Google and Dell team up to take on Microsoft with Chromebook Enterprise laptops

Google is launching new Chromebook Enterprise devices that it hopes will draw more businesses away from Windows-powered laptops. Microsoft has dominated enterprise computing for years, but as businesses increasingly look to modernize their fleet of devices, there’s an opportunity for competitors to challenge Windows. Google is teaming up with one of Microsoft’s biggest partners, Dell, to help push new Chromebook Enterprise laptops into businesses.

Dell is launching Chrome OS on a pair of its popular business-focused Latitude laptops, offering both a regular clamshell design and a 2-in-1 option. While it might sound like just two existing Windows laptops repurposed for Chrome OS, Google and Dell have been working together for more than a year to ensure these new Chromebook Enterprise devices are ready for IT needs. That includes bundling a range of Dell’s cloud-based support services that allow admins to have greater control over how these Chromebooks are rolled out inside businesses.

It means IT admins can more easily integrate these Chromebooks into existing Windows environments and manage them through tools like VMware Workspace One. Microsoft and its partners have offered a range of admin tools for years, making it easy to customize and control Windows-based devices. Google has also tweaked its Chrome Admin console to improve load times, add search on every page, and overhaul it with material design elements.

Businesses will be able to choose from Dell’s 14-inch Latitude 5400 ($699) or the 13-inch Latitude 5300 2-in-1 ($819). Both can be configured with up to Intel’s 8th Gen Core i7 processors, up to 32GB of RAM, and even up to 1TB of SSD storage. The processor options are a little disappointing considering Intel just announced new 10th Gen processors, but the blow is softened slightly as both devices will offer LTE options and USB-C docking.

Dell won’t be the only OEM offering Chromebook Enterprise laptops

Google is now teaming up with a number of OEMs to better target enterprise customers. While Dell is the first OEM to announce Chromebook Enterprise laptops, there will be more. “This is not an exclusive with Dell,” explains John Solomon, vice president of Chrome OS at Google, in an interview with The Verge. “We’re launching with Dell first… but in the future we will be getting back to doing this more broadly with the ecosystem.”

You can imagine Lenovo and HP partnering to offer Chromebook Enterprise laptops in the future, just like they currently offer devices to both consumers and businesses. This tighter integration benefits OEMs as they can now bundle a larger stack of software and services on a Chromebook targeted at businesses.

Chromebooks have traditionally fared well in education, but have had little traction in businesses that are used to relying on Windows. Google’s new focus is a significant change, but it doesn’t mean the company is suddenly going to attract business customers overnight. “Enterprise is more of a marathon than a sprint,” admits Solomon. “For Google this is a key moment for us to really telegraph that we’re very serious about the enterprise. This is not just a project that’s ‘well you know it’s like an experiment, we’ll see how it goes.’ This is a long term and serious commitment.”

Microsoft has tried to counter Chrome OS with Windows 10 S laptops
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Google’s Chromebook enterprise push is a warning shot to Microsoft

Microsoft’s response to this new Chromebook Enterprise offering will be telling. It has steadily been trying to counter Chrome OS with cheaper Windows-based laptops of its own, but that’s not a modern OS challenge. Microsoft is also currently working on a “Windows Lite” version of its operating system that will be far more cloud-powered to compete with Chrome OS. This stripped-down version of Windows could help Microsoft better compete with the modern benefits of something like Chrome OS. Microsoft has tried to counter Chrome OS with efforts like Windows 10 S in the past, but it’s always been more of a locked down version of Windows than anything truly modern.

”What I’ve read is that Microsoft is actually going to modernize their operating system, because they have an operating system that was actually architected for a world of IT that was very client-centric, very sort of heavy device,” says Solomon. Microsoft’s support of older applications, hardware, and even Windows versions is what sets it apart for IT admins right now, but Google is betting on its modern OS taking over.

”There’s a reason there’s not been malware attacks or viruses on Chromebooks, it’s a very tough surface for any bad actor to penetrate,” says Solomon. “I would imagine Microsoft are going to try to modernize their operating system and bring it to where IT is going, but they have the problem of legacy and we don’t.”

If Microsoft does try to create a more Chrome OS-like operating system, Google thinks it will still have the upper hand thanks to its investments in machine learning. “We’ve been working on Chrome OS for 10 years, it’s not just something we came up with last year,” explains Solomon. “We’ve developed areas that we’re innovating in, like machine learning — which is the core competency of Google — and we’re starting to apply it. We have a raft of features that we’re working on for management of the product through machine learning, and actually deep at the OS level. So, how you can optimize the CPU, battery, and display through that.”

Google’s partnership with Dell is a big warning shot to Microsoft and its Windows dominance, but it’ll be up to Google and its partners to really prove it will work. We’ve seen Google exit the tablet hardware business earlier this year, and its efforts to push Chrome OS onto tablets haven’t really worked out. Google now needs to prove it’s willing and able to provide flexible software and services that will convince businesses to make the big Windows switch. Solomon described enterprise as a marathon and not a sprint, but with Microsoft involved it’s going to be more like a really long boxing match between two of the world’s heavyweight tech companies.

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