Google goes after enterprise with Chromebox for meetings

$999 videoconferencing tool also could boost Google+ Hangouts

Google is looking to open the door wider to the enterprise, launching a videoconferencing tool designed to make it easier and cheaper to have face-to-face meetings with far-flung co-workers.

The new meeting tool also could help push Google further into the enterprise, as well as create new interest in Google+ Hangouts.

On Thursday, Google announced that it's releasing a new Chromebox that brings Google+ Hangouts together with enterprise-aimed Google Apps, to making it easier for companies to have high-definition video meetings.

The new tool will compete with the likes of Cisco Systems, with its WebEx tool, and Microsoft, with its Lync videoconferencing and instant messaging tool.

"The best meetings are face-to-face," wrote Caesar Sengupta, Google's vice president of product management, in a blog post. "But these days, we often connect with each other from far-flung locations, coordinating time zones and dialing into conference calls from our phones. Meetings need to catch up with the way we work -- they need to be face-to-face, easier to join, and available from anywhere and any device."

Google wants to help companies do that with Chromebox. Much like with the company's office-focused, cloud-based Google Apps, they're also hoping to work their way into the enterprise.

"I would think the enterprise is an important market as Google is still trying to get in there," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "Since they have Google Docs, I can see that Chromebox would help that push [into the enterprise], as well."

According to Google, Chromebox for meetings comes with an Intel Core i7 processor, a high-definition camera, a combined microphone and speaker unit and a remote control. Up to 15 people can join the video meeting from other conference rooms, their laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Those who need to be in the meeting but don't have Chromebox for meetings can still join as long as they have a Gmail account. Employees using meeting rooms that have other videoconferencing systems can join in using a tool from Vidyo.

Participants can call into the meeting using a conference call number from UberConference.

"Walk into the room, click the remote once and you're instantly in the meeting," wrote Sengupta. "No more complex dial-in codes, passcodes or leader PINs. Share your laptop screen wirelessly, no need for any cords and adaptors. Integration with Google Apps makes it easy to invite others and add rooms to video meetings, directly from Google Calendar."

Chromebox for meetings is available in the U.S. today starting at $999, which includes the Asus Chromebox and everything companies need to set up 10 different conference rooms.

Google also said Chromeboxes from Hewlett-Packard and Dell will be available for meetings "in the coming months." Chromebox for meetings is expected to launch later this year in Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the U.K.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the low price point on Google's videoconferencing tool, compared to rival alternatives that can easily cost thousands of dollars, should help it gain traction.

"There are expensive solutions and poor solutions," Gottheil said. "There are, to my knowledge, no inexpensive good-enough solutions ... This could appeal to everybody. Even businesses that use the expensive services like WebEx would like a lower-cost solution for less critical meetings. Businesses, schools, government, even extended families could use this."

Chromebox will also bring more attention to popular Google+ Hangouts, Google's video chat platform that's part of the company's social network.

"It will bolster Hangouts," said Gottheil. "Google needs to explain how Google+ is simple and allows you privacy. This will help with that."

This article, Google goes after enterprise with Chromebox for meetings, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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