A Windows admin takes a shine to Chrome OS

Google's cloud-based operating system is surprisingly useful -- and manageable -- for the basics

Gone are the days of single-vendor solutions in an enterprise environment. BYOD has kicked that concept to the curb these past few years, and we see a plethora of new mobile OSes and various devices in use by enterprise staff. In addition, some users are pulling away from traditional PC solutions running Windows and Office in favor of new options. Although the Linux movement seems to have failed (note: someone should let Asus in on that, given that it's offering two new Ubuntu laptops), Google is pressing forward with its Chrome OS and its new Chromebook laptops and Chromebox Mac Mini-like "headless" PCs.

I was excited about the look and feel of the new Chromebook and asked Google if I could play with one. Google sent me the new ARM-based Samsung unit that sells for $249. There are other versions, such as the new Acer C7 (with a dual-core Intel Celeron processor) that sells for $199 and the Samsung 550 (with an Intel Core processor), going for $449.

[ InfoWorld's Simon Phipps sings the praises of Chrome OS's latest version. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

I found the Chrome OS easy to use and the Chromebook appealing. It provides the instant-on capabiltiies of a tablet without the issues of using an onscreen keyboard. The Chromebook's keyboard and trackpad are also much easier to work with than the Touch Cover that Microsoft sells for its Surface RT tablet; the Chromebook keyboard has full travel depth and the resulting assurance that you type what you mean, and the trackpad is fully responsive. All that's missing is a touchscreen.

Chrome OS works well enough with Microsoft's cloud services. For example, I could use the Outlook Web App Lite email client and go through Google Remote Desktop to remotely access my Windows 8 PC.

You can expect to see Chromebooks enter your workforce along with tablets. Well-known companies such as Dillards (for its U.S. retail employees), Kaplan (for call centers), Mollen Clinics (for use in its Wal-Mart and Sam's Club flu clinics), and the California State Library (for library checkout) have adopted Chrome OS.

What does that mean to Windows admins?

Chrome OS takes advantage of zero-touch deployment techniques by having you configure the settings through the online management interface. That way, you can remotely set up your systems and manage users, apps, and policies across your fleet of devices. You handle all the management through the Web console, then can auto-enroll a device and push out the settings as configured the first time a user logs in.

Chrome OS's management options don't hold a candle to Active Directory's, partially because the Chrome OS is a minimalist operating system and doesn't require as many control hooks. You can sign up for a free account (for as many as 10 users) with Google Apps for Business to test it out and see the various settings available for user accounts.

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