Google Chromebooks Won't Push Microsoft Out of Businesses

Google unveiled the first two commercial Chromebooks -- laptops running the all-Web Chrome OS -- this morning at Google I/O.

The company is clearly trying to take on Microsoft's core Windows business, as well as Apple products including the Mac and iPad.

While the pricing for the consumer version is way too high -- it seems weird to pay MORE than a Windows netbook for a computer that (so far) does less -- the subscription pricing for businesses is at least a new wrinkle.

For $28 per user per month organizations will get a Chromebook for each user, plus support and free hardware upgrades when they run out.

That's $336 per user per year.

The price does NOT include Google Apps for Business. That's available for $50 per user per year, or $5 per user per month.

By way of comparison, a new desktop PC with the latest business versions of Windows and Office will probably cost no more than $1,500 depending on the exact configurations. Most companies refresh their PCs no more than every five years.

So that's $1,500 for the old standard versus $1,680 to switch to a computer that:

- Can't run Microsoft Office apps.

- Doesn't come with any productivity software or a corporate-ready email account (unless you pay another $250 over five years)

- Might not work well with certain peripherals -- what about USB-based backup storage drives?

- Require a separate system for managing them (like pushing out software).

- Has no obvious appeal for end-users, so they won't bring them into the company and expect IT to make them work (like is happening with the iPad in some places).

Google argues on its Chromebooks for Business page that other cost savings will make up for these drawbacks. There's no antivirus software to maintain and manage, no endless series of patches, and very low switching costs since there's no data to migrate from machine to machine -- just push everything to a cloud account and your users are ready to go. When the Chromebooks die, Google will replace them for free.

Plus, they start up really fast so users won't waste precious minutes every morning waiting for their PC to start and for Outlook to open. (Which isn't really a problem if you leave your PC on overnight in sleep mode -- but never mind that.)

Those might be good arguments for a company that's just starting out and doesn't have a clear idea how fast they'll grow. They can standardize on cloud-based apps from the get-go, then add and subtract Chromebooks to match their headcount.

It might also be good for companies with employees who can be trained fairly quickly to do simple tasks and have lots of employee turnover -- think call centers, for instance. In that case, it might sense to have a pool of shared notebooks with a few basic apps on them and simply swap users in and out by changing the accounts.

Finally, Google is offering a cheaper program for schools and government agencies -- only $20 per user per month. That might change the cost equation enough to get some cost-sensitive organizations on board.

But for most businesses that use Windows PCs (or Macs) today, Chromebooks will be a non-starter.

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