The misunderstood Chromebook: Why few get it

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

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  • I have been trying it frequently

    It's called Chrome - the browser. I can get the same ChromeBook user experience w/o having to let Google rip 200$ off my pocket. The experience is mixed. I do like the AdsBlock but it sends back "400 error" every time I go to ZD so this post has to be done in IE.

    I say it's OK as a free browser but to collect 200$ off me Google has to work harder. No, I ain't that stupid to pay 200$ for a browser. A Win7/Ubuntu netbook costs less and yet does more so try again.
    • Btw, Chrome seems to have mem-leak bugs

      Every time I fire up some 50 tabs it acts goofy. The pop-up link may not work. The background refrest gets sticky. You know it's struggling to find memory until it suddenly crashes.

      50 tabs can simply leak your memory away. Yikes. I mean, seriously? Is that how you build it as a platform? I don't recall Windows crashes that frequently with 50 windows opening. One more reason not worth 200$ (or any price). Then again, hey, free software, what do you expect?
      • Chrome OS memory management

        On other operating systems, the Chrome browser doesn't need to be running all the time, and its memory usage is less problematic. Since a Chromebook cannot be used without running Chrome, it's an issue.

        There are two things that can minimize memory issues:

        1) Enable zRAM swap. Ctrl-Alt-T to open a crosh terminal window, then type "swap enable" and restart.
        • Accidentally hit "submit"

          The second thing that can be done is to go to the login screen if memory starts running low. This will flush most (but not quite all) cached memory, and is much quicker than a restart. Enabling the memory monitor flag ( chrome://flags ) allows you to track memory usage in a small area at the bottom right of the screen.
          • Sound user friendly...

            Can grandma figure that one out?
        • Preemptvie multitasking a active memory management are corenerstones ...

          ... of a modern operating system. This is why Windows can run on as little a 1GB of RAM and run reasonably well on a 2GB system.

          Unlike, Windows, Mac OS X, UNIX, and GNU/Linux, neither Android, iOS, nor Chrome OS can do this. On the other hand, Chrome running under Windows will not have theses problems because Windows is doing all of the work.
          M Wagner
      • 50 tabs?

        Who needs 50 tabs open? Are you serious?
        • Open tabs avoid page reload

          That's useful if the page is static. If you have it in a tab then why bother bookmarking and reloading it? Just leave the tab open.
        • He's lying

          He's Lying... I would LOVE to see a surface open 50 tabs....
          Todd Adams
          • A Surface Pro can do it

            Just open 5 Chrome Windows with 10 tabs. But the Surface is EXPENSIVE. A very nice looking Samsung Chromebook at 250+ is very reasonable. Still would rather have a Surface RT though.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • and then

            Open the grid of tabs in IE metro. Whoa!
          • Metro IE is the best...

            no doubt... super fast... I love it. I use it more than any other browser.. I have had way more than 50 open at once.
      • Chrome has worked great for me for about 4 years

        I'm a heavy user, on the web most of the work day, and have very, very rarely had any problem with Chrome. Not denying that you've had problems, but that experience is by no means universal. Maybe not even frequent.
        • Mem-leak thing takes a while to develop

          It's not like it'd fail immediately. Mem-leak takes a while to develop so if you restart your browser down then you might not see it. For me since I'm on a desktop I leave my browser open all the time until a patch Tuesday something so I can see it builds till the point it runs outta memory.
          • now I understand, you're a windows user...explains the lack of knowledge

            about add ons. If you leave 50 tabs open on a windows machine for a week or month, you're going to have problems, no matter what browser you're using. you might try firefox though.
          • No need to be insulting ...

            Memory leakage is more complex than how many tabs are opened. Memory leakages can be caused by poor memory management. It can be caused by drive or RAM fragmentation. It can be caused by buffer overflows. It can be caused by poor use of swap files. Multi-level caching.

            In a 32-bit (x86) environment, as long as your address space does not exceed 2GB, it doesn't matter how many tabs are open, the OS can manage those tabs.

            In a 64-bit environment, that address space can be up to 2 TB.

            A modern operating system can manage a much larger address space than your PC can accommodate. As long as your application does not consumer more than 85% of your available resources (drive, RAM, CPU cycles, etc.) you should not have problems.

            Performance problems crop up when you either exceed that 85% capacity of your system or your OS cannot handle the resources available to it. XP is a good example of an OS no longer being able to take advantage of the hardware available to it.

            Scalability is the hallmark of a modern preemptive multitasking, multi-user operating system. The best examples of this are Windows, UNIX, GNU/Linux, and Mac OS X.

            Chrome OS is not that kind of an operating system.
            M Wagner
          • Me too..

            .. but never a problem.

            I'd check what plug-ins/toolbars you have installed if you're seeing a leak in Chrome's process.

            I've left Chrome on for literally weeks without a restart or a windows reboot and memory is reclaimed just fine.
        • I would trust Chrome...

          over any version of IE any day of any week of any year. I bought a $250 chromebook and I think its fantastic! I havent given up every other tablet and computer, its a great complement to my kit.
          Todd Adams
          • Thank-you!

            Finally! Another CNET subscriber understands my POV! We should exchange notes.
            Richard Estes
          • Because it runs under Windows, Chrome is NOT Chrome OS.

            M Wagner