Report: Chromebook Lands with a Thud

Report: Chromebook Lands with a Thud

Looks like anecdotes about Chromebook's successes are just that: anecdotes

Take heart, Windows 8 fans: PCs based on the beleaguered new Microsoft OS are outselling the supposed competition—Chromebooks running Google’s ChromeOS—by a much wider margin than expected. It seems that the struggles of Linux on the PC desktop know no bounds, and the news puts last week’s announcement about Android and Chrome in perspective.

For the past few months, tech pundits have foisted a myth on PC users: Google’s free ChromeOS, we were told, would do what Linux failed to do over the previous 20 years and dislodge Windows from its comfortable position atop the PC world. But with a recent report from Digitimes, this myth is laid bare. Chromebook sales are almost non-existent.

“Chromebook has less than 1 percent [market] share in the notebook market,” Digitimes reports, with total sales of less than 500,000 units. “Compatibility and consumer usage habits are the major obstacles that the OS would need to break through to attract demand.”

And don’t get too excited about that 1 percent share. When compared with the total market for PCs, it’s even less, at under 0.6 percent, based on recent data from IDC. (Notebooks represented about 58 percent of PC sales in 2012.) And when compared with the actual devices it competes with—PCs and tablets—well ... Let’s just say we shouldn’t even be discussing Chromebook as a viable alternative at all. (OK, what the heck. It’s a bit over 0.1 percent. That’s one-tenth of one percent.)

Even Microsoft’s Surface efforts have been far more successful than the Chromebook: Microsoft has sold 1.1 million Surface RT tablets so far, and it sold 400,000 Surface Pro units in one month alone.

But for months now, we’ve been treated to anecdotal evidence about Chromebook’s successes, and with the troublesome Windows 8 launch as a backdrop, some have tied two disconnected stories together in an attempt to describe cause and effect. Acer President Jim Wong—who, let’s face it, is charged with making his company’s line of Chromebooks a success—has claimed that the devices are “more secure” than Windows, while likewise claiming that Windows 8 (which we know sold more than 60 million licenses in just three months) was “not successful.”

The anti-Microsoft cabal also points to the fact that a Chromebook has been the best-selling notebook on Amazon for the past few months. Which it has, though I suspect that Amazon’s decision to separate netbook sales from notebook sales plays a role in that. At just $282 today on Amazon, the best-selling Samsung Chromebook model is more akin to a netbook than a notebook.

No matter. It’s time we stop pretending that Google’s ChromeOS—which is just a web browser with a tiny layer of sort-of-Linux OS code wrapped around it—is a viable alternative to Windows. It’s not, especially when you consider that any Windows user can install the Chrome browser for free.

Of course, Google might be on course to correct this issue quickly. The firm currently creates two OSs and the other one, Android, is now installed on more than 750 million devices worldwide. This past week, Google announced that it would be placing its Chrome/ChromeOS and Android efforts under a single senior vice president, Sundar Pichai. And the most compelling reason to do so is to combine these products into a single OS, Android, on which the Chrome browser could run. Such a combination poses a far more dire threat to Windows than does the Chromebook. And given the sales pace of those devices, it might explain why the combination is occurring now.

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