Chrome OS: Is this web-centric OS suitable for the enterprise?

These days, computing is largely a web-based affair and often, there is a web variant of almost every day-to-day task we perform on a computer. Based on this, Google initiated an open-source project named Chromium OS back in 2009. It aims at providing a fast, simple, cost-effective, and secure computing experience to its users. Chrome OS is largely based on Chromium, and we can term it as a customer-oriented variant of the Chromium OS.

Chrome OS is a web-centric operating system that runs Google Chrome web browser as its primary user interface. Chrome OS itself is largely a browser-based operating system, in which most of the operations are performed in the Chrome web browser.

Unlike most other traditional operating systems, Chrome OS doesn't require a lot of dedicated hardware for its functioning. This is because most functions in Chrome OS takes place in the cloud, which can be accessed using a browser’s web window. The entire Chrome project is based on cloud computing and is thus a very simplified and lightweight OS. Almost all the tasks you perform in Chrome OS, whether it's listening to music, editing documents, or accessing web apps, happen in browser tabs.

Chrome OS was initially meant to be an online-only operating system. But recent versions of Chrome OS have marked the beginning of its offline usage, at least to an extent. For example, you can work on Google Docs without an Internet connection, and you can also use Gmail, Google Sheets, and other Google apps without an Internet connection. Your work gets synced online once you're connected to Internet. However, most of the other third-party apps require an active web connection for their functioning.

Currently, Google’s Chrome OS cannot fully replace a traditional OS and is, therefore, largely treated as a secondary OS. This is because Chrome OS is not meant to handle all your heavy-duty applications as of now. Instead, it is ideal for all your web-based needs and is fast, secure, and reliable. Unlike other traditional operating systems, Chrome OS doesn't trouble its users with endless OS updates. Instead, all the updates are automatically downloaded and installed, provided you're connected to the Internet.

Devices running Chrome OS

Chromebook laptops running on Chrome OS have become familiar to almost all of us. Apart from Chromebooks, there are a few other products that run Chrome OS as their primary OS. These devices include Chromebox, Chromebit, and Chromebase.

Chromebook

Chromebooks are primarily meant to handle all the web-based tasks and come with Google Chrome preinstalled as its primary user-interface. You perform almost all the tasks within the browser tabs, and all the data is directly stored in the cloud.

Chromebox

Chromebox is a desktop variant of the Chromebook, and like other Chrome OS-based devices, it primarily supports web applications and needs an active Internet connection for its full-fledged functionality. The device lets you connect other peripherals such as a display, keyboard, mouse, and more.

Chromebit

Chromebit is a much smaller variant in the set of available Chrome-based devices. It's a dongle that can be connected to a TV or monitor using an HDMI port. Chromebit, when plugged to a display device, turns that display into a personal computer running Chrome OS.

Chromebase

Chromebase is the larger variant of all Chrome-based computing devices. It is a simple all-in-one device including a screen, CPU, keyboard, and other peripherals. Chromebases are perfect for desktop computing experience and are very easy to deploy.

Chrome OS is a largely stripped down operating system. However, it still has its own advantages when compared with other operating systems, which not only makes it ideal for personal usage but also makes it a sensible choice for some business or enterprise needs.

Key features for business use

Security

Chrome OS is very secure right out of the box. The OS is primarily built to keep security as a top consideration. Chrome OS makes use of a security mechanism known as “defense in depth,” which is meant to provide multilayered security to the device. Chrome OS consists of several built-in security mechanisms such as:

  • Automatic updates: Chrome OS, as mentioned earlier, gets regular updates from Google, which automatically get downloaded and installed. This makes sure that your device is running on the most secure version of OS.
  • Sandboxing: This feature restricts users from accessing harmful malicious content from the web.
  • Verified boot: If some malware bypasses the sandbox and manages to get into the system, your Chrome OS is still protected with verified boot mechanism. Every time your system is turned on, the OS scans the entire system for malware. If found, it automatically repairs itself most of the times.
  • Data encryption: All data you access using the Chrome OS is stored and handled in the cloud. And this entire process of uploading and downloading the data is strongly encrypted, making it very difficult for any intruder to access confidential data.
  • Recovery mode: In the worst-case scenario, you can simply enter the recovery mode of the system and restore your system to a safer version of OS.

Integration with Google apps

Currently, a large number of businesses and organizations are switching to Google apps for their ease of use and support. Google apps are one of the best available options for collaboration and business needs. Since the Chrome OS comes well-integrated with Google apps, it makes it easy for users to get the most out of Google’s toolkits and benefits.

Speed and efficiency

Chrome OS is a very lightweight operating system and is, therefore, very fast in terms of performance. It is meant to perform just a specific set of tasks and is completely free from bloatware. Since Chrome OS is completely cloud based, it doesn't even require a strong set of hardware configurations for its speed and efficient functioning.

Cost effectiveness

As mentioned earlier, the Chromium project is open source and is completely free to use. Accordingly, all Chrome OS-based products such as Chromebooks and Chromebits are cheaper than their counterparts. Cost-effectiveness is one of the primary aspects for businesses, and this helps organizations get a better return on investments from these Chrome OS-based devices.

Reliability

Chrome OS is by default highly secure, and with all data being stored in the cloud, it is always reliable -- as long as you have an Internet connection. Companies need not invest on data backup services if they are using Chromebooks, as the entire data is already stored in the cloud. So as long as you are connected to an active Internet connection, you will have access to all your previous data and work. Moreover, Chrome OS is based on Linux, so it inherently is highly reliable.

In a head-to-head comparison with other traditional operating systems such as Windows, here are the pros and cons of Chrome OS.

Pros

Performance

Chrome OS doesn't include any bloatware and is strictly meant to perform a few specific tasks. Since these devices use the cloud to store, process, and retrieve information, it naturally consumes fewer hardware resources delivering better performance.

Very cost effective

The majority of Chrome OS-based devices cost less than that of their competitors in the market. For instance, you can buy a Chromebook for as low as $200. Therefore, pricing of these devices is a very attractive proposition for many enterprises and businesses.

Security

As mentioned earlier, Chrome OS is built primarily focusing on security aspects, and it offers layered security. It uses strong encryption for storing and retrieving data from the cloud, gaining it an added advantage.

Battery backup

Since Chrome-based devices don't require heavy hardware for their functioning, they tend to last longer than other devices. A Chromebook, for instance, lasts for at least 6-10 hours, which is often longer than a Windows-based laptop.

Cons

Most of its functionalities require an active Internet connection

Chrome OS was initially meant to function only when it was connected to an active Internet connection. Thankfully, with the recent updates, it started allowing offline usage to an extent. However, there are several other functionalities that are still restricted to an active Internet connection.

Compatibility

Chrome OS has started to gain popularity in the global market. However, it is still suffering from application compatibility and availability issues. Although Chrome OS has a rapidly growing library of applications and software, it still is behind Windows in terms of app compatibility and support.

Limited functionalities

Chrome OS as of now cannot fully replace your traditional operating systems as it serves in a limited area. Chrome OS is a completely web-centric operating system and cannot handle heavy applications such as Photoshop and is not meant for gaming by any means.

A work in progress

Most of the commonly used applications today have their own web variant and are connected to the cloud in one way or the other. Therefore, choosing a cheaper, lightweight, fast, and secure Chrome OS over others is certainly beneficial. However, if you're expecting anything beyond the window of the Internet, then Chrome OS cannot justify your requirements as of now. Let’s wait and see how Google’s Chrome OS gamble plays out in the future.

Sukesh Mudrakola

Sukesh is a computer science graduate by profession and an IT enterprise and tech enthusiast by passion. He holds an expertise in mobile and wearable technologies and is an avid Android fan.

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Sukesh Mudrakola

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