Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Management: Chromebook Style

In our current Chromebook testing phase, we are also exploring what the management console offers.  I've had experience managing machines with both Open Directory & Active Directory, so I had questions about what we could manage, especially in regards to online testing. Here are our early impressions of the management console as it relates to Chromebooks.

As you probably know, Chromebooks are made to work in a GoogleApps environment, and we have been a GAFE district since 2007.  (We didn't have much of a learning curve since we are fairly used to working in the GAFE console.)  As soon as we purchased 2 licenses (we got ours through Promevo), a new choice appeared in our GoogleApps management console under Settings: Chrome OS.

Even though we had already logged into our Chromebooks, we did a factory reset and enrolled them into our domain using the directions we found online.  I did notice that it took a while for them to appear.  I kept thinking I was doing something wrong as I got an error message, but they just appeared after a few minutes.  One downside: there doesn't seem to be a way to remove a device from the control panel yet (but that is supposed to be added in the future).

Like other settings in the GoogleApps control panel, the Chrome OS settings can be adjusted based on OU or organizational unit but cannot be adjusted for individual users (unless I missed that somehow).  One thing that's nice is that you can set most of these to "allow user to configure," if you choose.

For me, most of the really useful management options can be found under the "User Settings" tab.  This is helpful since you could potentially install the Chrome OS on other machines (like Windows or Mac computers), and you could manage some user settings on those machines using this console, provided you purchased licenses for those computers (although some settings are hardware dependent).  I got verification from our Chromebook EDU rep at Google that this could be done, but we haven't attempted it yet.

User Settings:  Explanations of the different user settings can be found on the help page for Chrome OS management, but the ones I think we would use the most would be audio & video input, screenshots, homepage and "Pages to load on start-up."  If sending Chromebooks home, we would have to use the proxy settings as we have a state law that mandates internet filtering on district-owned devices from outside our network.

Device Settings:  There are fewer options under this tab (explanations can be found here), but we would probably use the login page settings the most (especially if we had a generic test user that we wanted to manage).  Elementary school folks might like the option to restrict logins so that it's easier for younger kids to log into the Chromebooks.  I liked only having to enter the password on the login screen -- our full email address is rather long (and often incorrectly typed by our students and staff).

Network Settings:  This tab (detailed here) allows you to configure WiFi settings, VPN, and upload certificates needed for configuration.  As I mentioned before, I had difficulty with our 802.1X network working consistently, but I didn't attempt to manage it via the console.  However, if we were deploying hundreds or even thousands of machines, network management would be a feature that we would definitely utilize.  This device is obviously heavily dependent upon a network connection, so anything we could do to minimize connection issues would be very helpful.

Application Settings:  This is the last tab available in the management console, and this area is one we would use frequently, particularly if we were setting up Chromebooks for different schools or grade levels that wanted tailored content.  (This is what I wish iOS management could do, especially tied to OU).  

Not only can you determine which apps are on devices "by default," but you can also suggest apps for your organization in the Chrome store.  You can also allow users to publish their own Chrome apps privately to the domain, but we haven't had a chance to really play with that yet.  We also haven't yet experimented with purchased apps (we have found plenty of good free ones to use on our CBs).

From a management perspective, the console is super easy to use (especially compared to Active Directory). I don't have a good grasp on how long it takes to actually propagate changes across a domain (it says that it might take up to 24 hours), but I've yet to clock it.

For those folks planning for or thinking about PARCC compliance (like us), the only things that I didn't see in the console (yet) are bluetooth management options and white list options.  You can blacklist sites, but I didn't see a way to restrict the web experience to a single site.  However, I imagine there's a workaround that I haven't yet discovered (or maybe someone out there has a good solution for this).  When I asked our Chromebook EDU rep at Google, he assured me that any and all security specifications would be in place for PARCC.  I also didn't see a setting for printer management, but I'd be okay if we stopped printing altogether. . .

As mentioned earlier, this is our (admittedly) early look at the console as we've only had it for a couple of weeks.  My initial impressions, though, are very positive.  I can't imagine an easier way to manage devices in a school or district setting.    I'm really looking forward to seeing what features get added as Chromebooks become more prevalent in classrooms.