Could Chromebox for Meetings change business videoconferencing?

A relatively low-cost videoconferencing device made for businesses

Chromebox for Meetings

Simplicity tends to rule the day in the business world. Give workers a complex app or piece of hardware and they will refuse to use it. A copier will sit idle in a hallway if it has confusing functions no one understands, but put a big bright green "copy" button on the corner and people will flock to it in droves. Make your employee expense report tool on a corporate intranet site a simple "click here" affair where they attach a spreadsheet and staff will use it routinely.

That's what's so impressive about the Dell Chromebox for Meetings computer. Designed to replace expensive on-premise videoconferencing suites for a small conference room, the computer is about the size of two decks of cards.

Dead simple

There's one USB-connected video camera, a high-quality speaker and microphone that sits at the centre of the table, a remote control, and not much else. When you boot up the Dell Chromebox for Meetings and login, you'll see nothing but a Google Hangouts app running in full screen. There's no browser. You create a room, invite participants, and can start talking. It's intuitive and easy to use.

The simplicity is an obvious focus for this new platform designed by Google. (Asus also makes a similar Chromebox for Meetings computer – both that model and the Dell cost about US$999, or around £625, AU$1,160. We expect to see more PC makers roll out similar computers with help from Google). It's unlikely anyone from IT will need to get overly involved.

You plug in the USB devices, attach to a Wi-Fi network, and login with a corporate Gmail account. A Google for Work account is ideal if you want to share work calendars. The Chromebox also includes 10 free Google Apps accounts. Otherwise, companies pay a low monthly fee per Google Apps user. If you have a personal Gmail account, you can still use it for scheduling purposes but not as the primary login.

There's no other setup process because the computer is preconfigured to work with the attached accessories and only runs Google Hangouts. Admins or end-users can press CTRL-ALT-S during the boot process to enter a normal Chrome OS mode with a browser.

During a videoconference, you can use the remote to end the call, mute the audio, or select a few of the basic options on the screen, such as starting a new video conference or ending the chat. Flip the remote over, and there's a full QWERTY keyboard, but it's not necessary.

Of course, you do need your own HDTV for connecting the Dell Chromebox for Meetings. Most companies have one available already, especially if you are replacing an existing on-premise videoconferencing system. The computer can connect over HDMI or DisplayPort. You can also attach the computer to a corporate LAN using an included Ethernet cable.