Missouri Business

Google’s laptops could soon graduate from schools to businesses

In 2011, Google unveiled its vision for the future of laptop computers—the Chromebook.

Chromebooks are designed to take advantage of the growing ubiquity of internet access, doing away with large internal hard drives in favor of storing and editing documents online. The Chromebook concept even forgoes installing many programs on the device itself, instead giving users access to web-based applications.

The Chromebook idea is so Internet-centric that the laptop’s operating system is actually based on Google’s popular Chrome web browser.

Despite Chromebooks’ generally low prices, some consumers and tech reviewers expressed concern early on about the limitations of first-generation Chromebooks and worried about the utility of a device that relied on an Internet connection for many of its core functions.

Yet, over time, Chromebooks have proven their worth to a growing segment of laptop users.

It’s estimated that Chromebook sales topped five million units in 2014—nearly 80 percent growth from the previous year. Research firm Gartner expects this to continue, with Chromebooks nearly tripling sales by 2017. ABI Research noted similar trends in an October 2014 report.

“Consumers are hungry for a product that is cost effective but also provides the versatility and functionality of a laptop,” says ABI Research Analyst Stephanie Van Vactor. “The growth of the Chromebook market demonstrates a niche that is gaining traction among consumers.”

The niche Van Vactor is talking about is the US education industry, where administrators have turned to Chromebooks as a cost-effective way to bring technology into classrooms. Gartner estimates up to 85 percent of Chromebooks sold in 2013 went to schools.

So, with the platform maturing, is 2015 the year when businesses will look to Chromebooks as an option?

A few important pieces fell into place during the last year that makes this more likely.

Most importantly, Microsoft has released an updated version of its web-based Office suite, called Office Online. This means that Chromebook users can now access highlyfunctional versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and, PowerPoint. Remember, you can’t just install Office on a Chromebook, so getting an updated version of the web-based Office was a big deal. Google had long provided Chromebook users with its own suite of easy, powerful productivity software. However, for the business crowd, Microsoft Office remains the default.

Another promising sign is Adobe’s ongoing work to create an online streaming version of Photoshop—another software linchpin for many businesses. In 2014, Adobe released a beta version of streaming Photoshop to select education customers.

If the education project is successful, business users can hope that Adobe will eventually expand streaming Photoshop to the business world as well.

Some early model Chromebooks suffered from poor or outdated components as manufacturers focused on low pricing. But today, several manufacturers offer high-quality Chromebook products while maintaining attractive prices, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is one recent standout model. The better, HD version retails online for $329.

One major remaining hurdle for Chromebooks—actually, more of a brick wall—is that many businesses still rely on proprietary software or databases that only run on Windows. If this is how your company operates, Chromebooks likely won’t be an option until essential software migrates online, often a pricey prospect.

That said, the Chromebook platform looks to be putting together the pieces needed to make a serious run at business adoption.