Woolworths dumping Windows for Chrome OS



blog Huge news coming from Computerworld today with respect to retail chain Woolworths, which is reportedly set to switch 85 percent of its PCs across to Google’s Chrome OS operating system, shifting off Windows in the process. The outlet reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“Google Chrome OS devices will account for 85 per cent of business devices at Woolworths at the completion of the supermarket’s technology transformation, according to Woolworths acting CIO, Damon Rees.”

Woolworths’ love for Google apps such as Gmail is very well-known already — in April last year it announced it was planning to shift some 26,000 staff onto Google Apps, in a move revealed after the retailer had already announced plans to shift store managers onto iPads equipped with Gmail.

However, this shift to Chrome OS on the desktop is a fundamentally different and more radical step for Woolworths. Chrome OS is great at basic tasks such as playing YouTube videos and checking your email. However, for most other tasks, including most corporate work, it is extremely limited. No Microsoft Office, no complex apps such as Adobe Photoshop … everything is supposed to take place through a browser, and that typically means the heavy desktop apps we’re all used to using are not available.

Google’s attempting to address these issues, but in the meantime Chrome OS is still a very limited desktop experience. What Woolworths is saying with this shift is that this is OK — it has no problem with the majority of its staff PCs being quite limited.

I used to work in Big W around 16 years ago as a teenager, and I have to say this makes a lot of sense. Big W’s computers at that stage were basically stock management systems — green screens connected to central servers. I anticipate that Woolworths still doesn’t want the majority of its staff having anywhere near full desktop access; it would reserve that for managers and head office ordering and administration workers. Chrome OS would make a good fit in this scenario.

However, I have to say the whole move still makes me a bit nervous. In 2014, Windows isn’t precisely that expensive for corporates as a cost, and its flexibility usually makes it the best choice for most desktops. Woolworths is placing a huge bet on a very non-standard technology here. And that’s usually a terrible idea in corporate IT. Of course, I could be very wrong, and I’d be happy to be. It will be fascinating to see where this rollout is in several years. If it works, this could be a very, very good result for Woolworths and a great case study for Google … but if it fails, it could be a big problem indeed.


  1. It’s also a support factor, it’s very difficult to “break” a ChromeOS device from a software perspective, and even if they do then you just do a powerwash and the machine is reset back to factory defaults. Then the administrator simply says he wants that device to be configured as per the corporate standard access (using the GoogleApps control panel) and then it’s back up and running again. This can take minutes rather than the hours it can take to fix/reinstall a Windows desktop and is important, especially when you’ve got multiple sites across a large geographical area.

    For reference I’m also on my son’s Chromebook right now typing this :)

  2. With the atrocity that is Windows 8 and who knows what they plan for Windows 9. Considering the requirements of a good % of users is email and document processing, Chrome OS more than covers it.

    Corporate’s were MS’s cash cow and they went chasing the low margin consumer market and left them high and dry.

    With a lot of things becoming web based, what OS you are using is largely irrelevant.

    • If you’re going to bash Windows 8, please explain why you don’t like it. Otherwise you come off sounding like a grumpy old man saying it’s not like it was in the old days. Don’t fear change, embrace it, embrace the future; I can guarantee you that Microsoft won’t be going back to Windows 7.

      • User feedback. The workflow has diverged significantly, which means it’s a non trivial change for end users that just want to get on with their jobs. The upgrade to Windows 7 a few years ago didn’t cause a huge support load (Some still don’t like it, but you’ll pry XP from their cold dead hands). The support load that would come from changing to Windows 8 would probably require an extra staff member.

        It makes the argument of why we shouldn’t change to an alternative to hold less water.

        Personally I don’t use Windows, so I’ve already embraced change.

        • Thanks for answering.

          My only point of contention with your well reasoned answer is that a leaning curve for users, whilst a pain to support, doesn’t mean that Windows 8 is a bad product, it just means it’ll take a bit of time for users to get comfortable with. In which case there’s also going to be a similar learning curve for moving from Windows 7 (or XP) to ChromeOS.

          You’re ahead of me, then, as I’m currently dabbling with migrating away from “Windows as the default desktop”.

          • You’re Welcome.

            Probably not, But I never said Windows was a good product either. What it had going for it was inertia, being “Good Enough” and familiarity.

            The move from XP -> 7 wasn’t a big learning curve for normal users, power users more so (but supporting their need to get things the way they like it is beyond the scope of our support). The jump from 7 -> 8/8.1 is quite a lot different.

            Take away Familiarity, suddenly other options don’t seem as daunting.

            I can’t wait until Steam on Linux really gains traction, there are a handful of games I play that are windows based (Wine is a thing, but when I have time to play a game, I don’t want to spend it fighting to launch it).

          • Games are the only reason why I still have a Windows box at home (admittedly in the cupboard, unfortunately there’s not enough time for games nowadays).

            Ever since Firefox started getting market share from IE, the web has been catching up to desktops as far as user experience and functionality is concerned. There’s not much nowadays you can do on a computer which a website wouldn’t suffice (or be better at). If it wasn’t for the stagnation on the web between IE6 and IE7 this day would have come a lot sooner.

            As an advanced user, I think that I would be quite limited with Chrome OS, however for my mum and dad? My brother and sister? 85% of the people that work at my company? Sure, Chrome OS would probably be sufficient, and probably much more reliable too. It would take a lot less to support, and probably save our firm a lot of money.

          • and this is why the windows fanbois try claim businesses should never move to linux – because of the learning curve, kinda moot now, might as well upgrade to an OS where your not going to have to pay ridiculously high prices for OS, databases, servers, and so on and be done with it of those that I know have, theyve never looked back (of course their IT teams detested it, mostly because they became redundant)

            (Although fanbois claims are pure BS, and many have proved that in recent years with plenty of painless migrations)

          • +1

            There’ll be whining a-plenty from all the MCSEs about this. They’ll dream up a zillion reasons why it shouldn’t happen, but won’t mention the one reason that really matters: it’s the end of their Microsoft gravy train, and they’ll have to work for a living from now on!

          • “this is why the windows fanbois try claim businesses should never move to linux – because of the learning curve, kinda moot now”

            Minus the “fanbois” slagging, this is a very good point. Windows 8 was a major mistake by Microsoft as it has allowed everyone to question whether or not they want to go on using Microsoft. When the learning curve was low, the momentum could continue unabated and very little would have stopped MS. Now they have shot themselves in their own feet and brought all OS decisions onto a far more even playing field.

        • Microsoft just planing screwed up with desktop/metro hybrid interface. The biggest usability issue is that it feels like a step back to windows 3.1 where your switching between two different OSes to do all your tasks because you still needed dos for legacy support. It would have been fine if they had gone all in on one or the other.

          • It should have been all in one or the other… All in Desktop for PCs… and All in Modern UI for Tablets and Phones…

            Modern UI is simply utterly unsuited for PCs (with mouse and keyboard) – even if you only use the Desktop (in which case there’s still an interaction cost of getting to the Desktop) there are still UI issues introduced in Windows 8. For example, when you want to search – originally, the Start menu in Win7 had all the options right there… instead you first have to wait for the “Start menu” (if you can call it that) to open, then click the Search option, it opens a gigantic search panel which wastes a lot of screen space (which may be just fine… up to you) and the search box is in the top right corner of the screen – the opposite corner of the screen. Then there’s Share, I mean really, corporations are really going Share-crazy, I wonder how many people actually take screenshots of their desktop and want to share it then and there… The rest of it, the Modern UI has kind of crept into the shell style begun in Windows 95 and perfected (as near as I can tell) in Windows 7, and it’s just an unholy hybrid of the two…

            But instead of doing the rational thing, they tried this “All in One” business which sounds nice in theory (USPs and what not) but is an utter failure in reality. I was honestly once of the view that one day you could have the ultimate cross-platform software… but Windows 8 has proven that’s a fantasy that will never be realised.

            Btw, did you read the article linked? It’s a great site, they’re an organisation that researches usability and human-computer interaction. When you talk about how it’s like MS brought us back to the days of DOS/Win3.1, I think you’re talking about what NNgroup call “interaction cost”.

            It’s really not an issue of needing to re-learn things as someone above said, but that Win8 is just not quite fit for purpose. It’s like using the wrong tool for the job – yeah, if you learn to use it in a certain way, you might be able to get it to work, but why not just use the right tool for the job?

      • Great. That’s why I can promise you that MS are irrelevant in 2014. MS fails to listen to consumers and corporates alike. Their dictating how computing should be has always been wrong. Finally everyone has realised it’s not how it should be. Good ridddance to MS. It’s great to see large organisations embracing new technology. MS has had yearsa to bring something new and good… they didn’t.

  3. Given most modern business software runs on browsers anyway, Chrome OS is a good choice. The issue will be legacy apps and Mainframes, however that could be run via a virtual desktop via the browser (like Citric)

      • Indeed! There’s a whole lot of crappy bespoke fat client apps out there that require some very specific DLLs to work, or a very specific version of Java Runtime. I’ve seen it all – banks, government departments, hospitals, companies large and small.

    • Small business “cloud” software offerings run via the browser. Most higher end systems still run primarily as a desktop-installable program. “apps” that work with these systems are usually function-specific and more of a useful but still proof-of-concept in their design. I think we’re a while away from an “app” that allows SAP to flex all of its muscles, and I think apps for business systems are closer than fully functional web interfaces – rightly or wrongly, but apps are definitely the current flavour.

    • Most line of business applications are developed using web technology like Ruby on tell with Google AngularJS client side code following Agile methodology, well the smart companies are. TDD test driven development where you write tests before coding til it passes this way you can keep adding features with confidence you haven’t broken anything.

  4. This might have something to do with Google signing up VMWare for desktop as a service maybe?

  5. I congratulate the move towards open source direction, but, chromeos? Bad choice IMHO – Oh well, at least the U.S. NSA will love woolies, what they cant get now off gmail they’ll get off this move.

    Should of looked at more established and trusted OS OS’s, and no that does not include malware laden ubuntu ewwww.

    • “NSA will love woolies, what they cant get now off gmail they’ll get off this move.”

      Yeah those pesky Woolworth terrorists are a high priority for the NSA I’m sure ;)

      • Can we call it terror if one of their milk bottles leaks? It can result in a smell that could be confused with chemical warfare.

      • Ahh but the NSA doesnt discriminate, it doesnt care if your a terrorist, a woolies checkout kid, or, the head of the German Govt :) it just wants all your secrets – personal, and corporate.

  6. Hey guys, We need to get serious, really.
    Your Granny can switch away from Windoze to safe, safe, Linux in a lovely way by you installing one of the two easiest best Systems I’ve found since 1984, when I started with an Osborne Executive.

    Uberstudent from Uberstudent.com, which can autoinstall onto the fabulous VBox and be safe forever.
    Linux Mint Distro mint.com is prettier in default install.

    Best of all, your support dwindles to nothing – especially with Uberstudent as it autoupdates with seriously useful programs daily.

    BTW: Linux – portability = using the tablet too, with no learning curve.

  7. Hmm lots of speculation and hand wringing in here, but probably not surprising when the topic is OS suitability.

    The problem with Win8 is the same problem MS had with Vista – trying to force it’s decisions and direction on users, instead of giving them what they wanted, expected and were familiar with as a default and giving the option and flexibility to add features and change the GUI easily and intuitively. The Start Screen is actually a great idea, but it should be an option. Trying to force Windows users into Modern UI and kill off the desktop was always doomed to failure. Fortunately the ego that drove this suicide train has now left and the new direction for Win9 sounds like they are finally listening, but we’ll know more at the developers conference in April.

    As for replacing Windows in the corporate world, the fact is there is no simple replacement for Windows Server, and Server 2012 R2 significantly strengthens that position. What has been done with Hyper-V is brilliant – for MS environments (particularly large enterprise) Hyper-V hasn’t just caught up, it introduces trump cards that make it extremely difficult to justify other hypervisor environments.

    And that’s just one feature. I’m no MS stooge – I am interested in the best result for my clients – MS environments may cost more initially, but they are faster to deploy, significantly better understood and supported, far cheaper/easier to maintain and consistently result in a lower TCO. Unless your Linux guy is working for free, in which case you could make the same argument for a MS engineer working for free.

    Don’t get me wrong – MS need to pull their finger out with Win9. But a the two biggest reasons for slow Win8 sales is the learning curve for Corp staff and the existence of Win7 – why go to Win8 when Win7 is available, familiar and reliable?

    • ” MS environments may cost more initially, but they are faster to deploy, significantly better understood and supported, far cheaper/easier to maintain and consistently result in a lower TCO. ”

      What rot! and the city of Munich is one excellent example that proved it.

      As for supported, MSCE’s are a dime a dozen, and ongoings would be fairly equal regardless, if you need ITS, you need ITS, be it Linux, Mac, or Win*.

      few years ago I worked for a small company (190 users) that was forever having its IT contractor called in because of server issues every few weeks, 120 an hour min 2 hours plus his travel time, this was regular over a 2.5 year period, the manager finally said to me if I could show him samba on linux was more stable he’d move, I duplicated the MS server, after 4 weeks of trouble free operation he turned off the winserver, told me to duplicate the new samba server on it, it worked error free.

      The IT contractor was highly full of aggressive FUD claiming the business will implode and all sorts of crap moving to linux, to this day, some 5 years on, those two same samba servers are happily doing their jobs on the same hardware as then, without one single failure. My only regret was never being able to convince him to move desktops to linux, but our internal software would need to be rewritten, that would be where the large cost is stopping it. That said I do like win7.

      (Providing you choose your distro carefully, you will always be far better off, opensuse -tumbleweed for example is an ongoing forever moving updated OS, like gentoo, no need to worry about 18 months, 5 years, or 3 years like in the case of malware laden ubuntu etc)

      both sides have their fans, experiences show microsodts FUD for what it really is.
      BrownieBoy summed it up rather nicely.

      • Classic case of blaming the system instead of the environment/configuration. I can give you countless examples of Windows servers that have ticked along with very little maintenance required, but that’s meaningless. If you think that the definition of a reliable server is one that needs no interaction or management for months at a time then that’s a problem with your concepts of management and security.

        As you said, MCSE’s are a dime a dozen, so why couldn’t they find a cheaper/more competent & capable or trustworthy engineer? If the Win server needed ongoing interaction to cope with changing requirements that’s one thing, but if it’s because it was unreliable that’s no fault of Windows.

        So I’m sorry Nobby, but your fundamental assumptions justifying your position are invalid – there’s a place for Windows environments and a place for Linux (I vastly prefer Linux for Web servers, for example), but in my experience most of the MS bashers lack the requisite experience with MS environments to make a qualified judgement – here’s a hint: if you think MS software is unsuitable for any environment you are being irrational and simply demonstrating your lack of knowledge.

        • It is like Linux fan boys talking about how insecure windows desktops are forgetting the the entire time the malware was most likely distributed by compromised LAMP stacks. A bad workman blames the tools. It is a matter of using the right tools for the job, sometimes the right tool is the one you already have access to. We run windows servers, I do have some tasks I would rather run on a linux distro but I already have a configured windows servers ready to go with spare resources suitable to task and limited budget so the task goes to one of these machines. Heck if it wasn’t for one LoB app and security concerns I would replace a number of our desktop with apples.

  8. Yer like I purchased 2 new laptops with win 8 for my daughters (their at UNI), guess what I have spent hours sorting them out. Installed Office 2013, Ran MS update. Then

    Both Bluetooth mice stop working after 2 min after reboot, because the OS is “power saving”, no options to in the HW settings to disable power saving. Options: Reboot every 2 min of remove reinstall mouse every 2 min or reg hack.

    Use the Sony updater, take option to update the wireless tools, totally killed both laptops (no desktop no keyboard) all with single DLL error. So yer ok a problem here not the OS as such, a Sony crap problem But!

    One non core device driver (wireless) is corrupted and kills the entire OS?

    OK, try to roll back to the pre update state, no good because the both the new (hours old) OS, recovery points are corrupt.

    Try to un-install Sony wireless tools. MS OS sorry Will Robinson there has “Been an Error” wow good error message.

    Try to install Sony wireless tools over the top of the existing one (same version). MS OS error Sorry Will Robinson there has “Been an Error”.

    Try hacking the missing DLL into the system, and then un-install nope not going to work.

    Sony “smart recovery” (er a bit of oxymoron here) fails, don’t comment that this is not an OS problem, please as I know this.

    Both laptops had to reset to factory defaults, and now I have to phone and beg MS AU to let me have both the Office 2013 licences released.

    I have supported many win 7 OS over the years, for friends, work and my home, not one problem I could not recover from.

    And don’t get me started on the inconstancies in the way the menus are rendered and truly mindbogglingly naming conventions.

    Win 8 = wast of time.

  9. I actually work in the support office. The transfer from windows to google was a bit out of this world at first. But it started getting easier. There is a whole world of collaboration. People are able to work in different areas of the building on the same documents. There is also the teleconferencing piece with chromebooks. Its really not a bad move.

  10. @Renai,

    > In 2014, Windows isn’t precisely that expensive for corporates as a cost

    Surely you jest.

    Windows has to be one the biggest drains on corporate IT.

    Let’s skip over the initial procurement cost for the software itself. Maybe the company got a deal on that, right? But Windows is a product that just keeps taking and taking (your money) while returning very little.

    Support Personnel
    Any reasonably sized roll out of Windows will need a small army of MCSEs to keep it going. The very real problem with Windows is, and has always been, that it just doesn’t work properly. It’s bloaty, buggy and susceptible to every malware attack going.

    So about those MCSEs. What it is exactly is it that they do? In every company that I’ve ever worked in, here’s the MCSE’s 5 point plan to attacking any problem:

    1. Restart the app.
    2. Restart the OS.
    3. Reinstall the app.
    4. Reinstall the OS.
    5. Log a call with MS… and wait.

    That’s it. And there could be dozens of them, or even hundreds if you’re a really big company, making a living doing not much else. Add up all their salaries and super contributions when you’re totalling the costs of having Windows in your company.

    Server Costs
    Windows clients tend to lead you to have, nay demand, Windows server products. You know, Exchange, Sharepoint and so on. And these are products that give and give (your money to Microsoft),

    * You pay money for the server OS. You’ll want the special “Enterprise” edition. You know, the one that doesn’t actually *do* anything that the cheaper versions don’t do. You just get to pay through the nose because you want more than 10 people to connnect.
    * You pay money for the application CAL (Client Access Licence).
    * You pay money for the OS CAL.

    What’s that? You pay twice for CALs? You betcha! You might think that a Sharepoint CAL, or an MS SQL server CAL covers a user to access the server upon which that application is hosted. But no. Generally, you’ll need a second, OS (i.e Windows) level CAL to be compliant. And because Microsoft server apps will only ever run on Microsoft servers, you’re pretty much stuck with their double dipping.

    Did I mention compliance?

    Oh yes, if you’re on the proprietary software world and you’re a biggish sized company then you’re going to be into compliance in a big way! For sure, Microsoft isn’t the only cause here, but they’re generally one of the biggest.

    Which means you’re going to need a Compliance Department!! Yep, they do exist. Whole departments making sure that you’re paying the requisite fees to Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and their ilk.

    Woe betide you if you skip this. Microsoft have raided some some big companies in the past, and don’t think that ignorance is any kind of defence when they come a knocking.

    Again, add up all the salaries and super contributions for the Compliance Department when you’re totalling up the costs of having Windows in your company. A company running only open source, such as Linux or ChromeOS can pretty much kiss goodbye to this whole department.

    • You have some spittle dripping from the foam around your mouth there, BrownieBoy.

      I’m not sure why people like you don’t realise you undermine any validity your argument might have when you start making wildly inaccurate claims. To attempt to claim that every sysadmin and engineer with an MCSE is utterly incompetent and incapable of even performing the most routine of trouble-shooting procedures is simply ridiculous. The very fact that they have an MCSE means they have at least been trained in standard Windows diagnostic procedures, but given that the vast majority of MCSEs are already highly qualified and experienced in network and system administration we can infer that most of them are, at worst, at least capable of analysing the Windows event log and following through steps to rectify problems, which completely invalidates your hysterical claim.

      And stating that the Enterprise version is required to connect more than 10 users is just silly.

      I understand your point – MS environments have licensing fees, and sometimes those fees are onerous. But that’s where alternatives come in – I don’t see what the problem is when customers are free to choose whatever product meets their needs given their particular budget constraints – CALs aren’t actually that expensive, and if they are too expensive for a particular business then maybe their ideal IT systems are beyond their budget and current profitability…

      The thing it comes down to is minimising downtime and exposure to loss for the business. If they get Windows systems, what will it cost them and how costly/difficult/time consuming will it be to both manage and recover if things go bad? Compare to alternatives – sure, Linux might be cheaper, but you need someone with extensive skills to set up and manage a corporate environment. Such people areboth rare and expensive, and it can be that person that becomes the single point of failure. Businesses can’t afford to operate like that, and if they think they can they need to do some risk assessments.

      That doesn’t mean a Linux environment isn’t going to be right for anyone, but it is only right if adequately skilled and knowledgeable techs/engineers are readily available to manage that environment competently for a reasonable fee – $100/hr difference between engineers’ rates quickly overshadows any initial difference in licensing costs.

      BTW thanks for the one about Windows being bloaty, buggy and not working properly – just like your friend above, you’re just demonstrating your lack of understanding managing MS environments. Windows may be the most maligned and attacked environment in the world, but it is also the most well understood and supported by security vendors and Microsoft are far more proactive about fixing vulnerabilities when they are found compared with the alternatives. ANY software can be compromised, but at least if you’re running patched, firewalled and protected machines your chances of compromise are exceedingly small – all of the Linux distros and even Apple lag way behind MS when it comes to patching vulnerabilities. But you know, thanks for the LOLs :-)

  11. @TrevorX,

    > Linux might be cheaper, but you need someone with extensive skills to set up
    > and manage a corporate environment … $100/hr difference between engineers’
    > rates quickly overshadows any initial difference in licensing costs

    For real? $100 per hour *difference* between Linux and MS Engineers? Wow, wee! Things are even better than I thought!

    Even if that’s true, it only becomes more expensive for the company if you have the same number of Engineers in place after booting out Microsoft. But I don’t believe that will be the case, because one skilled Linux Engineer can be as productive as say five MCSEs.

    Notice that I said “productive” not “harder working”. I’m sure most Microsoft guys are hard working at what they do. But the truth is that the restarts, reboots and reinstalls that make up a large chunks of their week simply isn’t productive work as far as the company’s bottom line goes. Free of all those shenanigans, the Linux Engineer can plan ahead and actually improve and grow his/her infrastructure. (S)he can gain the company a real competitive advantage, rather than fire fighting and trying to keep the entire house of cards from falling down.

    • That was an example. Obviously. But not a particularly outlandish one – there are plenty of Linux cowboys out there (like anything) but those who really know what they are doing and can think analytically are rare and worth their weight in gold (BTW that’s also not literal). If MCSEs are so common, people with a rare and valuable skillset should be making a lot more, right?

      Also interesting that that’s the part of my comment you decided to focus on ;-) Nothing like focusing on some minor point to distract from the flaws in your own argument, huh? ;-)

      • Linux systems is where DevOps started. Managing large complex systems using Linux is very easy and automated. Research DevOps – Windoze is just starting to catch up. I’ve maintained over 80 Linux/Unix systems of every kind as a part time effort. The 12 or so Microsoft servers took so much more effort. Sql server cluster what a joke. Mixed Aix hpux solaris linux itanium we had everything and in every configuration. 3 windows admins for a smaller setup. They couldn’t believe how automated my so was.

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