Chromebooks and students: Long term trouble for Microsoft

Chromebooks and students: Long term trouble for Microsoft

Summary: Chromebooks are invading schools and Microsoft is probably keeping a wary eye on the situation. If it is doing its job properly, that is.

TOPICS: Mobility, Google, Laptops
Chromebook Google Schools
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

I've been warning Microsoft about the Chromebook for a while. The laptops based on Google's Chrome browser have the potential to disrupt Microsoft's hold on the PC space. Microsoft has run ads taking on the Chromebook, so I'm pretty sure it recognizes the threat.

Chromebooks have two things going for them that make them particularly attractive for college students. The cheap price of these laptops, as low as $200, fit the student budget nicely. Especially when you consider the second thing that attracts students, that Chromebooks have a full office suite included at no charge.

Google has a program for getting Chromebooks into grade schools that makes it attractive for organizations to justify replacing conventional computers with them. The advantages to educators is the relatively low deployment cost and the reduced maintenance costs on an ongoing basis.

"Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Aaron Sorkin

The advangages of such deployments on a large scale are exactly what is attracting college students. Just buy the Chromebook and use it. This is appealing to the busy student who usually has no free time to worry about the equipment they use.

I believe more college students are considering or buying Chromebooks than ever. This isn't based on scientific studies or on statistics, it's based solely on the increasing amount of correspondence I receive from students.

I regularly hear from those who want to know if a Chromebook can handle their school work. They've done their research and heard from other students who use them, and they want to make sure before they lay down their money that the Chromebook will do all of their school work.

My answer to these students is a definite... probably. There are two aspects to school work that are in question. The first is the online course work. This is easy as Chromebooks are basically the Chrome browser which most schools support. The Chromebook should work fine for this.

It's not as clear if the Chromebook is suitable for the second aspect of such work, and that is assignments handed in with digital files. These are often Office documents, especially DOC and XLS files. While the Chrome apps can produce these easily, complicated documents may not render properly on the instructor's Office installation. That doesn't happen as often now as in the past, but it is something to be aware of.

The other type of student I regularly hear from is the one who took the risk and bought a Chromebook for school. Almost all of these students are quite happy with the purchase, and have no issues at all doing (and handing in) school work on the Chromebook.

I hear how easy it was to get going on the Chromebook, and how pain-free using it for school has turned out to be. There are almost no regrets about the Chromebook thrown my way by these college students.

In fact, the only regrets I've heard have nothing to do with the Chromebook. A couple of students have reported to me that they had to stop using the Chromebook after one of their professors demanded they do so. One was told that if she turned in a project that was done on the Chromebook that she would be given a zero for the assignment.

I could see getting a zero had she turned in an assignment that the professor couldn't access, but this wasn't the case. This particular student had been using the Chromebook for weeks, turning in assignments with no problems. It wasn't until the instructor saw her using the Chromebook in class they she was given the ultimatum. Don't use a Chromebook and get proper credit, or use one and fail. I don't know what this professor is afraid of. Guess he isn't aware of the newly renamed Office Online and that Chromebooks can use most of it just fine in the event Google's apps have problems.

There's no question I'm seeing more students leaning toward the Chromebook than in the past. The student population is probably not large enough for this to mean a big financial hit to Windows, but long-term I believe it is of concern to Microsoft.

These students are the next generation of workers and thinkers who will shape the future. What they may be learning in school, standard subjects aside, is not only do they not need Windows, but they in fact prefer to use an alternative. That's bad enough for the folks in Redmond, but I think it goes deeper than that.

Students using Chromebooks are learning that they don't need Microsoft Office to do their work. Many Chromebook users are already discovering this so it's not beyond reason to think that the current generation of students will not be as ingrained in the Windows ecosystem as in the past. They'll have this knowledge when they leave school and enter the workplace.

Surely Microsoft senses this and wants to head it off. That could factor into why it dropped the license fees for Windows on low-end devices a whopping 70 percent. It sees the writing on the wall, and it was written on a Chromebook.

Additional Chromebook coverage: 

Topics: Mobility, Google, Laptops

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  • Android not fit to Note books?

    Why Google chose Chrome OS for note books? Android is not efficient? or too fragment?
    SYD Harry
    • Fashion

      There is absolutely nothing that Microsoft can do to prevent this. A complete generation as decided that Android is in style right now and Windows is not. That's it. Even if MS made Windows 100 time better, it wouldn't change a thing. What made Windows so popular in the 90's is killing it now.

      Too bad cause I wouldn't go without it.
      • MS doesn't need to "prevent this"

        as from the usage I've seen/read about it, Chromebooks will kill themselves.

        Not saying that there won't be people who buy these, but as most people, it's not something that people will flock to in droves or any such notion.

        I remember the people saying not too long ago "There is absolutely nothing that Microsoft can do to prevent this. A complete generation has decided that Linux netbooks are in style right now and Windows is not".

        Then the Linux models all but disappeared....
        • Amazon top sellers for the past year

          As of February 24, 2014, 6 of Amazon's top 20 best selling laptops are Chromebooks. Actually, the Chromebook seems to be something that people are flocking to in droves...
          • Some University Stats

            From one 30K student university. Campus has two libraries. New on on "engineering" side of campus loans out tablets, notebooks, etc... My daughter works there. MacBooks are loaned out at about 3 times the rates as Windows laptops. And Chromebooks are in 3rd place with no sign of challenging for 2nd place.

            I was there recently about 8:30 PM and they students were checking them out about one every 5 minutes. And there are a LOT of study stations with single and dual display (22" or larger) thin clients running Windows/Citrix setups. Seem to be more students checking out laptops than using the thin clients.
        • netbooks disappeared

          because MSFT sold Windows XP to OEMs to put on netbooks, well into the Vista era, and at dirt cheap prices. Canonical must have had its reasons not to sue MSFT for predatory pricing, because what MSFT did was a classic example of it.

          If Chromebooks are set to implode, why comment about them?
        • Chrome OS is Linux

          Linux hasn't gone away. Chrome OS, Android and others are based on Linux. The difference is that there is a massive company now behind it...
    • Typical CB-fanboy day dreaming

      College kids want fancy toys so that they could show off and attract chicks. What do they have to show off w/ a laughable CB, core dumps? LOL. And @ 200$? Forget about it. At that price tag an ordinary tablet or netbook is far more appealing and functional.

      CBs might be a fit for college IT department where they want easy management but it's definitely not appealing to the student users.
      • Odd

        my daughter has a laptop that works for her, and it is admittedly a high end Macbook Pro. But I've never known her to use it to "attract chicks." She just does her homework.
      • Chromebook core dumps?

        I've using a CB as my daily driver for 15 months. Never had a core dump. The last core dump I can remember was from some student-intern code on at Xenix 286 way back in the 80's.
        Claude J Greengrass
      • Just imagine if Microsoft did this?

        Just imagine what James would say if Apple or Microsoft came out with such a lame handicapped closed OS? Everyone would be complaining how restrictive it was and it was not worth even the cheap hardware to buy one. Windows RT gets a bad rap and it does more then a Chromebook ever has.
        • As it can't run Chrome Extensions

          That's a matter of opinion.
          • Apps are only one aspect of a computing device

            The number of apps and extension in Chrome is impressive and is on par at least with the current number of Metro apps if you only consider "useful one" in each ecosystem.

            But apps is only one aspect of a computer. Others are device drivers to drive hundreds of thousands of USB devices. Being able to perform networking task such as mapping network shares (including Mac and Linux ones), mapping network printers, and creating and sharing out your own drives and files. Not sure what bluetooth devices that you can connect with ChromeOS but you also gain all those as well. Also using the Win+P projector functions allow you to duplicate, extend, blank, etc a connected monitor/projector with you PC.

            Etc. and so on. If you have a desktop or "base" Mac or Win PC that you can remote into and/or perform functions outside what a ChromeBook can do then a ChromeBook is a good choice for a mobile thin client/companion device. But I would not suggest it as you only computing device as there are always those one offs even for people who typically do not need all the extra functionality.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • Apart from the network tasks

            You can do the rest on a Chromebook.
            Would you suggest RT as a sole PC?
            I keep trying to use metro apps, but they are mostly rubbish. And applications are pretty much the point of computers to most people.
      • Nonsense

        Plenty of CBs are sleek. And they are fast and responsive, enough so to not only not embarrass their users but even make their users look good. A netbook by contrast is slow and prone to crashes, far less functional. A tablet is good for consuming content generated by others, not so much for typing.
    • SYD Harry - the reasons why Google chose Chrome OS over Android include...

      1) Chrome OS is much easier for Google to maintain than Android is; there is one version of Chrome OS being used at a given time (or perhaps more accurately it is very easy for users to update to the current version of Chrome OS) while there are who knows how many versions of Android currently being used.

      2) Chrome OS can operate faster and more efficiently on lower end hardware than Android (or essentially all device-based operating systems for that matter).

      3) Chrome OS isn't as resource-intensive at the users' end as Android, and is probably cheaper for Google to maintain than Android is (in part due to what I said in comment #1).

      4) Google is an internet-focused company. Chrome OS is an internet-based OS. Android is not (it is a device-based OS).

      From Google's point of view, Chrome OS combines the advantages of Apple's model (greater control at the back end, or more simply excellent performance) with the advantages of Microsoft's model (greater software availability through being more open, or more simply lower cost) while introducing some other advantages, namely better long-term performance (because the heavy lifting is being performed by Google's back-end servers rather than the device itself).

      As a totally unrelated side note, I'm typing this message on a chromebook while using a free airplane GoGo Wi-Fi pass that was included when I purchased my chromebook.
  • Chromebooks are fantastic

    Enjoying my Chromebook immensely, but still needs many improvements. Students will be better off without Microsoft's control of the computer space. Microsoft wants people born and bred on Microsoft, and students are important to this. Microsoft want to remain in control and will play dirty to block any competitor.
    • Chromebook or Microsoft?

      Is this a comment about Chromebooks or Microsoft? If you think Chromebooks are fantastic, please share with us, what makes that true. But no, you spend your time making accusations about another company based on opinion.
      • re: CB or MSft

        I discovered no file manager in a CB so, I couldn't copy my tunes to the CB. I'll stick w/ Msft offerings.
        Crashin Chris
    • Nop!

      Chromebooks are "almost there" on every level but... no they are not the real deal. A so called computer that can’t run Office or Photoshop or illustrator or Dreamweaver or any Cad software is simply a tablet with a keyboard. And don't even think that Google docs is close to Office in terms of features, ease of use, compatibility.

      The problem with Chromebooks is how close you have to live to Google all the time. Hey kids… get a Windows PC or a MacBook. You can buy Windows PC for a 50-100$ more than a crappy Chromebook but you get a lot more than a 100$ difference. You can still use Google products and services but you can also use anything else.