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How much time do workers spend using a Web browser? With the all-browser-all-the-time Chromebook, which begins shipping Wednesday, Google is betting big that its ChromeOS-based notebooks from Samsung and Acer will find a home in the enterprise.
We looked at Samsung's Chromebook Series 5, a sleek, light and comfortable 12.1-inch notebook with enough speed and power to satisfy most Web warriors. Its top row of keys dedicated to Web functions prove its pedigree, and its smooth lines and curved corners will appeal to the aesthetics of many people.
But a machine that offers so little control over its file system, virus protection and hardware settings and that depends so much on a network connection places serious limitations on its usefulness in the enterprise.
The first issue will be Chromebook's reliance on the cloud for virtually all of its productivity applications. Some companies will object outright on security grounds to storing all of its intellectual property so amorphously. Others will think it's just fine. For them, Chrome OS syncs perfectly with Gmail and Google Apps, and even prompts for the user's Google ID when first launched. Of course, there's also the Zoho suite of mature online apps as well as Microsoft's rapidly maturing Office 365. In our tests with Outlook Web Access, the Chromebook worked perfectly without plug-ins and performance was quite snappy.
Printing from Chrome OS also will be a major concern for the enterprise. Always forward-thinking, Google handles printing with Google Cloud Print, a cloud-based service that allows compatible printers (ones that can connect directly to the internet and are running the appropriate service) to register themselves there and be available for outputting hard copies. Today, the only such printers are the ePrint line from Hewlett Packard.
Classic printers also can be made available to Chromebooks, but must first be connected to and shared by either a Windows or Apple computer (with Mac OS X 5 or later). Most offices will be able to accommodate this, but it's yet another maintenance burden for an already stretched IT. And descrepancies exist about which versions of Windows are supported; Google says XP only, but Samsung's online user manual claims support for Windows XP, Vista and 7. Linux support is "coming soon," says Google.