Microsoft needs to start worrying about Chromebooks

With Windows 8 stumbling out of the gate and Google's Linux-powered Chromebooks gaining steam, Microsoft needs to dump Windows 8 for Windows 7 on PCs and the sooner the better.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Here are four good reasons why Microsoft needs to worry about the rise of the Linux-powered, Chrome OS-enabled Chromebooks: Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung.

Now, that HP has jumped on the Chromebook bandwagon, Microsoft should start worrying.

Some people think Chromebooks are going to "have just enough momentum to be a pain in Microsoft's rear end.". I think they need to look closer.

Many of Microsoft's long-time PC partners—Asus, Lenovo, Samsung, and now HP are offering Chromebooks. Why are they doing this? Because people want an affordable computer that, unlike Windows 8 systems, doesn't require them to relearn everything they ever knew about how to use a computer.

Acer CEO Jim Wong said "Windows 8 itself is still not successful," while adding that 5 to 10% of its US shipments were now Chromebooks. Think about that for a minute. Acer introduced its Chromebook in November 2012. In less than three months Chromebook went from zero to at least 5% of all Acer's US shipments. That's incredible. 

The Chromebook Gallery

At the same time, Windows 8 continues to flop. Indeed, after three months on the market, it comes to a pathetic 2.26% share of the desktop operating system market. Vista, Microsoft's previous record holder for a lousy desktop launch, had 3.3% at its third-month birthday. Adding insult to injury, Windows 8's rate of adoption is falling behind Vista's rate.

So, what can Microsoft do about this? They can do the exact same thing they did when Linux netbooks tore into their market share in 2008: Bring back an older, better version of Windows. Then, it was XP Home in place of Vista. Microsoft soon followed this with the revival of XP Pro.

If Ballmer is smart—which I seriously doubt—he'll repeat the same trick and revive Windows 7. Today, Windows 7 PCs and laptops are still available, but they're getting hard to find and the selection is getting thin.

If he's not that bright, I expect to see Chromebook sales grow to double percentages for all the Chromebook OEMs by mid-year. It happened to Vista, another dog of a Windows operating system, and I see no reason to expect it won't happen to Windows 8.

That may not all be good news for Linux. As I said in 2009, Vista's abject failure actually ended up hurting Linux. Indeed, netbooks eventually declined and now netbooks are pretty much dead. I doubt that fate awaits the Chromebook though.

Linux-powered netbooks big selling points were that they were better than Vista laptops and cheaper to boot. Chromebooks also have those advantages over Windows 8, but they have more as well. First, thanks to tablets, smartphones, and the related BYOD movement, Microsoft no longer owns the end-user experience. Indeed, Goldman Sachs already has Windows in third place behind Android and Apple.

Netbooks were also, by definition, small devices. That market space is now occupied by tablets. Chromebooks, as HP is showing, don't have to be tiny. 

Finally, Chromebooks are the first major cloud-based end-user device. When you buy a Chromebook, you don't get just a standalone device with Chrome OS. You get cloud storage, the Google Docs office suite, Gmail, and on and on. In short, for one low price a Chromebook gives you everything you need from a basic computer.

Even if Microsoft does dust off Windows 7, the Chromebook is going to far from than just a thorn in Windows' side. It's going to be a significant office and home desktop. 

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