Cloud ComputingAttorneys are notoriously bad with technology. There are few times I’ve walked into a law office that isn’t having some type of tech-related problem. You know what the big problem is with all these tech problems in a firm – they cost money! IT issues cost money to fix, they create costly downtime, and lead to lingering inefficiencies that drain money which attorneys could otherwise be using in their personal lives. With the upcoming death of Windows XP (the operating system will stop getting security updates on April 8th, 2014), now is the perfect time to look at technology options attorneys can be upgrading to.

Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system was pretty much the only option for law firms when it launched in 2001. Microsoft is about to kill off support for the OS which means that law firms still running it are about to have major security problems and can expect viruses/malware galore if they don’t upgrade. In spite of this, roughly 27 percent of all computer use in March was from Windows XP and most of that was in businesses such as law firms[i]. Law firms in the US are about to shell out quite a bit of money for technology upgrades. I decided to take a look at how law firms can save on the up-front cost of these upgrades and improve their efficiency while they’re at it.

Is Chrome OS and option for law firms?

You may or may not have heard of Chrome OS. It’s Google’s browser-based operating system that’s been out for a while now. Sales of Chrome OS computers are growing rapidly. Sales were negligible in 2012 but Chromebooks (which are Chrome OS notebooks) accounted for 21 percent of notebooks sales through November of 2013[ii]. There are some upsides and downsides for law firms that are considering switching to Chrome OS.

The first upside for a firm considering Chrome OS is cost. Desktop systems (called a “Chromebox”) can be purchased new for under $200. Likewise, Chromebooks can also be purchased for under $200. Since the operating system is browser based it doesn’t require high-end hardware to run; this means you can buy a well-performing system dirt cheap. Last time I checked attorneys hate spending money on technology.

The second upside of using Chrome OS is security. I’ve walked into few law firms that haven’t had problems with malware, spyware, viruses, etc. There are two kinds of security issues. The first is the person sitting in front of the keyboard who responds to every fake email asking them for passwords or sensitive information. That’s a problem that will always exist. The second type of security issues, however, are those that don’t come directly from the user and Chrome OS eliminates most of these as all the security is handled at cloud level.

A third-upside of a browser based OS is that as long as your internet connection is working you won’t have any software problems. So switching to Chrome OS will save you upfront costs and will also save all that money you lose in downtime because your firm’s tech doesn’t feel like working on a given day.

The downside of Chrome OS is simple. It’s a browser based operating system. In other words, virtually all of your computing will be done in a browser and will require an internet connection. A lot of the desktop programs you traditionally relied on won’t work on Chrome OS and you’ll need to migrate to alternatives.

Sound unappealing? You’ll be surprised how many viable (and much cheaper) software web-based alternatives can be found for Chrome OS. Also, losing your data will not be an issue for quite a few of the programs you have been using for years.

Testing Chrome OS for law firms

I love a good ol’ fashioned challenge. Over the next 30 days I won’t be touching my Unbuntu/Windows dual boot machine and will rely solely on a Chromebook to get work done. I’ll also test several alternatives for various software programs that attorneys will need in their practice. Along the way I’ll post articles on how the challenge is going. Areas I’ll pay special attention to will include:

  • Productivity tools – Will attorneys miss programs such as Outlook, Word, Excel, Skype, and Quickbooks? We’ll find out.
  • Law Office Productivity – What about billing and case management software? Several options are actually available on Chrome OS and we’ll see how the stack up.
  • How well does Chrome OS work with your existing products? What about printers, scanners, etc.?
HP Chromebook

I’ll be conducting a 30-day trial run with the HP Pavilion Chromebook

At the end we’ll look at how viable an option Chrome OS is for law firms and whether they should consider making a switch. What are your thoughts of practicing entirely in the cloud? Feel free to chime in on the comment form below.

[i] Windows XP hangs tough as support deadline looms – accessed at: http://www.cnet.com/news/windows-xp-hangs-tough-as-support-deadline-looms/

[ii] US Commercial Computing Device Sales…https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/u-s-commercial-channel-computing-device-sales-set-to-end-2013-with-double-digit-growth-according-to-npd/