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Life With A Chromebook: Are You Ready? February 28, 2014

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Technology.
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The first impression of a Chromebook is wonderful, while day-to-day life is a bit more sobering. In the end, the usability of a Chromebook comes down to each individual user. In this third installment, we’ll look at some factors that will determine if a Chromebook is for you.

Where Do You Keep Your Stuff?

The most important place to check for Chromebook readiness is in the mirror. How do you use computers now? How have you organized your digital life?

Begin with a simple question: where do you keep your stuff? If your files and photos are spread across multiple hard drives and devices, accessing them from a Chromebook is going to be painful. You’ll struggle to find things, wind up copying stuff to multiple places, and generally only increase the entropy in your life.

If your stuff is already in the cloud, you are in good shape. If that cloud happens to be Google, you are golden. Some other cloud (OneDrive, iCloud, Box, whatever) will make things easier but you’ll be doing the file transfer two-step every time you want to open something, edit something, or save something.

Personally, I’m a bit of a hybrid. I long ago began mirroring my locally stored personal files into the cloud, first into SugarSync, then Box, and finally Google Drive. This was not prescience on my part; it was simple compulsion to ensure that things were never lost. My data is stored locally, mirrored in the cloud, and backed up separately by Crashplan. Other people wash their hands a lot; I make backups.

My enterprise data was also stored locally and mirrored in Box and our enterprise OneDrive storage. My personal compulsion spilled into my work world, so that nothing is never lost and I can get to anything at any time from anywhere. All that compulsion paid off when I turned on my Chromebook and had instant access to everything with no extra work on my part.

If you are not already in the cloud, it isn’t hard to get there. Pick a storage vendor (hint: choose Google if you are undecided) and install their sync client on your laptop or PC. Move all of your files into their synced storage. Let the sync run (for days, if necessary). When it completes, you’ll have a cloud copy of your local data, ready to go. This is good advice even if you don’t switch to a Chromebook, but it is crucial to a successful transition to a Chromebook.

What Tools Do You Use?

With your data now floating in the cloud, focus on your tools. What is your office suite of choice?

If you already use (or can live with) Google Docs, you’re finished. Go directly to your Chromebook; do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

If you use Microsoft Office, you’ll have to figure out how to get access to Office in the cloud. Depending on your licensing relationship with Microsoft and the products you own or rent, you may have access to Office Web in either a preview or full editing mode. Figuring that out is no more difficult than understanding a typical Microsoft Office license agreement, so have your army of lawyers get back to you on that.

If you don’t have access to Office Web in some form, you are stuck with QuickOffice from Google. I’ll be honest: if this is your only choice, and you can’t use Google Docs instead, you just aren’t ready for a Chromebook. Stick with what you have until something changes for the better.

Once you resolve your office suite, what about your other tools? Which tools do you currently use that are natively installed on your PC? Can you replace them with a web version? This is very tool-dependent, of course, so you’ll need to take a personal inventory and judge this for yourself. Some tools you can walk away from, others will work well on a Chromebook. If you have showstopper tools that you simply cannot abandon and cannot find web equivalents, you aren’t ready for a Chromebook.

There is one last solution to the missing Office and tools problem: use a remote desktop or some other form of virtual desktop solution. Chromebooks come with Google’s Remote Desktop tool built in, making it easy to connect to legacy hardware for those tools you just can’t live without. This is such an important aspect of a potential Chromebook solution that it warrants a separate post, coming soon.  Suffice to say at this point that you can solve some critical tool issues with a little bit of technological elbow grease.

A Simple Test

Once you work through all these issues, you can perform one last test to make sure you are headed down the right path. One day, turn on your favorite PC or laptop. Grab a cup of coffee while it boots and settles down. When it is finally ready, open a Chrome window. Perform all your daily tasks, big and small, in that window. You can open other Chrome windows, but you cannot open any other tool.  Work this way for at least a week.

If you are alive and sane at the end of the week, you are ready for a Chromebook. Life on a Chromebook will be easier, in fact, except that you won’t have time for that coffee when you turn things on in the morning.

Is Your Enterprise Cloud-Ready?

If you are only interested in a Chromebook as a personal device, your decision should be apparent by now. But if you are looking at Chromebooks as an enterprise solution, you’ll need to make sure that your enterprise is ready for cloud clients as well.

First, ask all of the above questions from the perspective of your enterprise users. Where do they store their files? What sharing and cloud-collaboration tools to you provide? What enterprise cloud storage solution is your company standard? If you license Microsoft products, do you have rights to use web versions of the Office tools?

Turn your attention to your enterprise tools. Are your enterprise tools web-enabled? Can someone process payroll from a browser? What about managing accounts payable? Review each business process and determine if the associated tools can be used from a browser.

Surprisingly, you may be closer than you think from an enterprise perspective. Most enterprise tools and platforms integrated some form of web access years ago. It may be ugly, and different from the legacy fat client, but it may be sufficient for your needs.

Even if all the technology is capable, are your users ready? Only you can judge this, and their ability to make the move is more important than any other indicator of success. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly and could be a career-limiting choice if made in haste.

Personally, I don’t think most enterprises are ready for a full move to Chromebooks. I do think we all have pockets of adept users who would be willing to serve as test cases. We should take advantage of their skills and enthusiasm to further explore all this stuff and help make our future mass migration a success.  Chromebooks in the enterprise offer compelling financial benefits, but only if the technology actually works for most, if not all, of our typical users.

In the next (and final) part of this series: some practical advice on what works and what doesn’t, day to day, on a Chromebook.

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