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With a browser desktop, Chromebooks could have enterprise potential

Chromebooks are fairly limited in what they can do, but with the help of a browser desktop, the devices could have enterprise use cases.

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.

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Hi, More than an evaluation of Chromebooks, this article seems a marketing campaign for lenovo's Stoneware. you forgot to mention that this product is SO difficult to configure and so Complex that you need to pay additional $ for these services, making it more expensive to manage and operate. Once you get it to work, it delivers what they claim. Please also comment on similar products and make separate articles for each and not under a "generalized Chromebook Title".
Great post. Checking out WebTop. Absolutely loving the Chrome book for marketing and consulting presentations. Able to get to Google drive. HDMI output. Battery lasts all day. Google Hangouts and web cam built in . Yes and one can do DaaS and get to enterprise apps but the Google Apps are fine for most uses and gives Office 365 a run for the money. The time will come for Chromebooks. WebTop is a great way to go. Thanks.
@Anon - I call it opinion, not marketing, since what I do is talk to vendors and try to distill how their solutions can work in organizations. The title asks the question of whether or not a browser desktop fits well with Chromebooks, and I believe it does.

I see a product like Stoneware's combined with Chromebooks as viable enterprise solution. Other products would work as well, but I've yet to see one that is as enterprise-ready as Stoneware's, so just because I talk specifically about them doesn't mean it's a marketing thing–it means I've yet to find anything that I think is similar.

If Stoneware's solution is hard to install, that sucks and I hope that it gets worked out in future releases. (BTW - Thanks for pointing out that it delivers what they claim after you get it installed.) If there are similar solutions that don't have the same difficulties, I'd like to hear about them. I have yet to run across something as enterprise-ready, though if and when I find them I'd be happy to do a rundown of them all.
The set up for Stoneware Webtop is complex and the desktop "glue" you so desire that is missing from the Chromebook environment is not present at all in applications that run from a desktop portal since the portal strips out the desktop and presents only the app.
@Anonymous9999 hits it on the head with his assessment of Stoneware's complexity to install. Our organization invested in Stoneware's solution as a small pilot project over 5 years ago and it was complex and hard to configure way back then before Lenovo owned it.
Chromebooks can very easily be set up to dual boot many flavors of LINUX. There are set up guides for Ubuntu variants (which are easily changed to whatver debian install you may like) and for Arch linux. I am running Pointe LINUX and other than an odd system error I haven't bothered to track down since it doesn't seem to effect anything, it runs flawlessly. With a boot time of 8 seconds and a UI windows users will find easy to understand I think that Chromebooks could very easily find thier way into the technical enterprises first, then others as users become accustomed to tablets and cell phone operating systems and forget living behind closed windows.