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Google Chromebooks Find Niche: Education

Google hasn't lit the world on fire with its Chromebooks -- client devices based on the company's Chrome OS. But some proponents of Chromebooks believe they are a viable alternative to Macs, PCs and tablets.

Indeed only 1 percent of those responding to Redmond magazine's 2013 Readership Survey say they envision replacing their Windows 7 PCs with Chromebooks. Nevertheless that's the same percentage who say they'll replace them with Macs. The only thing that fared worse were PCs running Windows RT, the stripped-down version of Windows 8 that only features the "modern" UI.

Those who have shown enthusiasm for Chromebooks are IT decision makers at schools, and many are already piloting and deploying them. Lisa DeLapo, director of technology at St. Joseph School, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Oakland, Calif., last week explained why she and her team chose Chromebooks.

"Whether they're telling stories of famous heroes using Google Sites, making group study guides with Google Forms, or listening to voice comments on their science fair projects in Google Docs, our students learn more from creating than they ever could from only consuming information," DeLapo explained in a post on the Google Enterprise Blog. "We have found Chromebooks to be the perfect tools -- they're portable and easy to use, have a keyboard and a large screen and are secure."

In addition to using Google Apps with the Chromebooks, the school uses Pearson PowerSchool, an app for tracking grades, test scores and attendance as well as collaborating with parents. Because the app is Java-based, which is not supported in Chrome, she needed to find a way to access it securely from the Chromebook.

DeLapo came across the Chrome RDP app by Fusion Labs, which provides access to any Windows desktop or server directly from the Chrome browser. "Since it uses Microsoft's native Remote Desktop Protocol, no additional configuration or setup is needed after you install the app," she noted. "It gives us secure access to PowerSchool and other legacy applications, and it's straightforward for teachers to use. They download the Chrome RDP app from the Chrome Web Store, open up the app, and enter their login information for secure access to PowerSchool through the school's firewall."

Back in February, when HP became the latest PC vendor to plunge into the Google Chromebook market, I raised the following question: Are Chromebooks a wild card that could make a dent in the Windows PC market moving forward? I subsequently received an e-mail from Paul Jones, who is involved in national education issues. He said that Chromebooks may gradually have more impact than critics and naysayers think. Jones, who permitted me to share his views, said the greatest percentage of Chromebooks are going into school districts. And he believes this is a "huge" percentage.

"What Google is doing is creating the 'next' generation of device users -- kids like my daughters will grow up being educated with Google and Chrome," Jones said. "My girls already have more expertise in Chrome than most technology centric critics.  When they reach adulthood, Google will have captured them as die-hard Google fans; kids who have grown up with Google, and trust Google with their technological needs." Thanks Paul for reaching out.

There is certainly a lot to be said for the impact the youngest of users will have on the future of computing devices that will populate the desktops and knapsacks of the next generation of enterprise workers. Still, I expect a hard-fought battle by Apple and Microsoft for that audience as well.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/12/2013 at 1:15 PM


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