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Chromebooks have a 1 percent market share -- and a tough road to the enterprise

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 10, 2014
The key to their long-term success may in the classroom

Michael Jaber, the instructional technology coordinator at the Sheboygan Area School District, in Wisconsin, is deploying 2,800 Chromebooks at the high school. He was previously in the nearby Fond du Lac school system, where he was part of the team that deployed 2,400 Chromebooks at that system's high school.

The Fond du Lac deployment was made soon after Chromebooks were released. Previously, tablets were the hot items for deployment. But Jaber said tablets were still seen as more of a consumption device, and school officials wanted "a creation station." For that, a keyboard was needed, he said.

There were other incentives: Google Apps for Education, and its collaboration tools, are free. And headache avoidance is always a boon. The IT department didn't want complicated licensing and management issues, such as version control. The single sign-on was simple for students, said Jaber.

The big issues involved building out an infrastructure and network to support the devices, and preparing teachers to integrate the Chromebooks in their classrooms to help transform education, said Jaber.

Although the hardware is getting more resistant to breakage as the devices mature, Jaber said the school district is acquiring the Chromebooks on a two-year lease. Because technology is changing rapidly, that helps keep students up-to-date.

If students have a good experience with a Chromebook in school, they're more likely to be open to using them in college and eventually in the business world. Jaber is already seeing that trend among recent grads. "They are almost being evangelists for how Google has changed their learning," he said.

Another Chromebook user is Louis Gouletas, the CIO and CMO of National Rental Services, a Chicago-based property management firm, which was created four years ago after acquiring another property management firm. It took on some aging IT equipment, and operations that were run in-house.

"I wanted to be as flexible as possible, and to me that was the cloud," said Gouletas.

Gouletas put in a high-speed network and are using wireless broadband provider Clearwire as a back-up, with automatic switch-over if their network connection goes out. Workewrs are standardized on Chromebox and Chromebooks and use Google apps and SaaS providers for property management tools.

This approach is not completely IT maintenance free. Gouletas said he has had to use third-party tools to enable data sharing between some SaaS systems, and has also written his own scripts.

Most of the 12-member staff are using either Chromebooks or Chromebox or both, but two users are still using PCs. But those two systems have been configured so that Google Drive acts as their hard drive.

When Gouletas decided on an IT path, Microsoft's cloud offerings such as Office 365 were still a work in progress. "Microsoft wasn't where they were today, and I think we would have considered them harder," he said.

 

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