Has Windows 11 strengthened the case for Chromebooks?

Analyst Opinion

I was left with two overriding thoughts following Microsoft’s recent launch of Windows 11 and the Windows 365 Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) proposition.

My first thought was positive and pragmatic. As I discussed in a recent post, Windows 11 could represent an opportunity for some IT teams to achieve a quick win. It changes very little in terms of Windows desktop fundamentals, potentially allowing a ‘nicer’ user experience to be rolled out with relatively little disruption.

My second thought was not exactly negative, but it did lead me to question how serious Microsoft is about helping customers with more transformative ambitions. I don’t mean in relation to employees with more demanding requirements such as media production, software development and other activities needing workstation-class devices, but the broader population of business users.

Windows 11 is no game-changer

If you were waiting for something game-changing here, you might understandably be disappointed. Even if you missed Microsoft quietly discarding the notion of a lighter, simpler desktop OS option, the fanfare around Windows 11 signals a doubling down on the status quo. This means more of the same, and admins, security teams and finance managers continuing to live with complexity-related costs and distractions.

And shifting the desktop stack to the other side of the network through on-prem VDI or cloud-based DaaS isn’t really a proper answer to this. Sure, you can achieve a degree of simplification with shared images and various forms of virtualisation. But you are still left with an inherently complex systems stack that eats up resources and needs a lot of management effort to secure, operate and support. The pricing of Windows 365 corroborates this – one or another, you’re still going to pay.

Against this background, I’ve heard some commentators argue that Microsoft’s apparent lack of ambition with Windows 11 might stimulate interest in the Mac, especially given the recent leaps forward with Apple silicon. Others have said, ever hopefully – and despite previous failed predictions, that the time really has now come for Desktop Linux to step up and take Windows head-on.

The trouble is that both MacOS and the most popular Desktop Linux distros are based on the same ‘fat client’ computing model as traditional Wintel. While there might be good reasons to consider them instead of upgrading to Windows 11, they won’t help you address the problem of desktop estate complexity. Deploy enough of either and you’ll end up in pretty much the same place as you were with your Windows environment.

Against this backdrop, the case for looking at Chromebooks has arguably been strengthened considerably. Through this route, Google is already offering that simple, lightweight alternative that some were hoping to see from Microsoft. Furthermore, Chrome OS is mature now, at 10 years old, and is backed by a comprehensive suite of management tools delivered as part of the overall Chrome Enterprise proposition.

Are you frustrated enough yet?

Of course, many IT teams remain committed to Windows as the centre of their desktop strategy, some for strategic reasons, others simply on a ‘better the Devil you know’ basis or to avoid the cost and disruption of switching. But if you’ve read this far, the chances are that you recognised at least some of the issues and frustrations I’ve touched on, in which case the question is where to go next.

Well, there’s a lot to think through if you want to explore the potential of Chromebook adoption, even if it’s only for a subset of your users. Over the next few posts, I’ll therefore be looking at the practicalities based on input from those who have made the move, and from suppliers such as Citrix, HPE, Dell and others who have supported them along the way. I’ll also touch on the importance of thinking in terms of a new model for end user computing and how this can be transformative for both IT teams and users.

So, while Chromebooks and Chrome Enterprise may not be right for everyone, watch this space if you are interested in a real-world view so you can make up your own mind.

Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.