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How to deploy Office productivity apps on Chromebooks

Web app versions of the Microsoft Office productivity suite lack some features, so IT teams should learn how to deliver the full versions of the apps to systems such as ChromeOS.

IT managers and administrators understand the importance of providing Windows applications to users in any environment on any device, such as the low overhead Chromebook endpoint.

However, getting the full Windows versions of the Microsoft Office productivity apps to work on Chromebooks isn't a simple, out-of-the-box process. IT administrators should explore this process to see if it presents a viable use case within their organization's existing end-user computing infrastructure and via third-party software from vendors such as Cameyo.

Why is it important to get Microsoft productivity applications on a Chromebook?

Many enterprise organizations are considering or have completed a move to Chromebooks and ChromeOS for hardware cost reduction and elimination of OS patching policies for Windows. Additionally, some organizations may not want to invest the time, effort and licenses to get the desktop version of Microsoft's productivity applications. Microsoft does offer online versions of these applications that are much easier to deploy and access, but they often do not contain the rich feature sets of the desktop version.

There are also alternate apps such as Google Sheets, Slides and Docs that IT managers often use to save on cost or for convenience. However, they are not the same as the full-fledged Microsoft productivity apps, require user training and do not have the full Microsoft feature set. Many organizations deploy desktop and web apps from multiple software providers, making management, training, user experience and support a real challenge. Adding BYOD endpoints can complicate things further while adding security risks.

Virtual applications are another method to deploy applications that aren't compatible with a local OS but getting them to the desktop can be challenging for administrators who aren't familiar with such technologies.

From a user's point of view, the best environment to work within is a simple environment. They don't want to have a set of steps to get to an application and they want apps to be fully functional. While some organizations are moving to more simplified endpoints such as the Chromebook to simplify management, delivery and support, it is a challenge to get the full versions of Microsoft apps on the Chromebook.

How Cameyo can bring full Office apps to Chromebooks

A new technology from Cameyo called Virtual App Delivery (VAD) can help organizations deliver Microsoft applications to Chromebooks with minimal effort. VAD uses software-based app delivery controllers to send out applications over any infrastructure including cloud and other virtual infrastructures, providing additional benefits such as load balancing.

Cameyo's technology can deliver the Microsoft Office apps directly to end users' Chromebooks, but what makes this unique is that the applications have the interface and extra features that the Chromebook web applications usually lack. These applications show up in the Chromebook Launcher section like they would on a Windows or macOS desktop.

The interface of a Chromebook laptop showing the Office apps in the startup menu.
Figure 1. The Chromebook's Launcher showing the Office applications natively available to run.

Cameyo uses an integrated file system in ChromeOS to deploy apps as progressive web apps (PWAs) while still providing a native app experience to end users. While the Microsoft productivity apps will be the primary use for this technology, it isn't limited to Microsoft applications. IT teams can deploy Windows, Linux, SaaS, custom developed, even compute-intensive auto-CAD applications in a similar manner. Cameyo integrates with directory services such as Active Directory, making permission and group management easier without requiring a full VDI deployment.

Cameyo's installation and configuration are simple, and the company offers a demo and access to a 30-day trial version with support. The install process can take as little as a few minutes. There are really no hardware requirements for IT teams using the fully hosted option in Cameyo's cloud service, but there are still a few guidelines for new admins to get Cameyo up and running.

  1. Start a free trial -- this step is optional but highly recommended.
  2. Purchase Cameyo licenses. Learn about the fully hosted and self-hosted options prior to purchasing the licenses.
  3. Check that all the required software licenses are in place and are published on Cameyo.
  4. Make a plan for authentication. While Cameyo works with any single sign-on -- such as Active Directory, Google G-Suite, OKTA and Ping -- SSO is not required.
  5. Plan for how the hosting will function. Organizations can use public cloud, private cloud or local servers to host Cameyo but they are not required.

Cameyo hosting options for VAD applications

Prior to installing Cameyo, it's important to understand the two Cameyo hosting options: Fully Hosted and Self Hosted.

Cameyo Fully Hosted

Cameyo Fully hosted is an option that requires no customer infrastructure. Cameyo hosts the entire infrastructure, including servers, apps and management such as usage optimization, and licensing monitoring. Hosted on Google Cloud, Cameyo can flex the number of servers with a defined safety margin. Customers must provide any application licenses.

The fully hosted pricing is $18-40 per user, per month, and it comes with Cameyo licensing, hosting costs and Remote Desktop Services (RDS) client access license (CAL) costs for productivity apps. Organizations that require GPU-heavy applications or 24x7 application usage should contact Cameyo directly for detailed cost info.

Cameyo Self Hosted

Cameyo Self Hosted relies on the customer to provide infrastructure such as servers, public or private cloud hosting including hosting costs, monitoring, management and RDS CALs. As such, this option is ideal for enterprise organizations with existing private clouds or server farms. Cameyo will work with customers in setting up the self-hosted environment. A Self Hosted license costs $5-11 per user, per month, but additional quantity discounts are available for large organizations with several thousand users.

Installing Cameyo and publishing applications to a Chromebook

With the hosting and licenses in place, it's time for administrators to install Cameyo.

Step 1

Upon purchase of a Cameyo license, Cameyo sends an email with a link for installation. The email has an activation link and account for sign on, in addition to links to two instructional videos. Cameyo also automatically schedules a meeting where a Cameyo staffer will help customers get started. After logging in, the user is presented with an admin console in a browser (Figure 2). IT admins can add the Cameyo Admin app to their desktop for ease of use.

The interface of Cameyo's management dashboard.
Figure 2. The Cameyo dashboard tracking the sessions of application delivery.

Step 2

The next step is to configure a server with a choice for Self Hosted or Fully Hosted. This example uses the Fully Hosted option with Cameyo's Cloud Server -- this option is simplest for a test or trial run.

Step 3

Click on the server entry and then click on the Admin option on the right to connect to server as an Admin (Figure 3).

The Cameyo server management screen within a browser.
Figure 3. The web-based Cameyo console with the server management section.

Step 4

To publish an app after connecting to the Admin console, admins can select launch browser to locate installer files, or drag and drop the installer files or just an .exe if they are on the server.

  • Drag and drop.
    • Click on the top Drag & Drop section.
    • Locate and select local installer file.
    • Move installer file to Drag & Drop folder.
    • WordPad will install and run the app. Open and test it.
    • WordPad now shows up in the Published Apps window.
  • Browser.
    • Search for the app installer file -- this example uses Edraw Emax Pro.
    • Download installer file, install the app, run it and then test it. Now close the app.
    • Edraw will show up in the Published Apps window.
  • Select WordPad and Edraw in the Published Apps window and click Apply. A pop-up window will acknowledge completion.
  • Go back to the Admin Console and verify by selecting the Apps icon in the left navigation bar (Figure 4). The WordPad and Edraw apps now appear in the console.
Two published applications within the Cameyo admin console.
Figure 4. The published applications now that they are available to end users.

Step 5

Distributing these apps to users presents three options for administrators for deployment: using a link, the Cameyo Portal, or a PWA icon.

1. From the Admin Console, select the Apps icon in the navigation bar to see the published apps. Select an app icon -- this example will use Edraw -- to get the App Details page (Figure 5).

The EdrawMax application published within the Cameyo console.
Figure 5. The application details for an app published within Cameyo.

2. Push the app to the user via any browser on any device -- in this case a Chromebook.

  • Within the app list, click on an app to publish. There are three ways to publish an app:
    • Use the Cameyo URL link at the top of the page.
    • Publish Cameyo's PWA icon.
    • Use the Cameyo Portal. This portal provides additional options for the app (Figure 12). These options include the following:
      • Corporate branding.
      • A sub-domain.
      • A link to the cloud for network or local account.
      • An integration with G-suite.
      • The ability to send messages to users.
The Cameyo console showing customization options for a published app.
Figure 6. The section of the Cameyo console that allows IT to customize published apps.

3. Publish the app to appear as a native app in the ChromeOS Launcher and Taskbar.

  • Go to the app properties page and copy the Cameyo App URL.
  • Open the Google Admin console and then click on the Devices section.
  • Click users and browsers and select Cameyo.com. Sign in in the lower right corner.
  • In lower right of the screen, select the Globe icon to add the URL and paste the Cameyo URL for the app.
  • Under Open Website, select Separate Window.
  • In Google Admin under Installation Policy select Force Install & Pin to ChromeOS taskbar.
  • Click Save.
  • Open the Chromebook and log in. The app icon will appear in the Chrome Shelf and the taskbar.

4 things administrators need to know about Cameyo published Office apps

Before organizations take the step to deploy Cameyo applications to a Chromebook, they should keep these four factors in mind:

  • Users can publish applications themselves via their Cameyo Cloud Desktop. IT teams will usually want to avoid relying on this user input, but it's worth keeping in mind as an option.
  • Users can open and save to cloud locations and local devices, giving them a native application experience.
  • The Cameyo print service will allow users to print documents (Figure 7). Administrators should familiarize themselves with this service before they deploy the Office apps via Cameyo.
  • Cameyo offers an integrated file system for ChromeOS, which gives users a Windows desktop experience on Chromebook.
Microsoft Word's printing options with the Cameyo printing service highlighted.
Figure 7. The Cameyo print service option within Microsoft Word.

How Cameyo approaches security for published apps on a Chromebook

Cameyo employs several key security technologies to reduce the attack footprint for devices on the internet.

  • A built-in zero-trust security model that uses least privilege principles to limit access, as Cameyo's foundation.
  • NoVPN is an offering from Cameyo that provides users behind the firewall secure access to web apps, eliminating the need for VPNs.
  • Secure Cloud Tunneling closes firewall ports open to the internet, eliminating the need for VPNs
  • Port Shield, which dynamically opens and closes HTTP and RDP ports rather than statically. This provides flexibility and secures ports, opening only as needed, reducing the attack footprint.
  • All servers deliver apps over HTTPS, encrypting sessions. Thus, IT can securely deploy RDP.
  • Cameyo integrates with any single sign-on such as Active Directory, G-Suite and others to recognize users, groups and security.

Cameyo utilizes non-persistent profiles so that when a user closes a Cameyo session, their data and entire user profile is deleted. This is possible using Cameyo's unique Temporary User Profiles, which stores the profile information and then syncs it on the next user logon.

Gary Olsen has worked in the IT industry since 1983 and holds a Master of Science in computer-aided manufacturing from Brigham Young University. He was on Microsoft's Windows 2000 beta support team for Active Directory from 1998 to 2000 and has written two books on Active Directory and numerous technical articles for magazines and websites.

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