Chromebooks debate post-mortem: A bad deal

Chromebooks debate post-mortem: A bad deal

Summary: I can appreciate my esteemed debate opponent's arguments in favor of Chromebooks, but the debate reinforces my belief that these devices aren't the best to meet the needs of users.


The Great Chromebook Debate is over. As of this morning, I win 39% to 61%.

I believe strongly that debates such as these are not click-bait. They force the readers and participants to examine their impressions and confront alternatives. I may disagree with Matt's views on Chromebooks but I understand his motivations.

To summarize, my position is that Chromebooks are a bad buy because they do nothing you can't do with a real Windows notebook. In fact, they do much less. This is the angle taken in a new "Scroogled" ad from Microsoft using the guys from the History Channel show Pawn Stars.

The ad throws in the Scroogled point that Google tracks you all the time so they can sell ads. Big deal I say, but if that bothers you then it's another reason to avoid a Chromebook because it's also a commitment to the Google Ecosystem.

The main claim Matt made that resonates with me at all is the desire for something simple that just works and does the things he really needs. I hear a lot of this from Chromebook advocates. I don't dismiss them.

The main counter-argument is that a Windows 8.1 device as an alternative, possibly using Chrome, possibly even booting straight into Chrome, works very well. Nearly all of bad impressions people have of Windows being buggy and unreliable are rooted in days of yore, when Windows Vista and its ancestors ruled the world. The other counter-argument is that you are more likely than you may think to need the things that Chromebooks don't do.

The "browser as your entire user interface" idea is older than most people appreciate. I recall testing devices which attempted it over 15 years ago when I ran a test lab. It works a lot better now than it did then, but it still has all the same limitations.

Topics: Google, Laptops, Google Apps

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  • Chromebook WOULD make sense if ...

    ... it had a feature that so prominently stands out it makes up for all other shortcomings.
    However such a feature is missing and honestly I wouldn't know which it might be.

    The only treat that comes to my mind would be excessive battery lifetime in the range of 100h to 200h on one charge. That however is impossible by definition because actually Chromebook runs a full fledged application (Chrome) on top of a full fledged OS (Linux).

    So, there is no reason why battery lifetime of Chromebook would exceed that of any other laptop of comparable specs. In fact it succumbs to the elite like the ones from Apple.
    • niche product

      It's a niche product. And as a niche product with a niche OS it enjoys virtual invulnerability from every kind of malware (except for the professional kind that targets a specific individual).

      The real benefits are that you can have it lying around for months and then don't need to install a couple of updates for several minutes during the next restart. It also has low support costs, which may be useful for a company that wants to give their employees web access and not much else.

      Of course these benefits aren't very valuable to a lot of people, while the significant drawbacks certainly apply to every user.
    • It makes sense to me

      Well it's totally secure locally, very light, highly mobile, able to do for most people all a laptop, a pad, even a smartphone can do - and do it very efficiently and at zero cost using broadband wifi connections - available in the UK anyway pretty well everywhere. It is usable without almost any training by all members of the family immediately on opening. The Chrome OS is being continually improved at zero inconvenience to the user. There are no ongoing costs except (for me) the incredibly cheap cost of using the super quality gmail phone.
      For a longtime user of cumbersome PCs and laptops its a revelation - oh and the battery allows me 7 hours use before recharging. Cheers!
  • Kind of shameless

    How you can say you win when 61% are against you?
    Lifelong Programmer
    • 61% = Winning

      He's a politician.
      • My fellow Americans

        I believe the people have spoken and they are with me.
      • Larry Selzer and Ed Bott, two Baghdad Bobs working for Microsoft?

        First we had Ed Bott with his great emulation of Baghdad Bob at his best with his "Where are the Chromebooks", I can't see any Chromebooks" article on ZDNet using carefully cherry picked and misrepresented partial sales data while omitting others that didn't fit his agenda to try to show nobody was buying Chromebooks (Chromebooks were 5% of total US laptop/PC computer sales over the last year).

        Now Larry Selzer tops this by claiming "As of this morning, I win 39% to 61%" when the public vote to the question "Are there good reasons to buy a Chromebook?" was an overwhelming Yes. Even Baghdad Bob didn't attempt that - he at least went over to the other side of the building when American tanks appeared on one side of the building, and reported from there "Where are the American tanks - I can't see any American tanks", as Ed Bott did.

        What is going on here? Are Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet sales figures so bad now that Larry Selzer hasn't even got half truths and lies that aren't so easy to check out? What is this palpable and extreme panic at Microsoft all about?

        One thing about Ed Bott - he did disclose he is paid for all his work, and you have to respect him for that. No disclosure by Larry Selzer unfortunately.
        • Well...nobody does own a Chromebook. Face reality.

          While I don't mean that literally, I certainly mean it figuratively. I couldn't count the number of people I know who own Windows PC's and laptops and spend their working day using one, and I couldn't count them because the number is so vast.

          I couldn't count the number of Chromebook owners I know either. Firstly because I don't know a one and secondly because I never notice the damn things around. They are purely a fringe market item for people who live on twitter and Facebook and have no need for a real computer. And spending money on one is still a waste if you can get a Windows 8.1 device for similar money.

          I really crack a smile when people go on about how a Chromebook does everything most people need. Really. Maybe on planet Google, but I don't live there and while I know more people than I could hope to count, none of them live there either.
          • Have you tried visiting your local school?

            It is undeniable that Chromebooks are becoming hugely popular with schools. They make perfect sense as teachers can find all the educational software they need online while providing students with tools that are super fast, secure and interchangeable. Virtually no-maintenance or need for software downloads and anti-virus protection has led to booming adoption in education. Windows machines for the same price just are too slow, require software downloads individually and present too many risks as to what kids can do with them.

            As this school adoption grows, many parents and teachers are coming to realize the benefits of such devices and the fact that they don't really need anything else for their own daily device. These adults may have a Windows machine at home for the rare occasion that they need it, but they don't need to upgrade Windows as a mobile device. I've always felt that our family still needs our Windows destktop or laptop as a back up---they are hardly ever turned on--but I believe by the time they die off, it won't be necessary to replace them.
          • Agreed. I have heard often they are in schools.

            Score one for Chromebook.
          • Slashed budgets!

            Of course they are popular to schools, schools have seen unprecedented budget cuts and Apple devices are not coming down enough for them.

            Here's an idea, spend money on helping teachers teach kids better and take technology distractions out of schools and let kids learn from real books, pens and paper and not donning a headset in order to talk to each other for social interaction. Yes...still have classes for technology that provide systems in class, but corporations are invading our economically weak schools not for the good of kids but for making lots of money. I'm all for advancing in technologies, but not in forcing ALL to be so dependent on technology where we become zombies to the world of energy bombs and power supply disruptions.

          • Yet another Baghdad Bob joins the Microsoft campaign.

            I know that is the orchestrated Microsoft line according to the campaign, and shills/astroturfers probably are constrained to stick to the mandated party line, however but according to NPD US retail figures (which unlike web stats are a reliable indicator of sales), Chromebooks made up 5% of total US PC/laptop computer sales in 2013, and this excludes sales to schools which are direct channel sales. This is similar to the marketshare Apple Macbooks hold. This was not huge in 2013, but 5% taken from Windows sales. Sales in 2014 will be much higher because of more Chromebooks models from more OEMs, a wider retail presence, more advertising, and more countries in which it is sold rather than just the US and UK. 2014 is also the year when HTML5 is formally ratified and HTML5 app development will accelerate and diversify to all platforms.

            That is what has got Microsoft worried, and that is why Microsoft is carrying out this smear/dismissal campaign targeted against Chromebooks rather than Android. I think Microsoft has realised that Android is unassailable on tablet space in the short to medium term so they have given up targeting Android and admitted a stalemate for now - Windows can't threaten Android in tablet space, and Android can't threaten Windows in PC space. However Chromebooks can and is taking away marketshare from PC space which is already in decline and which Microsoft cannot afford to lose.

            Microsoft's propaganda/PR campaign usually involves their repeating an orchestrated set of mantras again and again ad nauseum in the belief that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, people eventually believe it is the truth. The "Nobody is buying Chromebooks", "Chromebooks are not real computers, you can get a real (Windows) computer for only a little bit more", "Chromebooks are just web browsers and web browsers are free", "Chromebooks are a waste on money", etc. are the characteristic orchestrated chants repeated by Microsoft's blog and ad operatives in this current shill/smear campaign. I can see these very shill points in your response above.

            With regard to yourself not seeing anybody not using them, that's because they look like exactly like ordinary laptops - some look eerily like Apple Macbooks, and the others have Windows models in the same or very similar cases. There was a famous Iraqi propaganda minister who did exactly the same as you and others working on the Microsoft campaign are doing - rather than go out and look for himself, he made an anecdotal observation that there were no American tanks to be seen from his ministry of propaganda office window and made it into a campaign claiming it was proof that the American offensive had been defeated. When the tanks did finally appear, he cherry picked another window from which he could not see any tanks, and repeated the same claim. Microsoft and their campaigners seems to have taken this Baghdad Bob strategy to heart.

            Lest you claim there isn't an orchestrated shill/astroturf/smear campaign being organised by Microsoft, I would remind everyone that the very word "Astroturf" originally came into its current usage to describe Microsoft's actions. Microsoft wrote the book on astroturfing and blog shilling, and from what is seen in this campaign, it is still a mainstream part of their PR strategy.

            astroturfing: n.
            1. The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant ‘concerned citizens’, paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (AstroTurf is fake grass; hence the term). See also sock puppet, tentacle.

            2. What an individual posting to a public forum under an assumed name is said to be doing.

            This term became common among hackers after it came to light in early 1998 that Microsoft had attempted to use such tactics to forestall the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust action against the company. The maneuver backfired horribly, angering a number of state attorneys-general enough to induce them to go public with plans to join the Federal suit. It also set anybody defending Microsoft on the net for the accusation “You're just astroturfing!”.
        • Called Mixed reviews

          Mah, if you dislike that we live in a heterogeneous world and that Microsoft exist in it, paste this into your Chrome browser and never return:

          Can't wait for the day when everybody's wish comes true, Google OWNS EVERYTHING from the fiber to your house, is your ISP, is the car you ride in, is on your face, is on your wrist, is your TV content provider, is your mobile and consumption device and god knows what else(implants in your head) they want to spend billions of your money on because when they own EVERYTHING, and that is there mission here so lets be real, all that free shit you get now due to advertisements will cease because there is nothing you can do about it except unplug from the social world. I believe in competition, but there must be balance in the industry and having 3 of a kind (Apple, Microsoft AND Google) is that balance. We have freedom of choice so be happy each have their roles and that Google is contained from their ultimate ambition.
    • He's not very good at math?

      I guess it's a good thing he didn't become a CPA.
  • I'd rather not endorse Microsoft's campaign

    I mean, like Google or not, a frontal attack on your competitor's products isn't just low, it's childish.
    On the actual topic, I don't care much for chromebooks for the same reason as I don't care for consoles (and perhaps a bit of Apple); You don't get to own the device you buy.
    • I assume then

      That you sit in a generic box wearing generic clothes. Otherwise, here in reality, attacking ones competition is one of the biggest means that companies use to market.
      • do not generalize

        As far as I can see it's only been done by Microsoft tarnishing Google. Name at least one such campaign done by Google against Microsoft?
      • Competing does not equal throwing slander

        There's a large difference between 'attacking the competition' which really just means competing, and throwing mud and slander at each other's products in the hopes people will abandon theirs in favor of yours.
    • Childish attacking!

      Most ads attack the enemy. -_-
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Jurisdiction

        Depends on the jurisdiction. In many countries attack ads like these are illegal. Specifically, I am referring to some European countries.