Google says Chrome OS catching eyes in the enterprise

Woolworths win, end of Windows XP driving Australian interest in Chrome OS

Google has reported heightened interest in Chrome OS from Australian organisations since winning a major device contract with Woolworths.

The end of life of Microsoft Windows XP in April has also opened a window for Google to sell its rival operating system, according to Google Enterprise managing director for Australia, Kevin Ackhurst.

Analysts have predicted that Australian enterprises will take a closer look at Chrome OS as Google makes moves to peel customers away from Microsoft.

Woolworths, which is rolling out 8000 devices running Chrome OS, was a big win that has influenced other Australian companies to look at the Google operating system, Ackhurst told Computerworld Australia.

“We’ve had some really great wins over the course of the last quarter in terms of more people using Google Apps for business and the interest in terms of Chromebox for Meetings and Chromebooks has been really great,” he said.

Most of the activity so far is around the laptop-like Chromebook, but the Google executive said customers are beginning to look at desktop Chromeboxes for kiosks and videoconferencing.

While Ackhurst wouldn’t name the newest customers, he noted that Chrome OS customers in the region include Fairfax, News Corp, Dick Smith and Xero. “All of them are using Chromebooks extensively,” he said.

Read more: Microsoft concedes Chromebooks are work-worthy

Chrome OS has appealed in particular to retail and hospitality companies looking to roll out devices to employees that never had computers before, he said. In addition, Ackhurst said he sees the government sector as an emerging opportunity for Google to pursue.

Initially, Google had the most success targeting the education sector. But interest has expanded to other industries, fuelled in part by the bring-your-own device (BYOD) trend, he said.

“Because of the school [take up], people have started using it in the consumer environment a lot more, and as a consequence they bring those into the work environment.”

Some businesses with BYOD policies have been convinced to buy fleets of Chromebooks after seeing their employees using them for work, he said.

“We’ve had a bunch of organisations say, ‘Why are they doing that? Come and tell us more about this stuff.’”

Google has sought to take advantage of the end of life for Windows XP as an opportunity to sell more Chromebooks, Ackhurst said. He noted that the search giant already has a Trojan Horse into many organisations with the free and popular Chrome browser.

“The fact that Chrome is such a widely used browser now and people are so comfortable with it creates an opportunity for us,” he said.

As a result, jumping from Windows XP to Chrome OS might not seem so daunting, especially in light of the more radical interface changes included in Windows 8, he said.

With Microsoft still a dominant force, Google has attempted to convince customers that Chrome OS can be a complete replacement.

Like many of Google’s products, Chrome OS began with a consumer focus, but a range of updates to Google Apps have made the platform more business-friendly, Ackhurst said.

At its recent I/O conference, for example, Google launched unlimited cloud storage for businesses with Drive for Work. The enhanced service included greater encryption and support for Microsoft Office documents.

“Some people have this idea that there’s a reduced level of functionality with it, and yes there are some things that you can’t do on a Chromebook that you can do on a PC or a Mac,” said Ackhurst. “But for 90 per cent of the stuff that you need, you can typically do that.”

For the remaining 10 per cent, Google has worked with Citrix and VMware to develop products providing Chrome users remote access to conventional desktop environments, he said.

“You don’t have to think about just replacing existing applications, but you can have the investment that you’ve made in terms of SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Office … and still access all of those things using your Chromebook.”

Woolworths is one company that brought in Citrix to ease its transition to Chrome, he said.

“They had 3000 applications that they were using and they did an analysis of which they needed to be using going forward on the Chromebooks,” he said.

“Then they had Citrix work with them to make sure that they had an interface to all of the applications that they needed.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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