Google’s Business Experiment: Nothing but Web


In the cloud: A model uses a Chromebook on an airplane. Google

Google’s Business Experiment: Nothing but Web

Computers that do everything in a Web browser are touted as an inexpensive alternative for companies.

Thursday, October 27, 2011 By Tom Simonite

Decades of Moore’s Law have trained us to expect every new computer to do more than the one before. Google’s most ambitious foray into cloud computing, however, has it wooing businesses with computers that do much less.

Those computers are known as Chromebooks. The laptops, officially launched in June, use an operating system called ChromeOS that is little more than a souped-up version of Google’s Chrome Web browser. “Chromebooks came from this realization that cloud computing gives an opportunity to rethink what the desktop is,” says Rajen Sheth, Google’s program manager for Chromebooks. The pitch to businesses is slightly more prosaic: outfitting and supporting workers with Google’s Chromebooks costs a lot less than giving them conventional PCs.

Google offers Chromebooks under a subscription model, where each machine costs between $20 and $33 per month. That price includes support and a promise that a replacement will be priority-shipped for any computer that breaks. Gartner research estimates that the total cost of ownership to a business is between $3,300 and $5,800 annually for a regular desktop computer, and more for laptops. The cost of owning a Chromebook, according to Google, is simply 12 times its monthly subscription cost—at most, $396 per year.

In typical Google fashion, Chromebooks were not released as a fully polished product. They first appeared in December 2010, when Google sent a prototype, the Cr-48, to thousands of volunteer testers and journalists (read Technology Review‘s review of the Cr-48). Feedback from that experiment was used in creating the first Chromebooks available for sale, which appeared this summer and are made by Samsung and Acer.

Despite the low cost, Chromebooks outperform conventional PCs in some respects. They take only eight seconds to boot up and can manage even a long workday on a single battery charge. Yet logging in to find nothing but a browser—no desktop with shortcuts, no conventional applications such as Microsoft Office—is unnerving. Whether you’re composing e-mail, creating a presentation, or editing an image, you have to do it using the Web. Without an Internet connection, very few Chromebook apps will work at all.

Sheth says that poses no problem for many workers. “A significant proportion of people in business today just use a browser for everything they do,” he says. Many call center workers and traveling sales reps already rely on software accessed through a browser. In fact, before leading Chromebook, Sheth was responsible for much of Google’s success in convincing companies to adopt business versions of Web-based apps such as Gmail.

Sheth’s most clearly detailed business case for Chromebooks revolves around what the laptops offer to IT staff. There’s no need to install and configure security software, because the only software on the computer—the ChromeOS operating system—is updated automatically by Google and encrypts all saved data. What customization tasks remain can be handled using a slick Web-accessible dashboard.

“There’s a huge pain point for IT managers around manageability, upgrades, and security,” says Frank Gillett, who covers emerging technologies in IT for Forrester Research. “Google has built a back-end service for Chromebooks that takes care of all that very well.”

Sheth declined to say how many Chromebooks have shipped, but there are some signs the market for Web-only computers may prove larger than many anticipated. Gillett recently surveyed IT buyers and found that around 16 percent of them said their users could survive with just a Web browser. “I expected to prove they’re really skeptical, but they weren’t,” he says. Even so, Gillett still considers Chromebooks an “experiment” rather than a polished product line.

As Google upgrades the ChromeOS operating system, its stripped-down computers are likely to become more capable. Full support was recently added for the business package Citrix, which allows a Chromebook user to log in to a remote desktop and use Windows. Sheth says the important thing for Google is that the Chromebook gain a toehold in the market. “We’re really aiming for the future vision of the enterprise. Today is the market entry strategy, not the end point,” he says. He predicts that it will be another three to five years before most business tasks are done through a Web browser.

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Google mocks Steve Jobs with Chrome-Flash merger


Mountain View comes out of the plug-in closet

By Cade Metz in San FranciscoGet more from this author

When Steve Jobs met Google boss Eric Schmidt for coffee late last week, they may or may not have reached some common ground on certain hot-button subjects. But odds are, they didn’t see eye-on-eye on Adobe Flash. As Jobs prepares to ship his much ballyhooed Apple iPad without even the possibility of running Flash – which he calls “buggy,” littered with security holes, and a “CPU hog” – Google is actually integrating the beleaguered plug-in with its Chrome browser.

With a blog post on Tuesday, Mountain View announced that Flash has been integrated with Chrome’s developer build and that it plans to offer similar integration with its shipping browser as quickly as possible.

Google has been known to say that HTML5 is the way forward for internet applications. But clearly, it believes in the plug-in as well, and it has no intention of pushing all development into the browser proper.

“Just when we thought that Google was the champion of HTML5 they turn around and partner with Adobe on Flash to ensure that the web remains a mess of proprietary brain damage,” one netizen said in response to Google’s post.

Last summer, Google proposed a new browser plug-in API, and with today’s blog post, it also said that Adobe and Mozilla have joined this effort. “Improving the traditional browser plug-in model will make it possible for plug-ins to be just as fast, stable, and secure as the browser’s HTML and JavaScript engines,” the company said. “Over time this will enable HTML, Flash, and other plug-ins to be used together more seamlessly in rendering and scripting.

“These improvements will encourage innovation in both the HTML and plug-in landscapes, improving the web experience for users and developers alike.”

What’s more, Mountain View is developing a native code browser platform of its own, dubbed Native Client. This is already rolled into Chrome, and it will be an “important part” of the company’s browser-based Chrome operating system, set for launch in the fall.

By integrating Flash with Chrome, Google said that it will ensure users always receive the lastest version of the plug-in and that it will automatically update the plug-in as needed via Chrome’s existing update mechanism. And in the future, the company added, it will include Flash content in Chrome’s “sandbox,” which restricts the system privileges of Chrome’s rendering engine in an effort to ward off attacks.

In July, with a post to the Mozilla wiki, Google proposed an update to the Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface (NPAPI), the API still in use with browsers like Chrome and Firefox, and both Adobe and Mozilla are now working to help define the update.

“The traditional browser plug-in model has enabled tremendous innovation on the web, but it also presents challenges for both plug-ins and browsers. The browser plug-in interface is loosely specified, limited in capability and varies across browsers and operating systems. This can lead to incompatibilities, reduction in performance and some security headaches,” Google said today.

“This new API aims to address the shortcomings of the current browser plug-in model.”

The new setup was developed in part to make it easier for developers to use NPAPI in tandem with Native Client. “This will allow pages to use Native Client modules for a number of the purposes that browser plugins are currently used for, while significantly increasing their safety,” Google said when the new API was first announced.

Native Client and NPAPI have been brewing for months upon months, but today’s Chrome announcement would seem to be a conscious answer to Steve Jobs’ hard-and-fast stance on Flash. Presumably, the company sees this a way to ingratiate existing Flash shops who’ve been shunned by the Apple cult leader.

One of the many questions that remain is whether Chrome will give users the option of not installing Flash. With the new developer build – available here – you must enable integrated Flash with a command line flag. ®

Source: http://newscri.be/link/1058500

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