The misunderstood Chromebook: Why few get it

Summary:Start talking about Chromebook and most people's eyes glaze over at the thought of a laptop that is just a "web browser." The weaknesses that most find in the Chromebook are actually strengths for those it targets.

Samsung Chromebook

Odds are you haven't tried a Chromebook, laptops that run Google's Chrome OS that make getting on the web the primary focus of the user experience. The numbers show that you are not alone, as not many buyers are picking up a Chromebook. After all, it's just a glorified web browser. 

First of all, it's not exactly true that Chromebooks aren't selling. Two Chromebooks have been selling well at retail giant Amazon. The Samsung Chromebook has topped Amazon's best-selling laptops since it debuted last year. The $199 Acer Chromebook has been toward the top of that list since its launch. Amazon doesn't share sales numbers, but when you consider the number of laptops it offers, a significant number of shoppers are choosing these two Chromebooks over the rest of the laptop playing field.

Amazon top laptop
Top selling laptop on Amazon

The fact is, given what the Chromebook does, it's not going to appeal to the vast laptop market. That market is entrenched in the belief that any laptop they use must be running a familiar OS like Windows to be useful. They need to run any program they want, not just the IE web browser.

That's also the problem buyers have with Windows RT. They can't load any program they want on systems running Windows RT, so those PCs are widely shunned by the buying market. It's no surprise that the Chromebook doesn't appeal to those buyers when a variant of Windows, which they already use, doesn't do everything they want.

So what's the point of the Chromebook and the Chrome OS it runs? Why would anyone in his/her right mind buy one?

Every bit of software in Chrome OS, and every single hardware component in the Chromebook, is optimized to make using the Chrome browser the best experience it can possibly be.

Let's exercise our imaginations to answer those difficult questions. Imagine you spent over 95 percent of your time on a laptop running IE10. It's a great browser after all, and it's what you find yourself running almost all the time. Maybe you are browsing the web, working with online services, even using Microsoft's online Office services.

Your online work has led you to be firmly entrenched in the cloud. Microsoft's Skydrive is a big part of your online laptop use as you store lots of your content in the cloud for access anywhere. It works well and fits your needs perfectly.

With all the time you spend using IE on your laptop, what if Microsoft made a Windows variant designed to make the best of that usage? They took the frequently misunderstood Windows 8 and stripped out every bit of the OS that doesn't directly optimize the IE user experience. Windows IE is what we'll call it.

All of the stuff that runs in the background on Windows is suddenly gone, making this Windows IE variant the fastest ever. The security and OS update system is completely removed from your view, as Windows IE does all that in the background without any user intervention. There is literally no user maintenance with Windows IE, a liberating situation.

The entire focus of the design of Windows IE is to do only one thing: make your heavy use of the IE browser the best it can possibly be. Supporting OS functions, e.g. the File Manager, are simplified to support that usage. Skydrive is integrated into Windows IE at a core level, and that is reflected in the file functions. All OS functions not dedicated to making IE fly are removed.

Windows IE works so well at providing the very best IE user experience that Microsoft and OEM partners take it even further. Good laptops are designed solely to make Windows IE run as fast and trouble-free as possible. Every bit of hardware in these laptops is tuned to that goal, and using IE is as good as it can possibly be. The entire hardware and software systems work together to make things work flawlessly. And the best part of this hardware is that it can be produced for less than $300. Not junk hardware designs, either, but nice laptops that are well worth the price.

These Windows IE laptops even have special keys on the keyboard to make common functions performed in IE as simple as a keytap away. Heavy IE users realize that for the very first time, the hardware and software have been designed to make the main thing they do work as flawlessly as possible. The software is tuned to provide the fastest, smoothest IE browsing experience ever produced. The hardware is carefully designed to work in tandem with that software to allow even cheaper components to deliver a better browsing experience than any other computer. It all works together to support that one task you spend 95 percent of your time doing on a computer.

This won't appeal to a lot of current Windows users, as the thought of a limited OS version is anathema to the power user's ideal. But the type of user that Windows IE is aimed at will see the benefits as soon as they use it. Removing all the overhead and fluff in Windows that the IE user rarely if ever touches is actually a benefit. The whole system makes IE pop on any system, and especially these new laptops designed to take advantage of Windows IE.

Windows RT was a stab at this, but Microsoft kept too much of the big OS to make it work optimally. Plus the hardware to run it is so expensive that it makes no sense to go Windows RT instead of the full Windows 8 package. There's no point in paying for absent features.

While it's almost certain that Microsoft will never produce Windows IE, the concept as described is exactly what Google has delivered in the Chrome OS and the Chromebook. Every bit of software in Chrome OS and every single hardware component in the Chromebook is optimized to make using the Chrome browser the best experience it can possibly be.

Google has also created an ecosystem of web apps that make the web browsing experience even richer than using Chrome alone. There are many apps designed to take the web experience to great heights, and Google Drive cloud storage is integrated into the Chrome OS at its deepest level.

It's not a case of being limited, it's a system designed to do the main thing you do and give as rich an experience as you can possibly get anywhere doing it. This is certainly not for everyone, but for those whose usage patterns fit the system, it doesn't get any better than this. And all for less than $300.

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Topics: Mobility, Google, Microsoft, Windows 8

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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