Are Chromebooks becoming the unexpected hit of the year? New reports indicate that notebooks based on Google's cloud-oriented platform are gaining traction -- possibly at the expense of Windows 8 notebooks.
On Sunday, Acer President Jim Wong told Bloomberg News that Chromebooks accounted for 5 percent to 10 percent of his company's U.S. shipments since their release in November. Because of that growth, he said, the computer maker may offer Chromebooks in other markets.
This trend is running counter to the tepid sales Acer is experiencing for its Gateway, Packard Bell and eMachine brands, which use the Windows platform. Wong told Bloomberg that "Windows 8 itself is still not successful," and that a simple way to judge that was if the PC market has come back after 8's launch -- which, so far, it has not.
In December, computers using Windows 8 accounted for 1.7 percent of computers in use, according to industry research firm Net Market Share. Windows 7 machines represented 45 percent, Windows Vista 5.6 percent, Apple's Mac about 7 percent and the venerable Windows XP 39 percent.
Wong noted that Chromebooks are being purchased by educational institutions and corporations, and that a key selling point is that, as cloud-based, thin-client machines, they are seen as being more secure. Other advantages include ease of updates, maintenance, backup and the ability for any user to use any machine.
HP is joining Acer and other major PC manufacturers such as Samsung and Lenovo in releasing a Chromebook. Recently, a spec sheet was apparently accidentally released on the HP Web site for an HP Pavilion Chromebook with a 14-inch display, 2GB of memory, HD webcam, Bluetooth, three USB ports, HDMI, Ethernet, a 16GB solid state drive and a battery with an estimated 4.25 hour charge. Except for the battery life, the specs are generally higher than many other Chromebooks have offered.
Last week, Lenovo released its ThinkPad X131e, a rugged Chromebook designed for K-12 education. Its hardened case features a rubber bumper around the top cover, and hinges that are designed to last more than 50,000 open/close cycles. The model includes Google Apps for Education, plus a choice of thousands of apps in the Chrome Web Store. Schools are a key potentially large market for Chromebooks, and Google has said that they are being used at more than a thousand K-12 schools.
Lenovo is also reportedly working on Chrome OS laptops and desktops for corporate markets later this year. The financial journal The Street has reported it is hearing from enterprises that are ready to have as many as 20 percent of their employees try Chromebooks.
Some industry observers are suggesting that Chromebooks represent no more of a threat to Microsoft's dominance of PC operating systems that did Linux-based PCs, which have not taken off. The key threat to Microsoft PCs, according to this line of thinking, is tablets, where Apple is king and Android has become the queen.
On the other hand, the head of a major PC maker like Acer never touted sales of Linux machines the way Wong has touted Chromebooks.