With the official launch of Windows 10 coming at the end of the month, Microsoft will have a new opportunity to counter the success of Chromebooks, the inexpensive laptops running Google's Chrome OS. The company is already touting new systems from Acer (ironically, one of the top Chromebook providers) that will run its latest operating system and cost less than many of its Chromebook competitors.
Acer's not-so-inventively-named Cloudbooks were teased by Microsoft at this week's Worldwide Partner Conference as part of the run-up to the Windows 10 launch on July 29. There will be two models launching in August: an 11-inch version and a 14-inch edition. According to Acer, the smaller laptop will sport a small price tag as well -- just $169.
Unfortunately neither Acer nor Microsoft is disclosing any more information about the Cloudbooks, such as the specs, though it's probably safe to assume these won't be particularly powerful systems. Of course, minimal specs are part of the Chromebook pitch, though there's been feature creep over the years (such as more powerful processors and bigger screens).
The aggressive price can't completely match Chromebooks that retail for $149, but it comes pretty close -- close enough, Microsoft hopes, that people will pay the small premium for the familiarity of Windows and its desktop apps (including versions of its venerable Office suite). With more and more computing done in the cloud, that advantage continues to wane, which helps to explain the popularity of Chromebooks and its cloud-based ecosystem, especially in the large education market.
The Cloudbooks continue Microsoft's recent strategy of countering the perception that Windows PCs have become too expensive in an age of smaller mobile devices. Last year, it released Windows 8.1 with Bing, which it provided to OEMs for next to nothing and which found its way into numerous lower-cost tablets and laptops, including the HP Stream. Like the Acer Cloudbook, it's an 11-inch notebook with a budget-friendly price ($200) and a bigger sibling.
Despite the skepticism that surrounds the launch of any new Microsoft OS, Acer's Cloudbooks (and their inevitable ilk from other PC manufacturers) could provide Chromebooks some stiff competition. ZDNet's Ed Bott was generally pleased with the Stream 11, preferring it to a Chromebook while acknowledging it can't completely replace a more powerful laptop. Expect a slew of sub-$200 Windows 10 systems for the upcoming holiday season, as Microsoft looks to meet its stated goals of having a billion devices eventually running the new OS.
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