29 May 2016

Switching to a Chromebook.

speedylaptop.jpgThe era of needing to deal with over five million known virus strains and constant Windows updates when working remotely is coming to an end thanks to the Chromebook. Heck, Google just recently doubled their reward to $100K for anyone that can hack a Chromebook. Do no take mine or Google's word for the security - independent security experts have been saying for some time that Chrome OS devices are the safest to use. The only thing holding back the corporate world is how to take advantage of this new world. Everyone has spent years, or perhaps decades, creating a remote access environment specifically for Windows devices and now we need to make some minor changes to switch to this safer, faster, longer battery life and less expensive devices world.

The first thing you should do is create a Google account, provided you do not already have one. I also highly recommend having Google Drive convert all Microsoft Office documents to Google Drive format for easy offline editing. You will want to set your Chromebook to sync your documents offline so you can edit all Google Drive documents. Now whenever you save to Google Drive on the desktop or copy over Word or Excel documents into Google Drive on your desktop it will convert them to local Google Drive format that can easily be read and edited offline on the Chromebook. After you get done editing the documents in Google Drive you can easily export them back into Microsoft Office format. There is even an app for accessing Google Drive directly from within Microsoft Office on the desktop.

You can read, edit and create Microsoft Office documents directly on a Chromebook without using Google Drive and even have it directly connect with OneDrive and other third party tools, but everything works vastly better when you use Google’s offerings since Chrome OS is made to work with those natively.

Most all major software companies have been building extensions of major basic applications for direct use in Chrome OS. VMware, which virtualizes most all servers, is available for Chrome OS. I use Citrix Receiver daily to connect to virtual machines. There are numerous applications for doing PDF reading and editing in the Chrome, including Acrobat Reader, but my favorite is Xodo.

There are some notable exceptions, like Skype, which could easily be fully compatible on a Chromebook but Microsoft would prefer wait for Android compatibility on Chrome OS later in 2016. Once the Google Play store is operating in Chrome OS the end user will be able to run nearly every major piece of software made.

The biggest advantage to Chrome is that it does not natively run Windows software. This allows the device to have zero viruses and be impervious to the Crypto schemes that are bringing hospitals, banks and everyone else to their knees. So, how are people able to use all of their favorite Windows software? You simply remote control a Windows computer or connect to a virtual machine. This allows you to use this software faster than any Windows laptop can run it plus have access to all network data since you are working with your actual computer.

Perhaps the easiest way to give an employee all of their Windows applications when working remotely is to simply use LogMeIn or Ericom AccessNow or some other remote control solution. These applications work perfectly from a Chromebook and can allow an employee to connect directly to their desktop in seconds. This can also be used to connect directly to servers or a server gateway. Another option is

If you are looking for a free option, you will want to pick up Google’s own Chrome Remote Desktop which I use daily to connect to multiple different workstations. Simply install Chrome on any Windows or Mac PC you want to connect to and install the Chrome Remote Desktop application on there. Follow the instructions to install an additional runtime app on the system, set a password and then you should be set to connect at any time. A huge bonus is that applications like Photoshop and Visual Studio run at full desktop speed and can put to shame laptops at any price.

Many offices already use VPN connections to allow RDP/Terminal Server on Windows devices. Yes, to get a Microsoft server to permit Chrome OS connections you will need to install a secondary program. VPN connections themselves are a security mess and are particularly dangerous when using them from Windows remote devices (this is how companies are being destroyed by CryptoLocker), but I can fully understanding wanting to keep a similar setup. There are many VPN options available for Chrome OS and it is just a matter of finding the best one for your agency to implement or wait for Android compatibility to support your current option. That said, for security reasons agencies should never allow VPN from Windows devices.

If you need to run the Microsoft RDP app and are not able to install the Chrome add-on on the server and cannot wait for “official” built-in Android compatibility for Chrome OS, you can actually install nearly any Android application today. You can compile the Microsoft RDP Android app specifically for Chrome OS with this GitHub information. Personally, I am waiting for the Play Store (Android compatibility) directly from Google later in 2016, but many companies are already running their needed Android apps on Chromebook devices.

Google has a list of devices that they have officially blessed for Android compatibility later this year. I would recommend selecting a device from that list if you will need to run Android apps.