The Chromebook isn't selling, so what?

The Chromebook isn't selling, so what?

Summary: Apparently, people aren't buying Chromebooks. Or they're buying them, but not using them. But does that actually matter?

Artist's impression of what Chromebook sales might look like.
Artist's impression of what Chromebook sales might look like.

My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott broke the story last night that despite the fact that people seem to love the Chromebook, no one seems to be using them.

Despite the fact the Chromebook was introduced in June 2011, and thus, has much more market exposure than Windows RT, in the real world, Chromebooks and Windows RT devices appear to have the same usage according to an analysis of website statistics. Specifically, around 0.023 percent.

Which isn't very much.

If you were in my office now, you may notice a shelf. On it sits a Chromebook. To its right, a Surface RT. Neither of them I've used in either weeks or months — I honestly can't remember.


My reaction last night was to jump on Twitter and start justifying the low sales of Chromebook — ie, I badly wanted to be a "Chromebook apologist".

Being an apologist is always a good sign that you like something. And I do really, really like the Chromebook. So why's mine sitting on a shelf doing nothing waiting for me to get around to chucking it on eBay.

Because I can't do very much with it compared to the other tools I have at my disposal. Well, other "tool" singular — my Mac is more useful. (And this doesn't have to be a Mac, it can be a PC. I happen to use a Mac. "Go, me.")

For example, today, I have to write this piece, then do a bunch of ASP.NET development, then a bunch of book editing, then some other bits, and spend some time on Twitter. I can use the Chromebook to do some of that, but not all. There's no point physically switching the Mac and Chromebook around just to be task specific — I might as well use my Mac.

When it comes to Windows RT and Chromebook, they are two peas in a pod. They are so similar in so many ways it's actually a bit spooky.

First similarity is that I don't use either of them day-to-day because they don't have enough utility to cover the specialised work that I do day-to-day.

Second similarity is that what they're both good at and bad at is roughly the same. I can't use either of them for specialised development work. I could use Surface RT for doing the book editing as it's rather good for doing heavy work in Office, and the Chromebook is abundantly not. (Although for light work, Google Docs is ace.)

Third similarity is that they're both bold experiments in how to reframe the PC away from being a device focused on corporate efficiency and one that's more about fitting into lifestyle of normal people outside of their lives at work.

Wait, though — there's another way to look at that first similarity of applicability for day-to-day use which is the "what's it for?" test.

Actually ...?

This is classic technology adoption curve stuff. Early adopters (usually technologists) look at something new and find a way to use the tool for their own purposes, and voila, they like it. And then that group and the vendor's marketing department has to explain it to normal people who promptly turn round and say "Uh?"

In both the case of the Chromebook and Windows RT, the same point has to be explained: "No, you can't run your normal software on it."

And then you have this conversation: "So shouldn't I just buy a normal PC?"


And a normal PC gets bought. Which is fine. Or a normal PC doesn't get bought because the potential customer that we're talking about already has one and that happens to be working OK. Which is also fine if you consider the big picture that puts the customer and the environment first, but not fine if you're an OEM or Microsoft.

(Personally, I don't care about the OEMs or system vendors. I'm all about the customer and environment on this one. If you've got a decade old XP machine that does you fine, great. Don't waste resources demanding a new one — just check you've got your backups working well.)

One of the big advantages that Google has with the Chromebook compared to Microsoft with Windows RT, and also Windows generally, is that Google probably doesn't care that much if Chromebooks sell because their business is currently mostly agnostic with regards to the device on which their services are consumed.

Microsoft is in a much weaker position in this regard because much, as management wants to pivot their business to be devices and services based, as opposed to utterly dependent on Windows and Office sales, which hasn't happened yet.

Google is facing the enemy here — Microsoft is still trying to work out who's shooting at it.

The fact that sales and/or real world usage of both of these experiments is so low tells you that the experiments have failed. Or is failing. Either way.

But failing experiments are fine. Which, peculiarly, is something that all engineers fundamentally understand, so why engineers would complain about failures is beyond me. Perhaps it's not them complaining vociferously.

"Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp," said Thomas Edison. Well, probably. You know what the internet is like. Sounds valid enough, though.

The important thing to remember here is that the customer is well served by these experiments. Much as I love the PC as a general purpose compute device that adapts beautifully to specific, commercial problem domains, it's a boneheaded lump of a thing, chock full of malware and abuse vectors that is fundamentally unsuited to a general population of non-technologists looking to use compute devices to augment their lives.

The sooner the PC dies, frankly, the better.

So does it matter that the Chromebook isn't selling? Or that Windows RT isn't selling? As I mentioned earlier — they're basically the same principle, just done differently.

No. I don't think it does. The important thing is that smart engineers are out there trying to build great devices and services that serve a general population of normal human beings better than the old-school PC.

Whether Google, Apple, or Microsoft do that — who cares, really? At least having 0.023 percent market share drives the story on.

Sitting back and doing nothing does nothing for anyone.

Topic: PCs

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  • PC isn't going to die

    I'd been considering a Chromebook (instead of tablet) to go along with my PC. I still need my laptop PC for downloading my CD's or watching a cheap RedBox flick. That 17" screen on my laptop is larger on my lap than any TV I would buy across the room.
    Does anyone consider that maybe the PC won't die but take on an appliance like existence like a refrigerator. Back in the '70s as I recall was when refrigerators were getting neat add ons like ice and water dispensers and some people had to have the latest. Now there really isn't much differentiating fridges other than size and color. The fridge wars are over and you get one only if the one you have quits working.
    Such will be desktops or larger laptops. I paid 340 dollars for my present laptop at Walmart. It worked great for about a year then got real sluggish. I dropped IE and started using Chrome and it was like new again. I can surf the net, rip my CD's, watch a movie. I like to use headphones for the sound quality. For what I use it for, I wouldn't want less than a 17" screen. Plus thanks to Chrome, I've discovered great personal organization with the Calander and such.
    I do hope for a 17" Chrome book that would do all I mentioned above, as I believe if Google decided to build a complete OS, from my experience with Chrome, it would make a great entertainment PC.
    Let's not call the PC as dead or dying, it's just always going to be there. Like your fridge.
    • For me, that's already true.

      I leave my computer on almost 24/7, since I keep loads of media (music, movies, TV, etc) on it ripped from my physical media collection. Stuff I don't want to repurchase, even though the MPAA and RIAA would tell me that my digital copies are hurting the artists. If everything I had was in the cloud instead of on my computer, I would probably leave it off most of the time and only fire it up when I wanted to play a game or do some photoshopping. It's an appliance, and just like a fridge, I'll only really need to upgrade or replace as it dies.
    • PC Dying?

      Just because NEW sales are declining (still millions being sold) doesn't mean the death of the PC. Has anyone figured out a way to determine how many PCs (regardless of OS) are currently in use? When someone comes up with a valid way to establish that total mobile devise usage is greater than total PC usage, then maybe (just MAYBE) people will have a legitimate claim that the PC is on the way out.

      The main point of the article, as I read it, is that Chromebook and Windows RT haven't caught on as a substitute for the PC (which should have been limited to the notebook). Desktops aren't convenient to take on a trip to an Expo or other special event. Reporters would find these quite useful for taking notes, then writing columns while still in the field. They have their place, but quite probably will not become common place. Chromebooks, Windows RT and hybrids are trying to fill the gap between notebooks and Smart Phones/tablets. It will take a while - just look at how long it was before the Palm Pilot became mainstream.

      As for the comments about different OSs, and individual usage of a computer (regardless of platform or OS) have to do with the article? People who make comments should stick to the article and not react to those who deviate from it.
  • Additionally

    I can't find the edit. I went on too long about what I do. Anway I won't be replacing my present PC until it breaks or Google comes out with the above mentioned Chromebook.
    • yup

      You're right, we didn't need the life story.
      • You didn't have to read it, so why did you?

        Be kind in your comments, please.
        • ZDNet needs the Sartalics tab.

          It's the official font of Sarcasm. :D
  • if you have a decade-old XP machine

    Upgrade it now or get pwned sideways when it stops getting security updates.
    • Mary, you have a way with words

      This makes a perfect quote. Love it!
    • Not just for older machines, but...

      linux can make older PCs perform better, cost almost nothing to install, and include security updates. The software ecosystem has some great programs (Inkscape, GIMP, LibreOffice), although most also have Windows versions.

      My Samsung Chromebook is pretty useful, but I intend to install Ubuntu 13 when it's available.
      • LTS only for me

        so I'll be waiting for 14.04.
      • Linux

        And runs practically none of the applications you already own. Yes you can find replacement that work fine, but why? You can upgrade Windows easily enough and almost all the applications will still work.
        • because upgrading Windows costs money and it won't run well on old

          hardware. Linux, on the other hand, runs very well on older hardware. All you need do is back up your data files somewhere and restore them to your machine once you've installed the linux flavor of choice (I like Mint's Mate UI, most XP like linux I've found.) Then start opening your data files with the linux equivalent software. If you find one that doesn't work to your satisfaction, there's a decent chance your windows software can be installed using Wine. You haven't spent a cent, you've updated your machine's OS in 30 minutes and are ready to go.

          If you don't then like the whole linux experience, go find your xp CD's and reload windows, download all the updates, and it in a couple of days, will work just fine, for a year or so.
          • Bullpucky

            Windows 8 runs faster on old computers than Windows 7 does, which in turns runs faster than Vista. So you can put Windows 8 on a Vista-era PC and see a speed boost, without having to use clunky substitute applications or go hunting for answers when something is either too different to figure out or just doesn't work.

            Those things ARE worth spending a little money, and I do mean little, as Windows upgrade licenses are a bargain.

            OS X Mountain Lion is the same way. If your Intel Mac is from at least mid-2007 you can run the latest and greatest Apple OS and at worst it will run at the exact same speed as your old OS, or it may be faster and smoother.

            Linux? Sorry, too much hassle.
          • Windows 7 won't run on anything pre-Vista and not so well on early Vista

            Look, this user has three choices. Buy a new machine, reinstall a new Windows OS (Win7 or Win8), reinstall their XP or earlier Windows OS, or load a linux OS. The correct choice depends on the age of the hardware and whether there are win7 drivers for that hardware. All I'm saying is that if the goal is to continue using older hardware that is still functional, Linux may be the best choice from a dollars perspective, time spent and speed of the machine perspective.
          • damn ZDnet for no editing feature

            four choices, not three. Install new windows OS, not reinstall.
          • Actually...

            7 runs just fine on the Pentium 4 2.4 GHz with 1GB of RAM, and its Athlon XP equivalent. Especially if you have decent DX9 or DX10 graphics.

            (I've put 7 on an Athlon XP 2400+ with GeForce 6600 graphics and 1GB of RAM, and it's more than usable.
          • There is a fourth choice

            That will save money to boot if its a desktop and that is to swap the board for one of the "all in one" boards with CPU built in, such as the Mini-ITX Celeron dual by Asus or my personal fav the AMD E350/450. I prefer it even though the Celeron is faster because it uses the cheaper desktop RAM and it still beats those late P4/Pentium D/Early Core chips when it comes to power usage by a LOT.

            So its not like you don't have choices when it comes to a desktop, you can get the Celeron for around $80 or the E350 for around $60-$70, lower your power and cooling needs, get a MUCH quieter system, and you can run any OS you want as they both come with XP-Win 8 drivers. If you haven't tried one you really should, i have swapped several P4/PD boards for E350s and they are all quite happy with the performance, not to mention no fans means a silent PC which sure beats the F16 roar of a P4 or PD fans.
            PC builder
          • Re: Bullpucky

            Yeah, and who needs seatbelts or airbags? If I want to drive down the road getting 4 MPG in a car made out of pre-outsourcing US Steel, with my AM Radio blaring monophonic sound burning leaded gasoline, I should be allowed to do so! What's that? My arguments don't make sense? Neither do yours. Linux is about having a choice. BeOS was a great desktop OS but losers who had similar attitudes killed it. I was running my BeOS computer in 1999 doing more on a 400 MHz Celeron with 256 MB of memory than I am currently able to do on an i7 running at 3 GHz with 8 GB of memory on 64-bit Windows 7. Be, Inc. died because hardware manufacturers were waiting on guaranteed sales. Users were waiting on applications. Software developers were hamstrung by not having hardware support. And OEMs, who were even offered BeOS for FREE if they would just install it on new PCs refused to take a chance because Microsoft had them tied into illegal non-compete exclusivity contracts. We have been stuck with Windows for twelve years longer than we should have been, and the technology behind Windows 8 and Surface R/T is practically old enough to qualify for Social Security benefits in computer terms. Let's face it, if everyone thought like you, we would still be using a horse and buggy to get around (maybe not as bad as it sounds since the exhaust from a horse can at least be used to help grow food, but I doubt any of us would be willing to switch back).
            Garry Hurley Jr