Enterprise World

We live in enterprise world. The floor in this world has the Microsoft logo on it (Server and Windows) and some of the most important and common buildings are Microsoft buildings (i.e. SharePoint and Office). Other buildings in this world are built by companies like Oracle, Salesforce, and SAP, but this world relies on that Microsoft floor.

During an Afidence internal meeting about operating systems ("come for the food, stay for the nerd talk!"), we started discussing Chromebooks and it became apparent that they were perceived as school devices unsuitable for Enterprise World.

Can You Use a Chromebook in Enterprise World?

To answer this question, I replaced my Afidence Windows 10 laptop with an Asus Flip Chromebook. It's a 10" laptop with a touchscreen. I selected this laptop because it is the first Chromebook to run Android apps and its price point is significantly lower ($279) than a Windows laptop.

Microsoft and the Chromebook

Microsoft’s CEO says that Microsoft’s strategy is “Mobile first, cloud first” so it makes sense that Microsoft has been moving to Office 365 online. Microsoft’s online software is terrific. Documents save directly to OneDrive and are perfect for a Chromebook experience. Office 365 makes collaboration easy and efficient, which is more useful than saving things on SharePoint or a file drive. Instead of emailing a document back and forth, the same document can be edited in the same place by different people at different times.

Two major problems when using Office 365 with a Chromebook are

1.      There is no offline mode.

2.      The same email address can have personal and work/business profiles.

Offline mode is usually unnecessary except during traveling, but it is frustrating to have a document started and lose all your work without the ability to recover it.  Losing work if the internet connection can’t be found before the document is closed is yet another issue. (Aside: I wrote this on my Chromebook in a Google Doc while traveling by car, and I later edited it in the Word for Android app on my Chromebook.)

The allowance of the same email address to have personal and work profiles is more befuddling. It is very easy for any user to unwittingly set-up personal profiles for work emails and have files (unwittingly) end up there. It seems to be a mistake that, if corrected, will improve user experience. 

A smaller and less common issue is that Office 365 does not allow a user to be logged into multiple accounts at the same time. Users can get around this by running other log-ins in Chrome’s Incognito mode.

As a project manager, one of the MS applications that was not available online that I need is MS Project. MS Planner is a new Office 365 web application that lacks much of the functionality of MS Project, but allows more collaboration on the project schedule between the project manager and the project team. It is remarkable that it is not a web version of a Microsoft application. Rather, it is a web application first that is used for project schedule planning. It also has many of the same features as Trello.

Security and the Chromebook

Using a Chromebook means that everything is set-up to utilize Chrome. The first thing that any computer user is trained to do is download anti-virus and anti-malware software. If we’re on the web, we’re supposed to protect ourselves. But why? Google mocks the need for anti-virus software for Chromebooks. Google built their OS to go online and keep online data from interacting with the operating system. I do not know how successful that this will be, but it is liberating to have an OS that does not need 3rd party software to protect it. It makes sense that the OS does not need anti-virus/malware software, but it goes against the training that we have received for the last 25 years.

The laptop has a variety of personal security measures. One unique feature is that it will unlock if it makes a Bluetooth connection with my unlocked Android cell phone. If my phone is unlocked and close by, my laptop will be unlocked. Additionally, the Chromebook has Guest Mode. I can lock my account, hand the computer to someone, and they can use Guest Mode to browse the web without access to my information.

This security measure raises an issue for the enterprise user that will probably be a show-stopper: I need to use a Gmail account to log-in to the computer. The issue could be remedied if a company used Google for email service. However, that is not a solution for companies using Active Directory for identity management. Fortunately, once I logged-in, the experience was great. The machine synced my Chrome settings and my passwords were available in the LasPass extension. The machine eventually needed a reboot to install updates. The updates were downloaded and installed in the background.

The most common criticism of Chromebooks has been that they need an internet connection. This criticism is invalidated with the ubiquitous Wi-Fi in enterprise world and is largely not a problem with tethering, and public and private Wi-Fi spots. Users of Chromebooks criticize the rest of enterprise world for not fully migrating to the web/HTML5 experience.

What I found was that the web endpoint is almost the answer to end-user computing. enterprise world is well underway in moving to the cloud, but Active Directory and legacy apps will force companies to stay on Windows. However, a company that is built for the web experience would benefit from planning for web-based computing. Web-based computing is the future of enterprise world.

The next article in this series will cover the experience of the Chromebook while using Android apps, including Office Android apps.

Andy Hickey

Sr. IT Consultant | Afidence