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Why the Chromebook pundits are simply out of touch with reality

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The Chromebook(s goog) pundits have their heads in the sand again. In the past week, I’ve read not one, but two extremely myopic commentaries on how a PC(s msft) easily trumps a Chromebook. One says “Chromebooks are a joke,” while the other suggests that a PC can already run the Chrome browser and do so much more, so “there’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook.”

Chrome App Launcher Mac

Really? Before I get into why I take issue, here’s a peek at the articles.

Last week I read “Assessing the Chromebook threat” from noted Windows blogger and author, Paul Thurrott. Here’s a snippet that’s filled with a few inaccuracies right off the bat.

“First, Chrome OS is still very much just a freaking web browser. As much as I like Google Chrome, I still find the general Chrome OS experience to be incredibly limiting. You’re basically using a single web browser window with multiple tabs, though recent Chrome OS versions feature a Windows 7-like taskbar at the bottom of the screen, which does make a bit of perceptual difference.”

Just a “freaking web browser”? I suspect Thurrott hasn’t paid attention to what we’ve noted for the past six months: Chrome and Chrome OS are strategic platforms to usurp engagement on the desktop. Yes, they have a front-facing browser, but look behind the window and you’ll see several ways — Packaged Apps and Native Client, for example — that developers can build rich apps.

Oh, and those apps work outside of the browser, so “using a single web browser window with multiple tabs” simply isn’t accurate. Since May, for example, I’ve been playing a console-like game in its own window on my Chromebook using an Xbox 360 controller. Just a browser, indeed…

Pixel gaming

This morning I saw a related piece by ZDNet’s Larry Seltzer dubbed “Why there’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook.” Seltzer suggests that only schools are buying them, even though Chromebooks are routinely filling up the top-5 laptop category on Amazon. I doubt schools are making their purchases through Amazon though. Here’s more of Seltzer’s point of view:

“Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but as I see it, there’s nothing you can do with a Chromebook that you can’t do with a Windows laptop running Chrome. I just shopped a bit on Amazon and it looks like the prices aren’t all that different. So what’s the point of buying a Chromebook?”

Since Seltzer asked to be corrected, I’ll take the bait. The perspective of preferring Chrome and Windows instead of just Chrome is old-school thinking. It doesn’t take into account what the cost is of having Windows to run Chrome. I don’t mean financial cost; I mean experiential cost.

A Chromebook couldn’t be much simpler to use. If you know how to browse the web, you know how to use a Chromebook. So you don’t have to flip between a touch-friendly environment and a traditional desktop to get work done. You don’t have to spend any time whatsoever getting updates to your device — in Chrome OS, they download in the background and are immediately applied upon a reboot. They’re also typically much smaller because the system is less complex; by design.

Windows update

You don’t have dozens of archaic services running in the background, wasting compute resources just to keep the operating system… operating. Granted, Chrome OS runs atop Linux, so there are processes taking place behind the scenes, but users will never know that, see them or be impacted by them.

Simply put: it’s not about what more you can do with Chrome OS over a traditional PC; it’s about all the complex, time-wasting crap you don’t get with Chrome OS. Looking at it from the former perspective indicates a legacy computing experience that’s growing old fast. If you don’t believe me, just look at tablet sales growth as PC sales continue to slump. To ignore the trend towards simpler compute experiences that offload to the cloud is simply irresponsible.

lots of tablets

Even more disappointing, though: I find both opinions to be not just dismissive of real, actual disruption going on in the computing industry, but also disrespectful to the many consumers that might find the Chromebook to be a perfectly viable and useful product. If all you need to do is surf the web, communicate via email, update social networks and such, what’s wrong with a machine that excels at all of these activities without adding dozens of apps and options you’d never use?

Granted, I use a Chromebook myself, so it’s easy to suggest I have some bias. And truth be told, I am biased: I write about and use products that are the best tools for my tasks.

Why do I take that approach? Because everyone’s computing requirements vary. All I can do is share my requirements and the devices that best meet them. If you have similar requirements and use cases, then it’s likely these products are worth the look. If not, fine.


Here’s the thing, though: As our computing needs and habits change, it seems to me that the real opportunity growth is the specific use cases where Chrome OS excels: The basics of online communication, search and simple productivity. Am I suggesting that Chrome OS will eventually eliminate traditional desktop computing? Not at all; there are still heavy-duty computing use cases like video production, research for the sciences and such.

And that’s why in the nearly two years of covering Chromebooks and creating dozens of Chrome Show podcast episodes, I’ve never said Chromebooks are the best product for all. Because I know they’re not. They’re fantastic for a specific type of user and use cases. For others, a PC or Mac(s aapl) is the better choice and I certainly wouldn’t be short-sighted so as to summarily dismiss those options as a joke.

75 Responses to “Why the Chromebook pundits are simply out of touch with reality”

  1. Thurrott’s column actually has a funny final comment. He started his comment off with a very negative comment: “Chromebooks are a joke”.

    People obviously took umbrage at such a strong remark. After 4 pages of follow-up banter, Thurrott locked comments after making this final statement:

    pthurrott on Oct 31, 2013
    “The sheer amount of partisan bullshit comments this post has triggered is disheartening. My overall goal is for a discussion, a debate, not an endless series of putdowns from either side. Clearly, this post has attracted the attention of some bizarre outside contingent of Chromebook fans. God bless you all. But this post wasn’t a criticism of Chromebook, it was an honest assessment, something these people should at least acknowledge: I point out the good and the bad. Is my viewpoint somewhat Windows-based? Duh. I represent 1.5 million users of PCs, which by the way is the audience for Chromebook too. Grow up, people.”

    I think this is hilarious! You tell people you think their computer “is a joke”, then you get upset when people disagree with you, call them ‘bizarre’, then lock them out of the debate _after_ you make sure you get the last word in.

  2. Paul Thurrott is basically a professional shill for Windows. Nothing wrong with that. But one should read him not to get tech knowledge, but to understand what the people at Microsoft are freaking out over (and have hence directed him to help with the FUD about).

    If Paul Thurrott says that Chrome OS is not a threat to Microsoft, what that really means is that his masters at Microsoft believe that Chrome OS is a threat to Microsoft.

  3. Larry Warren

    I’ve been using windows computers since 1982, beginning with the “sewing machine” style Compaq which weighed 28 pounds and I actually took on business trips.

    Now, I’m retired. I’m no longer a producer, but a media consumer. I use my tablet and Chromebook for web surfing, email, contacts, tasks, magazines, newspapers, movies, Netflix, Amazon videos and Googe Docs. I still have a laptop, but have no real need for it. For me, it’s bulky, limited in “apps” that I’m interested in, slow, expensive and way to complicated for my uses.

    I love the instant on, the light weight, portability, and simplicity of my tablet and Chromebook. I love the apps available through Google Play. Windows has nothing to compare to the type of apps that I use through Google Play and they are mostly free. Most everything I do, I do with the internet. And when my wi-fi only tablet and Chromebook are out of wi-fi range, I use the mobile hotspot through my Samsung Galaxy S4.

    If I were still working, certainly I would need a Windows laptop to run Microsoft Office … but I’m very happy to be retired and to be un-tethered with my Chromebook and Tablet.

    I agree with Kevin … the people who cannot see the benefit of the Chromebook are narrow minded, old or, just plan stupid.

  4. I may also consider that there is an app ecosystem growing for Chrome, this to me is a key point. Also you can run a virtual windows desktop in the chrome browser using vmware view hmtl 5 blast client. In this way, companies now have a platform choice that allows them to transistion from legacy windows desktops to cloud based applications of the future. I am personally involved in such a project.

  5. Different strokes for different folks. its simple, there are ignorant die hard fanatics for everything and i simply like what works for me. i don’t approve of apple or Microsoft products, services, or the ridiculous prices points they stick to. chromebooks do exactly what i need them to do and for a price i can afford to lose twice and still not hurt financially. For other tasks that i cant do on a chromebook ill just use another device. chromebooks never set out to take over the pc mac world. they are merely here to spark change in peoples minds that things should be free and simple. all microsoft and apple care about is making money and google is here to change that. as you can clearly see apple and microsoft both will have to give away software and hardware to keep up with the future or die out like the dinosaurs. no one seems to think bad about paying 1400 for a mac or pc, i do. this is the age where we should not be paying more then 500 for an ultra book or a 50 inch tv. i say nay.

  6. s/Chome/Windows RT


    Also, comment sign-in is really messed up here. Sign-in with Twitter didn’t work. Filling out the “anonymous” form tried to take me to a WordPress login page for some reason. Trying to log in there failed saying my e-mail address or username was invalid. Ugh. Let’s see if another e-mail works…

  7. Kevin, you have to consider the source. The two blogs you site are from Microsoft-centric bloggers. Their bread and butter is the Windows OS and Microsoft products. They are on the trailing edge and they know it. Apple owns the tablet market and has a healthy share of the mobile market. Microsoft has neither. Google owns the search market and is poised to take over the browser market. Again, at Microsoft’s expense. So Microsoft loses all around. It’s just a case of sour grapes.

  8. The real issue with Google is the following: They dip in your data with an algorithm to be able to send you targeted ads. When you have nowhere to go but on their servers then you become a source of revenues. Where would you put your bank statements? Your divorce settlement papers? your credit card statements? and other private docs?
    Those are the reasons I’m staying away from Chromebooks

    • “When you have nowhere to go but on their servers then you become a source of revenues.”

      There’s no reason you can’t use one or more other cloud services with a Chromebook. I still use Dropbox, and SkyDrive, for example. Store your documents with the company that you trust the most.

  9. I am using Windows 7, Ubuntu 13.4, ChromeOS, Android tablets and smarphones. I like very much my Chromebook, it is really fast and secure. I can do almost every thing I want. Chromebook is much easier to use and more intuitive than Windows 7. Not to mention it is much more secure. I am using more Ubuntu for development even though I can use CB and Nutrious IO. Indeed, installing Ubuntu beside ChromeOs makes my Chromebook the best investment I have ever made. My CB costs much less than any equivalent Windows laptop. There are more and more native and packaged applications that run outside the browser. I still need Windows to run an application that sooner I hope it will be available on Linux or chromeOS, then good bye Windows for ever.

  10. MyPointis

    Conversely, I don’t see the value in the new Windows 8 computer I have. It does the same as the one from three years ago, in some ways its faster better, but in other ways slower and worse than the 3 to 5 year old computer, but on whole a wash

    But for a $249 I’ve got a machine that turns on in under 10 seconds, and that is a game changer. I also is a great form factor, and is gently moving me into the cloud.

  11. epimetheon

    I don’t dislike Chrome OS on principle. But since it’s not for “heavy-duty” tasks, why is it the same price? That’s what bugs me. If the devices were cheaper, I’d have an easier time swallowing the limitations.

  12. Thurott actively tries to be adversarial and belittles his own readers in order to be a cynosure. The ZDNet guy apparently spent just enough time doing research as it took to vacate his bowels… coincidence?

    These old guard tech “journos” are foundering.

    That windows update screen shot is hilarious – this morning I was mildly perturbed that my chromebook had a system update, then laughed at myself as it took 25 seconds for a once-every-two-weeks-max sneeze of an update to install, so spoiled am I by the os. My wife is taking the chromebook on a business trip so now I have to buy another one. Sigh, what a burden.

  13. pauljmanoogian

    Your comments are dead-on. As I read through the other comments here, I wonder who is doing what. I think your noting that Chrome OS warrants a look by those with less complex computing needs makes perfect sense. These uses fit on-par with those comments about using tablet devices of any kind. Chrome OS offers a lot of other strong alternatives to what’s done with tablets, such as Android tablets, or iPads. Windows Surface RT is arguably similar, but with a different set of tools. I think one person eluded to an important point that I make when people ask me what to buy; ecosystem. There are three strong players out there: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Each has its own ecosystem which is just a matter of preference. With those ecosystem comforts comes the choice of what kind of hardware you’re going to buy; your business versus personal needs dictate the rest. Your article basically shares this same idea. I don’t think that any one solution is particularly better overall, just each has its merit for one person or another. If people want to argue their opinions on the business practices of a company, that’s different. I can see use cases for hardware and software from Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and BeagleBone, just as much as iOS, ChromeOS, Linux, and Windows. It has to work for you for what you’re doing, and that’s really all there is to it. Making careful judgement not to fall for overkill is the hardest thing; especially for a geek like me. :)

  14. The real battle isn’t Chromebook vs. PC — it’s Chromebook vs. iPad. Google’s Chrome OS is fighting last year’s war, when it should be (and probably already is) thinking about the tablet experience.

  15. Great article.

    If the rise of mobile devices has taught us anything, it’s that the personal computing market is heterogeneous.

    In many ways the Chromebook philosophy subverts the Apple user motto, “it just works.” My parents and mother-in-law both are thinking of upgrading their PCs. They want a low cost, simple, zero maintenance option that allows them to surf the web, check email, and a few other very basic functions. A tablet probably would fit the bill, but the screen size, lack of a dedicated sit-down workstation user experience, and cost are deal breakers. Macs and PCs are just too high maintenance (this is hard to understand for people who feel comfortable with tech). Chromebooks offer a perfect solution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like OEMs really understand this market at all. Hint: it’s your parents and grandparents. It’s not a techie device. It’s a comforting, non-threatening, easy, just works option, that’s really affordable.

  16. My aged Dell desktop gave up the ghost several months ago. It had become relegated to my wife’s internet machine. So I bit the bullet…and bought a Chrome Box ($299) and Google compatible printer ($ 90). My wife is very happy. First off, the big honking Dell is gone. Lots more desktop. It boots in the blink of an eye. No confusing messages from a Windows virus protection software. It is super quick to run. For me, I have not had a single summons to deal with some crash, like on Windows. I have already told my parents that their next home computer has to be a Chromebook or Chromebox….I am closing down my IT services. Chrome OS just works….when used as intended.

  17. RobPaulGru

    I have the original CR-48 and it is still pretty useful despite the slow hardware. You can do real development in the cloud now too with Codenvy, Koding, Cloud9, Shiftedit, etc…

  18. chriskoncz

    Great rebuke to the “I just don’t get chromebooks” crowd out there. I suspect that none of these people have ever used a chromebook extensively and perhaps they are too entrenched in their respective ecosystems to even consider trying them out. What they don’t see is that there are a lot of people out there for whom chromebooks are a perfect fit. They also fail to see the changes in usage patterns, people do almost everything in the cloud these days. For instance who burns DVDs any more? Or plays games on a laptop? I think people have so many different devices these days, games consoles, smartphones, tablets, smart tvs, that they simply don’t need a traditional PC. Once you have a games console, a smartphone or a tablet, all you really need is a chromebook. And if you are a photo or video professional you wouldn’t consider a sub-300 dollar machine anyway, you would probably spend 10 times as much to get the best equipment you need for your work.

  19. tejedor1967

    Well… while reading this article I looked the two screens in my MacBook Pro (3000 Euros two summers ago) and I took note of what I have open in those two screens:

    – Google Chorme
    – A post-it notes application
    – Mail
    – Skype
    – Twitter (official client)

    That’s all… except (may be) while editing video for my Youtube channel (once a month) or audio for my podcast (once a week) I could be working in a Chromebook (much much cheaper).

    Microsoft Office? I use Microsoft Office Web Apps online. Any other program? Nope just editing 720p videos with iMovie and recording podcasts with GarageBand from time to time.

    So I wasted at least 2000 euros.

    There is any video editing and audio recording and editing in Chromebook?

  20. From my point of view, I think all sides of the OS wars miss the point. I don’t care what OS is running, I care what apps and applications can run on top of it and how hard it is for me to run them.

    Right now, I can afford any tablet and all but the super gaming laptops and desktops. I went with Windows (on a Thinkpad Tablet 2) not because I like Windows but because when I sit on my back porch and connect to my office’s extranet, I need to run software that doesn’t run in Chrome or Android or iOS. It might run in Linux or OSx and I could install them on my Thinkpad but it would be a pain to sort out driver issues so I make do.

    Perhaps the situation will change in the future but, for now, Chrome just doesn’t have the ecosystem I want.

  21. well i am a google fan but chrome os still sucks ! hard disk space is still required ! and most of the people are not tech geeks who would enjoy exploring the OS for the fun of it .

    People use to say the same about Ubuntu then my office implemented ubuntu system … now the work which was done in 4hours takes 10 hours ! and sytems keeps on crashing . I used to think linux is great as long as ur not using it for various tasks .Real life application is still lacking . if u only want you browser then it was ok but when u run apps they cant handle the load !

    I think these secondary os dont undergo the kind if scrutiny windows does so u cant praise the other on points which has not been tested!

    using these os are like using internet explorer 8 or 7 in todays world . Yes they are that bad

    • Deepak,

      That’s not entirely true. Chrome is for the geeks, who don’t want any boundaries. I am an IT personnel and have turned most of my client towards Ubuntu and Chrome. I fix all kind of computer OS problem including Windows and Mac alike. It is up to the consumer what they like but make no mistake that Chrome is moving very fast.

  22. I use an android phone, an asus tablet with keyboard dock(android) but still need a pc enviroment “for work” — somethings I want to keep on my own systems and not be in the cloud which depends on a good internet connection that may not be there

  23. Chrome OS is about the 3-S:
    – Simplicity
    – Speed
    – Security

    Doing ARM Powered Chrome OS (which I think has 90% of the Chrome OS market share even though there only is 2 ARM Powered Chromebook devices yet released) is about for 4-P:
    – Price
    – Performance
    – Power consumption
    – Profit distribution among Ecosystem suppliers, that last part is really important. If the supply-chain Ecosystem companies make more profits selling Chrome OS devices for themselves instead of giving all their profits to the Wintel duopoly, that means better devices, more devices, better components, not just better processor, it means better screens, better keyboards, better Storage, better web services also.

    This is why the ARM Powered Chrome OS device is going to catch more than 50% of the Laptop and Desktop market during 2014 worldwide.

    • Vivek Chaudhary

      I own both ARM based Samsung Chromebook and the newer Haswell Chromebook. Based on my experience, ARM Chromebooks are now dead on arrival thanks to Haswell. Haswell powered chromebooks are offering better battery life, superior performance and same price point ($249). My Samsung Chromebook struggles while playing 1080p youtube videos, Netflix HD videos and amazon prime videos. If you have more than 4 tabs open, things get excruciatingly slow. Contrast this with Acer Haswell Chromebook, its super fast, even with a dozen tabs open. I have thrown everything at it including 1080p youtube videos, CPU intensive flash based games (for e.g. cricket), it never struggled. Haswell and very soon Baytrail powered Chromebooks make ARM chips DOA as far as chromebooks are concerned.

  24. Kevin,
    Paul is biased to Windows as you say you are to your Chromebook. I used to listen to Paul and Leo on their Windows Weekly podcast until Paul kept ignoring the people saying Windows 8 was better then Windows 7 and laughing at people that said it was a piece of you know what.

    I stopped listening to their podcast due to always trying to push Windows 8 on folks and saying how great it is and totally ignoring or ridiculing the people who don’t agree with him.

    Of course maybe Paul is saying all that stuff like John C. Dvorak says he does when he writes negative stuff just so he will get more remarks to the stuff he posts so as to keep people talking about him and his articles :) Who knows.

    • I agree about Paul. I’m a die hard Windows fan but Windows 8 is absolutely a no-go. Paul knows it but refuses to admit it. He realizes his future is in Windows and it is in his best interest to push Windows 8 no matter how bad it sucks.
      The Chromebooks are great. I actually had a CR-48 (thank you Google) and no, I didn’t use it a ton. But I’m a PC guy. I multitask a lot. I run server stuff. I play PC games.
      But, I gave my Chromebook to my Brother in law and it is the PC of choice in the evening while watching TV, for example. He loves it. Does everything he wants.
      How is that not a good thing?
      Paul is practically un-watchable and barely readable.

      • I have to disagree…Paul is one of the few who objectively criticized Windows 8 for it’s shortcoming but continues to praise it advancement. Windows 8.1 is a terrific OS, if you actually take the time to use it instead of bad maouthing just based on the litte bit of drivel posted by the blogosphere.

          • John Maguire

            I’m not sure I’d say it’s truly fantastic, but it definitely has many improvements over Windows 7. I run it on my laptop and I have no urge to downgrade — likewise, I run Windows 7 on my desktop and I don’t feel the need to upgrade. While there are advantages, the extra cost to upgrade to Windows 8 is not worth the benefit to me — especially since a lot of the focus was on touchscreen devices (which I really don’t think is a bad move, despite how many people are upset — like the article noted, tablets are becoming more and more popular, and Microsoft is trying to grow Windows to support that.)