When Google launched its Chrome OS experiment it had all the makings of yet another hobby that wouldn't quite play out to be much of a threat to Microsoft and Apple's personal computing efforts. It might be time to rethink that theory.
And initially there was no reason to believe Chrome OS---and Chromebooks---would amount to much in late 2010. The first iterations of Chrome OS were raw and basically a browser. Chromebooks would appeal to a subset of the computing universe and not much else.
Simply put, the subset is swelling. Google now has Chromebooks in 2,000 schools and there are some signs the masses are checking out the devices.
The Chromebook has recently pushed by Google's core Android partners---notably Samsung. But suddenly there's some volume coming Google's way. First, Asus noted that the Chromebook accounted to 5 percent to 10 percent of volume. And that volume came during the Windows 8 launch.
Now there's HP, which leaked specs of its Chromebook effort on Friday, and later launched the $330 laptop. In a PDF, HP noted:
The World’s first full-size Chromebook.
We gave it a 14-inch diagonal HD display so you can see and do everything comfortably. At less than an inch thin and starting at 3.96 lb (1.8 kg), it’s small enough to take anywhere. Sometimes only a face-to-face conversation will do. With the HP TrueVision HD Webcam,(12) you always come off looking your best. Even in low light. The HP Pavilion Chromebook is packed with the ports you need, so you can be confident that connecting to displays and other devices will be hassle-free.
Why is HP pitching the Chromebook? It has no choice. HP plays the volume PC game, it's in a dogfight with Lenovo for the No. 1 PC maker crown and needs cheap computing to do battle in emerging markets. The Chromebook fits that bill.
One thing is clear. If HP can get the Chromebook to 5 percent of shipments it's going to move the Chrome OS needle for Google.
For Google, the Chrome OS is all gravy. Use Chrome OS, you'll consume more Google services, which are monetized through ads primarily.
Anecdotally, there's also a bit of mojo for Chrome OS. Folks in my neighborhood, not exactly the tech elites, have been asking about Chromebooks. And they should the price is right. Ultimately, Chromebooks were a consideration, but the people who asked about them opted for inexpensive AMD-powered Windows 8 machines largely for Office. Next computing purchase may turn out different for Google's Chromebooks.
Bottom line: The Chromebook, Chrome OS and Google have just enough momentum to be a pain in Microsoft's rear end. Let's face it: Being a pain is probably all Google was trying to accomplish. Looks like the search giant is succeeding.