Google, Cisco Team Up To Bring WebEx To Chromebooks

Google and Cisco are teaming up to bring WebEx and other Cisco Unified Communications apps to Chromebooks, in a move that could land more of Google's low-cost laptops into the hands of enterprise users.

According to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco's collaboration business, Cisco is working on a completely redesigned version of WebEx that has been built "from the ground up" to work natively on Chromebook browsers.

"Our intention is to be everywhere," Trollope said on a conference call with journalists Tuesday. "But we want to make a great experience on Chromebook."

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In addition to WebEx, Cisco is going to drive further integration between its Unified Communications applications and Google Apps, Trollope said, enabling users, for example, to launch a Cisco instant messaging service directly from Google's Contact Card or the Gmail People widget.

The ability to run WebEx on Chromebooks -- something that wasn't possible before -- could help Google turn up the heat on competitors like Microsoft in the enterprise space. Trollope, for his part, said the Cisco-Google partnership doesn't mean the two companies are trying to team up against Microsoft.

"I would say if you look at Microsoft and Google and Cisco, we are three really big companies with good portfolios, and there are overlaps between all three," Trollope said. "I think we are comfortable as large, global companies having parts of our portfolios that compete and having parts of our portfolios that have synergy. That's been sort of par for the course at Cisco for a long time, and I think Google recognizes that, as well."

Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Chrome for Business at Google, echoed Trollope's comments. "I agree," he said on the call. "I think, naturally, two companies with a vast portfolio are going to have things that overlap."

Microsoft did not immediately respond to CRN's request for comment.

Cisco and Google said their alliance comes as Chromebook adoption in the enterprise continues to soar. Sheth said Chromebook sales grew tenfold last year, and now account for 21 percent of the U.S. commercial laptop market, with that number growing rapidly.

Industry analysts seem to agree. In July, Forrester Research said it's time for enterprise and SMB organizations -- and especially those already using Google Apps -- to "ignore the naysayers" when it comes to Chromebooks, and to start considering the stripped-down laptops a serious and low-cost alternative to Windows-based PCs.

Market research firm The NPD Group also reported last year that Chromebooks, which sport their own Chrome OS and run apps via a Web browser, have nabbed between 20 percent and 25 percent of the U.S. market for laptops priced under $300.

The Cisco alliance is the latest in a series of moves made by Google to make its Chromebooks more enterprise-ready. In May, Google inked a deal with Citrix Systems and VMware to bring enterprise applications to the laptops.

Cisco and Google did not provide details on when Chromebooks would start launching with WebEx.