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Chromebooks: Google’s next uphill battle

Google's Rajen Sheth at Net:Work 2011
Photo by Pinar Ozger,

“Some businesses literally threw me out of the meeting five minutes in when they realized I asked them to move their emails outside of their firewall,” remembered Google’s (s GOOG) Rajen Sheth at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference in San Francisco Thursday. Sheth is known as the father of Google Apps, and he told his audience Thursday that establishing these apps what a bit of an uphill battle.

Even Google’s executives initially didn’t believe in the idea, and it took months to finally get the approval for one single engineer. Seven years later, Chrome Google Apps have evolved into a huge success story with four million business customers.

However, Sheth already has his next battle picked: He is now Group Product Manager of Chrome for Business at Google, and in this role is trying to sell Chromebooks to enterprise customers. “I feel like it’s a déjà-vu,” he said when asking about the challenges around establishing the device in the enterprise world. Some people already get it, he said, others aren’t quite there yet.

Google officially introduced the Chromebook at its Google I/O conference in May, and is charging enterprises $28 per month and device. Sheth said that Google wants to do to the desktop with Chromebooks what it did with Apps for enterprise IT. The upside for webworkers and companies alike is that the individual device matters much less than before. “We want to get to a point where any device is your device,” he said, adding that he doesn’t even carry a computer anymore. “I know when I log into my Chromebook at home its the same as my Chromebook at work,” he explained.

So how can Google win this battle and repeat the success of Google Apps? Sheth said that the product is continuously getting better, and also implied that there could be products other than laptops and the workstations currently available. “We are building it as a generic operating system,” he said, explaining that it would be up to the CE partners to come up with compelling form factors.

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.

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