Google's partnerships with Citrix and VMware, which are both building virtualization tools that allow business applications to run on Chromebooks, are the clearest sign yet that it's serious about taking a bite out of Windows in the enterprise.
Citrix is working on Receiver For Chrome, a new version of its desktop virtualization software that runs in the browser and lets customers run their Windows applications on Chromebooks via the cloud. It's currently in beta and slated for launch this summer. VMware is building a similar version of VMware View that does the same thing, but the company hasn't yet offered a launch time frame.
Google has been trying, with sporadic success, to peck away at Microsoft Office with its Google Apps For Enterprise product. But despite some high profile wins, Google can't be seen as more than a theoretical threat to the Office monolith, a small annoyance with the potential to grow into a larger one down the road.
However, some virtualization experts say partnering with established enterprise players like Citrix and VMware could enable Google to start creating real problems for Microsoft in the near term.
"Virtualization will give Chromebook users access to a Windows desktop and a mechanism for using their Windows apps and legacy apps without having to reprogram everything for the cloud," said Allen Falcon, CEO of Horizon Info Services, a Westborough, Mass.-based Google reseller. "This is going to make Chromebooks an attractive option for businesses."
Chromebooks are Google's bid to remake the notebook PC with cloud computing oozing figuratively from every port. The first models, from Samsung and Acer, are priced in the $400 range and will be sold as part of a Google subscription offering that includes Web-based management console, automatic updates, warranty, support, and hardware lifecycle upgrades. For $28 per user monthly, businesses can say goodbye to Windows and its associated cost and management overhead, says Google.
Microsoft, naturally, could barely stifle a yawn in the wake of the Chromebook launch. In its long running battle with Google, Microsoft's go-to jab has been to call out its rival's lack of enterprise experience. Its message to Google goes something like this: Step aside, kids, and let the adults handle this market, as only we can fully grasp the gravitas of dealing with enterprise customers.
That's not to say Microsoft isn't vulnerable. Most organizations rely to some extent on Windows applications, but the licensing costs associated with accessing virtualized Windows desktops and Microsoft Office applications outside the corporate firewall pose problems for some, says Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization practices at INX, a Dallas Texas-based solution provider.
Microsoft charges $100 per device annually for its Virtual Desktop Access license (VDA), a price point Kaplan believes could cause many customers to look seriously at Chromebooks as an alternative.
"I think Chromebooks are going to put some competitive pressure on Windows OS and related products," Kaplan said. "Because most organizations are Windows based today, they're using PC-over-IP or Citrix ICA to connect to Windows 7 desktops. But as they get used to it and find other alternatives like Zimbra, Sliderocket and Google Apps, that could pose a threat to Microsoft."
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