It’s no secret that BetterCloud loves Google Apps and we make a point to use only Google Apps and Google products where we can – we even build our product, FlashPanel, on Google App Engine, Google’s own platform-as-a-service.
So when it came time to order computers for our two newest (non-developer) employees, choosing the right device was a no-brainer. They came in on their first day, filled out some unavoidable paperwork, opened their brand new Chromebooks and were up and running in no time.
The computers are not only affordable and fast, but nothing could be better when you’re trying to get up to speed with a 100% web company like BetterCloud. Using a Chromebook forces you to operate entirely online, avoiding “Apps of Shame” like Microsoft Word and Excel.
With Google Apps and managed Chromebooks our new hires gain instant access to everything they need – Google Drive documents, Marketplace applications, Chrome extensions, settings, printers and more.
We don’t need to convince anyone here at BetterCloud why Chromebooks are a smart investment, but we realize Chromebooks are a fairly new device and idea in general. Google’s been ramping up the technical specs (and marketing) for these devices over the last few months – they even released a new model for schools just last week – so we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about administering and managing Chromebooks.
Chrome OS Channels – Choosing the Right Fit
Google offers different release channels for Chrome OS – stable, beta and development (just like they do in Chrome). These channels offer users different levels of stability and functionality and much like Gmail Labs, which are technically features in beta, some of the Chrome OS functionality found in beta and development channels, never make it into stable releases.
So with three choices, how can you be sure your employees are using the appropriate channel? Here’s some guidance to help you out.
The Chrome OS stable channel is just that – this version of the Chrome operating system only includes features that are tried and tested (in the beta and development channels). This system is less likely to crash or encounter other errors. If you’re looking for a seamless and predictable experience, the Chrome OS stable channel is your best bet.
Chrome OS beta gives users the opportunity to test out new features that have yet to be released to the stable channel. You’ll gain early access to features, but you can expect a less stable operating experience. Remember features in this channel are in beta and therefore not guaranteed to work as promised.
Lastly, the development Chrome OS channel is for the more curious user. In this channel, users will have access to features that are still being built. Keep in mind that features may not work as expected. Don’t be surprised if your device freezes up and requires a reboot.
To switch Chrome OS channels (the default channel is stable), you’ll need owner permissions for your device. You can read more about owner permissions here. Unfortunately, if you’re not already the permissions owner, you’ll need to clear local user data and reset your device.
If you are the permissions owner or have obtained owner permissions, switching Chrome OS channels is simple. To do so, select the Chrome menu and then click Settings followed by Help. Select More info next and then choose the channel you’d like to use from the dropdown menu.
To stay up to date with the latest releases for each Chrome OS system channel, make sure to follow the official Chrome Releases blog.
Chromebook Management Console
While the Chromebook Management Console is irrelevant for personal Chromebook use, the console adds ease and security to organizations deploying the devices to employees (and make onboarding new employees at BetterCloud a snap).
To gain access to the management console, you’ll need to add “management console & support” during the purchasing process. After purchasing the system, the console can be accessed through the Google Apps Control Panel in your Gmail Inbox. Simply select the gear icon, click Manage and then choose the Settings tab. Once in the Settings tab, select Chrome OS from the left-hand navigation. From here, you can configure User Settings, Device Settings and Applications and more.
Depending on your preferences, you can allow or disallow a user to configure settings for a certain area or disallow that feature altogether. Configurable settings include:
- Optional enforce safe-search
- Allow / disallow incognito windows
- Screen lock and more
The Chromebook Management Console also gives you the option to set device settings, such as:
- Release channel, which we covered above
- Metric reporting (back to Google anonymously)
- Erase all local user information after each sign-out
For me, the most useful part of the management console is the applications tab, which allows you to block, allow or pre-install Chrome Web Store apps and extensions to your users, thereby standardizing their operating experience. For example, we obviously would like our employees to use the Ask the Gooru Chrome extension, so rather than having each individual user install the extension themselves, we simply pre-install the extension so it’s ready to go when they turn on their device for the first time (note that pre-installed applications are locally applied per device, not per user).
To pre-install an app or extension, scroll to the Pre-installed Apps and Extensions section in the Applications tab, then select Manage pre-installed apps. Doing so will take you to a new screen where you can search the web store and install the desired products.
Chromebooks offer some key benefits by way of cost saving, reliability, ease of use and standardization. The devices are already extremely popular here at BetterCloud and we’re looking forward to their continued improvement.