Chromebooks and Chrome OS
The fact that I love Google has become something of a running joke at Oswestry School. Since stumbling across the platform in late 2011 it has transformed the way I work. It wasn't long before, with the wide-eyed zeal of a neophyte, I imposed GAFE on the whole school. In the 2 years or so since we moved over to becoming a GAFE school I think, jokes aside, the staff are every bit as keen on the platform as I am.
It seemed like a natural next step for us then, following a visit from C-learning at the start of this term, to get the staff further up-to-speed. The plan was to make our integration with Google deeper still by looking into adopting Chromebooks across the enterprise. This, I thought, would embed the adoption of all Google's offerings and rid us of the last vestiges of the pre-cloud age. I had been using a Chromebook myself for a long while and had got on very well with it.
@iannairn sent us up 15 to trial and I duly passed them out around the staff so that they could have a play. They all enjoyed them, and not one of them said they wouldn't jump at the chance of owning one if the school dipped into its coffers and started offering them out. Nonetheless, after a lot of soul-searching, we've decided not to become a Chromebook-only school. Here's why:
- Since we moved to GAFE we've been using a Google-sites based intranet to direct staff to the stuff they need. But it's becoming crowded and unwieldy and we want to move to a neater solution. Our resident IT geek has come up with a clean-looking remote desktop solution that will allow staff to get right to the stuff they need, Windows based or otherwise. In order for this to work well though we need machines that cope not just with Remote Desktop Protocol (as Chromebooks do) but with RemoteApps. There is no native RemoteApps client for Chrome which would mean that we'd have to rely on a server application like Ericom Connect. Windows does RemoteApps natively so by going Chrome we'd be adding an unnecessary degree of complexity. If we went for a Chrome solution we'd still have to pay for Microsoft licensing AND for the Ericom license. So there is a small extra cost here in going Chrome - not a game changer, but something to slightly take the shine off going totally across to Chromebooks.
- Our MIS, though it has a web-based front end, is Windows-to-the-core for all the behind the scenes stuff. Most staff don't need to go there, but a good number do. However much we want to embrace Chrome-OS we're never going to get to a state where all the computers in school are Google-only machines. Once we'd recognised this the shine rather went off the vision of a mono-Chrome (excuse the pun!) ecosystem. If 'important people' are using Windows machines it seems churlish not to allow everyone to use one if they wish.
- Once we had accepted that we'd never be able to rid the school entirely of Windows machines we came to the realisation that running a mixed economy of school-owned machines would introduce unnecessary complexity and costs. To run two systems together means there are always two settings to configure. Any changes that had to be made in the future would have to be made across two different management systems. This works against our principal of reducing complexity wherever we can.
- There is no longer such a large price differential between a basic Chromebook and a low-end Windows machine. Nor is there much difference in login times. In the trial we did on the school's network between this Chromebook and this (cheap) Windows laptop with a £40 SSD inside and running Chrome OS, both were fully up-and-running in 30 seconds first time around then 5-10 thereafter. My own Asus Zenbook is on and ready to go from a cold start in 10 seconds.
- It is true that almost for almost all Windows-based pieces of software there are now adequate equivalents that are entirely web-based. And, of course, as time goes on web-based alternatives are only likely to get better. But at the moment there is still a wide gulf in the capability of many web-only applications and their full-fat alternatives. Having recently purchased Read & Write, for example, it became clear that we couldn't recommend Chromebooks for the pupils most in need of the Read & Write help. There are still too many things missing from the Chrome version that are baked into the full Windows version.
- Then there is the uncomfortable fact that, at least for the next two years ICT syllabuses like this one still more-or-less compel pupils to do their work using Microsoft Office programs. Even when ICT has finally given up the ghost as a subject GCSE and A-level computer scientists are going to need IDEs like PyCharm or Visual Studio. It is possible using services like Ericom Connect to effect a workaround but reservations remain. To offer up an analogue analogy it seems rather like telling someone that they can write using a beautiful fountain pen, but only if the pen is encased in the shell of a biro...
Don't get me wrong, I love the simplicity of Chromebooks and can see that they have real potential in the classroom. We certainly won't be banning their use in school. It's just that as an organization we have decided it would be unwise to dive headlong into their adoption at the expense of all else. It pains me to say it, but I have come to believe this: