Chromebooks look a lot like a conventional laptop computer, but are designed to do only a couple of things. They were developed to access Google’s part of the Internet cloud. In a nutshell, that means it delivers:

  • The Chrome web browser.
  • Gmail and Google Calendar for, well, managing e-mail and keeping your calendar.
  • Google Docs: Word processor, Spreadsheet, and Presentation software, which can save your work in standard .doc, .xls, and.ppt formats.
  • Google Drive: File storage in the cloud.
  • Google Apps: A loose collection of business-specific versions of Google Docs, as well as other business-oriented collaborative applications that will all run inside of the Chrome browser. Google Sites is a good example.
  • Google Voice: A voice-over-IP, Skype-like replacement.
  • Google Hangouts: A place where you can make group video calls with Google+ members.

Most Chromebooks retail between $200 and $350. That means you could equip four to five employees for the cost of one high-end laptop and a single copy of Microsoft Office. You can spend more on a Chromebook with higher-end features, but I wouldn’t. Once you get above $400 you’re into good tablet and even PC laptop territory. Cost aside, having everything run and stored in the cloud means never losing data again, making Chromebooks equipped with both WiFi and 3/4G cellular ideal for your mobile users. If one falls off the back of a truck, or is stolen, you’ll be out only the cost of the hardware. Chromebooks were built for what’s commonly known as Googleware, but they will support any software that will run inside the Chrome web browser. Popular titles like QuickbooksOnline work fine, as do higher-end remodeling-specific software such as BuilderTREND and Co-Construct. But here’s an exceptions: If you depend on anything that requires Java (such as GoToMeeting) or Microsoft Silverlight (some of Microsoft’s web-based applications), you’ll need to find alternatives.

The web-based applications on a Chromebook are by their nature collaborative, making it easy for Chromebook users to share project-oriented information with other people who need to see it, including those using conventional laptops and tablets.

So is a Chromebook a good choice for the typical remodeling contractor? I wouldn’t make it my only technology, mostly because there still some categories of mission-critical software with no cloud equivalent; building-oriented CAD, for example. Printing can also be a bit of a hassle. Not being able to install software goes for local printer drivers, too, so you either have to print through a printer shared on a conventional computer on your local network or you have to buy a new “cloud ready” printer.

Until those issues are sorted out, a good strategy might be equipping your mobile users with Chromebooks and yourself with a conventional laptop or higher-end tablet. As always,  think carefully about your company’s overall requirements and get what you need to fulfill those requirements. They might not cover the entire waterfront, but Chromebooks could definitely be part of a remodeler’s overall technology plan.

--  Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. [email protected]