The Chromebook is turning into the success that some thought Netbooks would achieve

Remember a few years ago when tablets hadn’t yet come onto the scene, and all the tech pundits were talking about massive growth in the Netbook market? These mostly Windows-powered computers were more portable and less expensive than traditional laptops, so there were lots of predictions for huge growth in the sector.

I was never a big believer in the idea, but that’s just because I couldn’t see the benefit of small, underpowered hardware running an OS that I felt was bloated and inefficient. My view had nothing to do with tablets, because they weren’t on the scene yet. 

We all know what happened next. Apple introduced the iPad, Android started to optimize its OS for tablets, and now we have a pretty good variety of light, cheap, efficient and net-connected mobile computers. Tablets win. Netbooks lose.

But I still think the goal of Netbooks made sense. Make laptop computers smaller and cheaper while giving users connectivity to the online stuff that matters most to them. As much as I love smartphones and tablets, I type a lot, and I want a real keyboard to do it on. And in business, people type a lot. Until somebody comes up with a better way to input text on a screen, the physical keyboard remains a very important tool.

That’s why I think Google is so well positioned following the launch of Chrome OS over the last couple of years. The Chromebook actually fulfills the original goal of the Netbook while maintaining a full sized keyboard, and therefore being more business friendly. Chromebooks are super light, run a super-thin OS, minimal on board storage, yet they pack a punch when it comes to web-based work.

Today, Chrome OS hardly measures on any market share studies. But there are plenty of people talking about the potential for Chromebooks and even the "desktop" version Chromebox, which is sort of like the Mac Mini of the Chrome OS platform. I don’t think today’s market share numbers matter much. Some of the use cases are just so obvious that they speak for themselves. I think it paints a clear picture of falling market share for Microsoft while Google makes gains in the enterprise.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting all PCs will be replaced. Especially in the enterprise, this is a rather slow process and there are always going to be spots where machines running Windows are called for. But I think that market is shrinking, and Google stands a great shot of capturing significant market share in business.

The Wall Street Journal ran a nice post talking about exactly this topic. For example, call center employees usually need a computer to work on. But you can't really argue that they need Windows. Everything can be done through the browser, and the IT folks can save a bundle on equipment capital expense, software licensing and maintenance.

About 4 months ago I bought a $199 Samsung Chromebook to replace a dying 2006 Macbook. While I think the screen quality is pretty horrible and it sometimes chokes when you try to multitask while playing HD video, it does practically everything we need it to do at home … so much so that my kids actually fight over it in the morning. They’d rather surf Netflix from the Chromebook versus the iPad. If Chrome OS can meet the needs of call centers and kids, I think it speaks volumes. As Chris Anderson explained so well in his 2009 book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, the business case behind free is strong. Google’s Chrome OS has a growing place in the market, and I think Microsoft is in trouble.


Reader comments

Slowly but surely, Chromebooks are finding their niche


There great for surfing the net but just couldn't replace my macbook Pro or laptop for getting work done but I guess that's what they are about

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I spend 99% of my time on browser.. The only problem I have with chromebook is that 1%. I cant do adb and fastboot.

I am sure chrome OS will gain some share

You sir are not alone, my chromebook needs adb and fastboot as well, doesn't seem right that you can't use the android sdk on a product that is sorta based on the same thing, yeah they are different from CB to mobile, but the theory is lacking where this should have been possible from day one of the chromebook's release, just my opinion though.

That would be the Android Development Bridge. It's essential for programming and applying updates and factory images to your Android smartphone. A great place to learn IS XDA Developers. They can't stress enough to read through the forums before posting or they can be a little mean.

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With crouton, getting Linux up and running on Chromebook is pretty easy now. I have adb and the Android sdk running on my Pixel, and works flawlessly. If you do any type of Web based development or programming, and don't necessarily all of those GUI apps on OS X or Windows, using a Chromebook is a very cost effective route.

I'm also on the web 99% of the time as well. Now that I'm out of school and also that my job doesn't require use of any powerful office suites, I don't do much word processing, spread sheets, presentations. I'm perfectly fine with using Google Drive or the web based MS Office apps. If I really need to do that, which is extremely rare, I can do it on my desktop.

Unless you use specialized software that needs a lot of horsepower or photo editing they certainly WILL compete with a macbook pro. At least half of "work computers" only need a wordprocessor and a spreadsheet. Chromebooks have both, and they're as good as Office.

Lol. Name ONE Fortune 1000 or 2000 or 10,000 company that uses only programs that run on Chrome OS. What a joke.

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I use to work for a fortune 500 company that made automotive dealer software. 99% of our workers outside of the development branch would be able to use chromebooks no problem. Everything was web based for them.

All I'm asking Google is the ability to open a commend and flash my nexus device...
Then I'll call windows a day!

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I loved my netbook. I much preferred travelling with it than I would have a larger laptop. I also know that if it didn't take an age to boot up I would have used it around the home more often. A Chromebook is right up my alley.

Nice fresh perspective, and I agree. Hoping Chromebooks continue to grow with leaps and bounds, if nothing else to at least give more choices in the market of computing.

Have been thinking about getting one, at first the HP Chromebook 11 once they fix their power supply issue, or possibly the 14. Cheap, proficient (for the basic stuff and a little more) and nice looking are key for the average user, and convenient for those not looking to have to use their daily driver every time they want to check on something or edit a document etc. And definitely advantageous for those of us who have taken in and adjusted to the Google and/or cloud infrastructure as a whole.

Maybe next: A Chrome/Windows dual boot laptop? Or maybe there is already one?

Chromebooks are great but... GDocs still lacks a lot of the features that make Office powerful, some of them mindbogglingly simple (no columns in a word doc? No vertical text in spreadsheets?). GDocs needs to make a LOT more progress before Chrome will be able to make any real inroads.

I use both Word and Excel extensively in my office life and I never use either one of these features. Not saying that there aren't people out there that do use them, but I'm skeptical that either of these types of things are deal breaking for the majority.

For simple documents, GDocs is great. I start a lot of documents in Drive. But when you need heavier formatting in a word doc and big data sets, more sophisticated formulae or formatting in a spreadsheet, my documents end up in Office.

Everyone uses a subset of these features. It's like the "app library" argument. Some people (mistakenly) might say that you don't need a big app store because most people only regularly use 15 or so apps. This argument only makes sense if everyone uses the SAME 15 apps. Now change "apps" to "features" and you will see that Word's plethora of features makes it extremely valuable, even if the average user only scratches the surface of what it can do.

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I've been Winblows free since I got a Samsung 5 550 Chromebook eighteen months ago. I like it so much that I will be upgrading to the hp 14. Their not for everyone but it's works me and my family and that's all that matters.

From my Note 2 to you

I pretty much use my Chromebook 100% at home in front of the TV. It's perfect for browsing the web. I've been using it for a couple of years, but have become more of a poweruser over the past 9 months.

It could be a little faster, but it generally does everything I want to do. For the price you can't beat it.

I completely agree with this article, I work at best buy and I can tell you the amount of people that come in that could use a chrome book is astounding. I have a hard time recommending someone a cheap windows laptop + antivirus + office + tech support over a chromebook if all theyre doing is checking email. Most people also try and do the same thing with tablets by buying a keyboard case which takes away from the experience IMO. Even for myself, I had a nexus 7 that I sold cuz it was no different from my phone other than screensize(I did enjoy reading on it though). Chromebooks have full web browsers/ports/and multitask a lot better than tablets and have great keyboards. I'm most likely gonna get the touchscreen acer and for the off chance I need to do gaming/video editing I have a powerful desktop. I already have a feeling the chrome book is gonna be where I spend most browsing/writing.

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Right. Chromebook is perfect for you because you have a desktop to do real things. Lol.

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I think that's kind of the intended use case. No one, Google included, has ever suggested that a Chromebook will make a good primary computer.

Sent from my iPhone

Even then, 80% of what I do on my computer can easily be done on a chromebook. I was just stating it'll give me more functionality than a tablet would since that is what most people are arguing about chromebooks these days. I do have a feeling chromebooks are going to be good competitor to other desktop OS's in the future, since that is where it seems to be headed anyway.

I sat down and looked at how I use a laptop and 99% of the time I'm in my browser, if my internet goes off I actually switch my pc off. For me a chromebook seems perfect

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I think Microsoft agrees with you. They are getting ready to air anti-chromebook commercials. Check out the Verge to see it. Dumb commercial by the way.

Not in a million years are call centers going to make people type on tiny keyboards and look at tiny low rez screens for 8 hours a day.

The whole point of "light and thin" is portability. Which is pointless without Internet access.

If Google wants to make this work, they'll make a deal with Sprint or T-Mobile for data.

Until then, pointless.

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My school uses chromebook and gave them to all the students including me, which number around 1700. Its a old Samsung chromebook but I like it. Primewire and least works and it works great with over 100 tabs open.

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This just goes back 20/30 years to mainframes and dumb terminals.

Sure the hardware has changed, but the idea is still the same... Low powered end user kit, high powered centralised server.

A CB is a dump terminal.You don't know what you are talking about. There are more packaged applications that run offline. Moreover the Acer C720 outperform the Asus Windows 8.1 T100, in fact it runs web or packaged applications 3.5 times faster. CB are much more secure and appealing than any windows that cost $100 more.

That's exactly what they are a niche product, and that's all they'll probably(!) ever be. If they weren't cheap they wouldn't sell.

I would like to see higher-end version of Chromebook with a nice 13" screen, ability to install Android SDK plus memory and processor that can easily handle it. Oh, and ability to connect external monitor (why not?). I bet they would sell like hotcakes even at $1,000 a piece.

I have been wanting one for a while now. Now that they are coming with Haswell both power and battery life will be ample. I'll try Chrome but my intention has always been to install Ubuntu. Than I'll have the benefit of a full OS. I have no plans to continue with Windows...and I only use OSX because it's on the MBA. I could be just as happy using Linux in the future.

Its only the good hardware I like. If you have good a piece of hardware, I don't see the value in using Chrome over Linux.

The one thing Google can do is keep improving Google Docs. It's one of the last things that I need to see happen before I can go completely Microsoft free.

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I just switched over to an HP 14 inch Chromebook last month. I absolutely love it. I decided on it after finally giving up on Windows - I'll never go back. Macs were way too pricey for me at this point, but we do have one in the house for the 1% of the time I want to use Adobe software for advanced photo editing. Otherwise I'm able to do basic edits and sharing just fine on my Chromebook. I've transitioned to GDocs without any problems and I've been using Gmail and Drive for years already - love them! The 14 inch screen is plenty, but I also have HDMI out so I can hook up my larger monitor. That works beautifully. When I do that I use an external mouse, keyboard and backup drive to access all my archived photos. I almost forget it's running Chrome OS. These Chromebooks have come a long way and are just getting better. I think Microsoft is getting nervous.

And oh yeah, I just helped switch a small non-profit over to Google Apps from Microsoft. They love it.

I love my Chromebook. It was one of those things that was never too sure about, but after getting vouchers from work I decided to take the plunge with the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. It's the best money that I feel that I've spent on a computer.

Yeah it hasn't got any storage of any measure but that isn't what the Chromebook is about. I can do my social media, can browse the internet, listen to music, watch Netflix and even create and maintain documents and/or spreadsheets. So pretty much everything I used to do on a more expensive laptop I can do at a fraction of the price.

The screen quality isn't great when it's tilted slightly away for me, but for the price I paid what do I expect? For what it is designed to, it absolutely flies at doing it.

I used to have a Netbook a couple of years back and I wouldn't go back to one of those now. The only time my 17" laptop gets opened up nowadays is when I want to do a bit of gaming. For everything else, the Chromebook wins for me.

Just don't expect to print anything unless you have a cloud enabled printer you can actually get the Chromebook to talk to. I do, it won't, so the only way to print is through my laptop unless I want to connect to Drive at work and print there and really, they sort of frown on your printing your personal stuff on work time and their supplies...OH! And if I close my laptop or take it with me? Oops! Can't print from the Chromebook until the laptop wakes up or comes, to those who said it can do everything a Macbook or laptop can? Nope. Just nope.

Whatever Google touches turns into gold unlike poor old Microsoft with their Surface RT

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Chromebooks are great!!! just bought my very first one. The new Acer C720... It is definitely fast and has 4gb ram. HD youtube does not lag at all and I can have like 15 tabs open at once and it still does not lag.

I am a college student and this does everything I need. Plus it helps that I have google everything. I use Google Music, Drive, Gmail, Chrome, Docs, Maps...
So it was a real easy transition from PC to a chromebook.

These things are great for school. It gets 8 hours battery life and it takes like 5 seconds to boot up.

I always was against the cloud but definitely not anymore. I can be rushing to finish a Word Doc on my chromebook and I can just close the lid run to my school and be able to print it instantly at school. No need for usb drives or having to click save and be downloading and transferring or any of that.

I give my chromebook a 10 out of 10.

The best part? Its only 250 dollars!

I wish this article was identified as an editorial within the Android Central app.

I would of had no idea this was intended to be an editorial until I selected that in the drop down to confirm.

Not a big deal this time, but it could be the next.

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I cant see how any chromebook is more useful than the new Dell Venue 8 or the Asus T100 if you want a bigger screen.

Not here to bring down one from the other, but I usually make lists when I am comparing two products im looking into for the holidays (cheap of course) and I cant see how a chromebook can provide more than these new windows 8.1 250$ machines.

flash memory seems the same, they both have more than capable browsers, same battery life, same performance (Ram - CPU seem to be about the same on most models), if you are afraid of viruses like the writer states then just go with a Windows RT device?

Is there something I am missing about a chromebook? also I looked up the web-app store and there is something that lost me, if a web-app does NOT specify that it can work offline, does that mean it really wont work offline? -__ I don't get it

Its definitely more useful then the Dell Venue since that is just a tablet..

The Asus T100 on amazon has 3.5 out of 5 stars and it cost $369.
The Acer c720 Chromebook on amazon has a 4.5 out of 5 stars and it cost $250.
Which would you buy?

The chromebook is great. I've had nothing but window pc's and im just tired how they become slow and sluggish...All the stuff you download and all the stuff you install.. things get left behind even after uninstalling and overtime it becomes sluggish.

Also all the unnecessary apps and programs that come installed on windows that nobody wants.

I needed something that's fast and cheap and that's where chromebook came in. I have google everything so it was an easy transition from PC. This is the perfect laptop for a student also. Its super fast it takes 7 seconds to boot up... no waiting for apps or programs to start up like on windows.

As far as offline apps its basically the same as windows. You cant send emails or browse the web on windows offline just like the chromebook. You can work offline with microsoft office just like you can work offline with google docs.

if you just need a laptop thats fast and inexpensive and you just need it for browsing the web and word documents then the chromebook is the way to go.

I've yet to see a Chromebook in the wild. I'm guessing if they really are finding a niche it's very small and very urban ie metrosexual.

I just can't see it. I bought a HP 11 Chromebook for £200 to give it another rattle, and it's just far too limiting and slow. What about my non gmail accounts? I don't like accessing mail through the web interface, it's clunky. No local storage and crap battery life for such a "light" OS. No Sky Go, BT Sport etc. No thanks.

I think the new Atom from Intel will be the end of Chromebooks (and RT) . I got an ASUS T100 for £299, better screen, Bay Trail Atom (which is amazing), also a tablet, HDMI out, expandable storage, 11 hours battery,USB 3.0, amazing speakers and full windows 8.1 with Office included. SKY Go and BT Sport via the browser etc. (Perfect quality on my 40" TV). I can just buy one of these and install Chrome browser on it. Runs faster than on the HP ffs. Why would I buy the HP in a million years??

I wanted to like Chromebooks, but they aren't there, and aren't likely to get there. I disagree Chris, I think Google had a chance, but that time has gone, they just pissed about for the last few years, releasing crap hardware. MS and Intel have won I think.

Windows is bloated and inefficient? Uau, apparently this guy mixes preferences with cold analysis. I don't like MacOS, but that doesn't mean it's bloated and inefficient. If it is for you, great, just don't generalize things based on your personal preferences.

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To be fair I think he meant it was bloated and inefficient THEN, when it was running on really underpowered hardware. 8.1 on Bay Trail or even RT on Tegra 4 is anything but, it absolutely flies. It blows anything but the Pixel out of the water.

And before anyone jumps on me, that's a fact folks, that HP POS runs the same chip as the Nexus 10 FFS, it's nearly 2 years old. And you STILL only get about 5 hours screen time. Crapness.

Window RT on tegra 4 is still very laggy. ASus T100 running Windows 8.1 is 3.5 times slower than Acer C720 Chromebook and cost $150 more.

I recently bought a new laptop to mainly use as an HTPC, A4 5000 (4 core 1.5GHz), 750GB HDD (replaced it with a 120GB SSD) and plays Netflix HD and Youtube HD well. $250 smackeroos.

Windows 8.1 install only takes 16GB, it's not that bloated.

lol at buying a $199 Chromebook to replace a dying Macbook, isn't that the same as going from a Mercedes to a Ford Escort?

The Acer C720 outperform the Asus T100 by a factor of 3.5. It is just slower than the new Macbook air but it cost 4.5 times less. It may be a Ford but it is certainly not underpowered.

Just for this comment of your in your write up:
"As much as I love smartphones and tablets, I type a lot, and I want a real keyboard to do it on."

Use BlackBerry!! ;)

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I absolutely love my new Chromebook. My dad got it for me for my birthday, and I can't put it down. Mostly everything I do involves being online, so this is the perfect laptop for me. I have the Acer C720 - the new one that just came out. I'm posting on it right now. I would highly recommend it if you're involved in the Google universe like I am. It has everything I need.

For many of those people that only do internet style activities then the Chromebook is perfect. In fact, in real terms everything that I do on my iMac could just as easily be done from a Chromebook. Maybe with a few adjsutments in methodology but certainly I could do just as much with a Chromebook.

You know that Microsoft sees the Chromebook as a threat with their latest assault on rivals and negative advertising. They have probably come to the conclusion that many others have come to that 99% of people don't need a PC, they don't really need a laptop but some just need to be able to do a few things like wordprocessing, spreadsheets. Heck even Quickbooks can be done now using their cloud based offering with quickbooks online.

We have increasingly become a connected society and sadly Microsoft spent too much time standing still in the starting gate while the competition went on with the race.

I kind of agree in that most of my daily computing can be and is done on my phone...but only because it has a signal 24/7.

If I had a Chromebook I'd have to tether it to the phone. But since the phone is adequate the Chromebook becomes overkill for those tasks. That leaves me with heavier computing on the full laptop.

So for me, Chromebooks fill a void that doesn't exist. They're what my tablet ultimately became...another screen for screen's sake.

Wait, separate thought:

Chris' bio at the end of the article says he hosts a MN podcast called "Stock Talk." I'd be really interested in that. Is it real?