BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
I've questioned the use case for Chromebooks in the past, especially given the fact that most of the devices in circulation are underpowered and barely able to surf the Web. There's a race to the bottom on the Chromebook market, and vendors are trying to include as much as they can and still keep the price under $300. Consumers are buying them up, and while I personally remain on the side of the tablet, I can see the Chromebook's potential with the addition of a browser desktop.
I have a Google Chromebook at my house. My wife uses it all the time, mostly without issue. Occasionally she gets a Word document in an email and doesn't know what to do with it. If she has to print, that usually requires emailing the document to me so I can print it for her. Sure, we could use Google Cloud Print, but I sort of treat this as an experiment to see where her pain points will be. (She is not amused by this.)
My experience with the Chromebook has been less than awesome compared to the other devices I have, but I can see that with a little extra horsepower, the device could be quite capable. I also have a Chromebook Pixel that is exceptionally fast. The problem is that I'm relatively limited by the fact that I only have a browser.
I still require a "desktop" to do all the things that I do, not necessarily for apps, but for the plumbing that hooks together my files, photos, Evernote notes, instant messages and so on. Frankly, anyone but the most basic user is at risk of feeling the same way. The Chromebook is fine, but something about it isn't right. For instance, Google Apps are sufficient, but usually a little underwhelming (and frustrating for my wife). So, when I picture using them in an office setting, I start daydreaming about all the other devices that do a better all-around job.
Enter the browser desktop
Stoneware makes a browser desktop called webDesktop, and there are other browser desktops on the market too. They are not the same thing as the HTML5 desktops that I've written about before. Instead, browser desktops are end-user computing environments that live in the browser window and provide access to various services. They're portals, but not the kind of portal you might remember from 2002.
The Stoneware webDesktop and other browser desktops serve as an aggregation point for IT-managed apps and services. Users sign into it and gain access to IT-provisioned data center and cloud resources through a secure gateway. IT can deliver internal Web apps, Software as a Service apps in the cloud, or even Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) apps via their own HTML5 client. Users can also access cloud data, data that lives in the data center, or even data that resides locally on the endpoint.
More on Google Chromebooks
Google Chromebook's enterprise security features
Chrome OS extension flaws and Chromebook security
What can devs do with the Chromebook?
Adding a tool like Stoneware to the Chromebook picture starts to resemble what I think could be the next generation of IT desktop computing. Using a decision tree, the system can determine the best experience for your users. If they want to open a DOCX file, the system will evaluate all the services the users have access to that can process those files. If they have Word locally, it will launch that. If they have Word via RDSH, it will open it there. If none of these are true, it will open the file in Zoho or Google Docs. This method gives the user the best experience possible in any given situation, and keeps the data all in sync on the backend. It even auto-creates the accounts with cloud app providers as needed.
Tools like webDesktop also provide a common interface for searching, which is one of the reasons I cited for wanting a desktop. The browser desktop is becoming more desktop-like in all the good ways. Past browser desktops have focused on looking like a Windows desktop while actually serving as a link aggregator or portal. Today, browser desktops are actually living up to the "desktop" in their name.
When you combine browser desktops with Chromebooks, it's possible to see an opening for potential use cases within the enterprise. We're nearing a point where the capabilities of relatively cheap Chromebooks mature at the same time as services evolve for IT to support them in the enterprise.