Google steps up push for Chromebooks in the office

Just as low-cost Windows machines are about to hit the market, Google comes out with a package of Chromebook features aimed at businesses

Just as new low-cost Windows laptops are about to hit the market, Google is introducing new capabilities aimed at making Chromebooks more appealing to business users.

Google announced today that it's packaging together some new and existing features designed for businesses into an annual $50 subscription.

One of the new additions is that Chromebooks now support single sign-on, based on SAML. That means IT admins can allow users to sign in to their Chromebooks using their existing work credentials. Identity providers including Okta, Ping, and Microsoft Active Directory all use SAML.

Google is also adding a multiple sign-in capability so that users can have personal and work accounts on the same machine.

In addition, Google also said that businesses will be able to provision Chromebooks to access the more secure 802.1X EAP-TLS Wi-Fi networks.

Another new capability will let IT admins push bookmarks and settings out to Chromebook users. The idea is to make it easier for admins to provision the laptops for users.

Also included in the annual $50 subscription is the version of Citrix Receiver designed for Chromebooks, announced a couple weeks ago. Citrix Receiver lets Chromebook users access virtualized Windows apps. The subscription also includes technology previously announced from Nvidia and VMware designed to improve the performance of graphics-heavy virtualized applications on Chromebooks.

In a blog post about the new offer, Saswat Panigrahi, product manager for Chrome for Work, described a U.K. company that quickly issued workers Chromebooks after a flood hit their office. His point seems to be that Google is trying to make it easier for businesses to adopt Chromebooks than Windows PCs, which typically take a bit of work for IT admins to configure and issue.

The new features and subscription offer come just as new low-cost Windows 8.1 laptops are about to hit the market. Just last week HP announced its latest Stream devices, including 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch laptops that will cost $200 and $230, respectively. The laptops will go on sale in the U.S. in November.

An 11.6-inch HP Chromebook is going for $280, although some Chromebooks cost as little as $200.  

During its annual partner conference earlier this year, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said the company planned to compete with low-cost Chromebooks. The HP laptops as well as one announced by Asus are some of the first Windows 8 computers that will come out on the low-end.

However, HP will have some work to do before it can position its low-end laptops against the Chromebook for business users. The new Stream laptops will come in "stunning" colors, including bright blue and purple. It doesn't look like a standard grey or more business appropriate casing will be available, at least initially.

Also, HP is including a year subscription to Office 365 -- but the Personal edition.

While HP said its Stream products are designed to "make it easy to work and play from more places," the colorful cases and Personal version of Office position the laptops more as devices people might buy primarily for personal use, rather than laptops a company might issue. As Google increasingly pushes Chromebooks to businesses, however, HP could easily decide to tweak its low-end Windows 8 offerings to make them more likely to appeal to businesses.

This story, "Google steps up push for Chromebooks in the office" was originally published by CITEworld.

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