GAFE and Chromebooks are a perfect fit, although you can use them with other online services such as Office 365 as well.
    • Rather than starting from scratch, you can sync user accounts to the cloud from Active Directory using various tools such as:
      • csv upload
      • GADS
      • GAM
      • GAPS
      • Create your own custom app using the Google sync API
    • Due to limitations with all of the methods, my recommendation is currently a hybrid sync solution using both GADS and CSV. That will probably be the subject of another post.
  • Self-ensure?
    • collect a fee from EUs?
    • cooperative loss plan?
  • Change how you think and work
    • Find web-based alternatives for local apps
    • Not all websites will function!  Test the key sites your users need to access.
    • Change your workflow.  Commit to the cloud.  Don’t send a .doc or .xls document that users may have difficulty editing.  Instead, send a link to a document in skydrive or google docs.
  • Purchase Chromebooks from Google and Google authorized sources.  This will enable you to have the devices pre-enrolled in your Google Apps domain, which makes your life much better. Otherwise, if you wish to manage them you will have to manually enroll each in your GAFE domain, which is not a huge problem, but you would really rather not have to mess with it.
  • If you choose to use the applications associated with Google Apps you should know that the document creation software and app/user management are still limited, but both are certainly improving quickly.
  • If you require RDP support check into (links at the end)
    • Ericom AccessNow
    • SparkView
  • There are 32-device carts available which will appeal to edu folks
  • What is really the difference between a $250 and a $450 chrome device?  In my experience: not much for the average user.  I’d recommend trying out multiple devices before purchasing in bulk.  All of them have different hardware and peripheral support. For example, some have VGA or HDMI connectors. At least one has both. Some may require a dongle. Find what meets your needs!

Questions? Leave a comment.

Helpful Links:

K12 Guide to Going Google

GAFE Deployment Guide

GAFE Control Panel webinar

Google Apps Directory Sync

CDWg.com

BGISD App/Website testing results

Ericom AccessNow

RemoteSpark

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~ by Jay P Morgan on April 11, 2013.

One Response to “The Chromebook Conundrum”

  1. “No gpupdate-type command here.”
    Actually there is. Open Chrome on the chromebook and type “about:policy” then click on “Reload Policies”

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