Dell's Wednesday debut of a Chromebook, an inexpensive laptop that runs Google's browser-based Chrome OS, is a sign that the platform has gone mainstream, an analyst argued today.
Another called it one more clue that long-standing technology oligarchies are crumbling. Both saw it as yet another threat, even if currently a small one, to Microsoft.
"This means that Chromebooks have gone mainstream. If Dell jumps on board, it means they think they're losing business to rivals," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
He also cited Dell's traditional conservative approach to product introductions as a signal of Chromebooks' growing importance. "Dell sells only those things that people are going to buy, they're not into taking risks," said Moorhead.
Dell's Chromebook 11, which won't ship until January, will be priced at under $300 and will be aimed at the education market.
Dell followed other big-name computer OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), including Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, into Chromebooks. With the Round Rock, Texas company's jump onto the bandwagon, the world's top three OEMs have all rolled out one or more Chromebooks.
Those three companies, which shipped 46% of the world's PCs in the third quarter by IDC's estimate, are much more closely linked to Microsoft than to Google -- the vast bulk of personal computers rely on Microsoft's Windows -- but the experimentation with Chromebooks has made the Redmond, Wash. developer nervous.
Nervous enough to recently roll out a pair of attack ads that bashed Chromebooks and portrayed them "not a real laptop."
"Microsoft is both concerned about Chromebooks and being proactive," said Moorhead of the ads. "Microsoft is scared about missing another market like they have so often in mobile, so yes, Chromebooks concern them. But they're not going down with a fight."
The downside to Microsoft's attacks on Chromebooks, Moorhead continued, is the side effect: The ads raise consumer awareness of the Google-powered notebooks. But that's a risk Microsoft seems willing to take.
Chromebooks have been strong sellers in some market segments -- education and government to name two -- said another analyst, who disputed Moorhead's contention that the machines, which require Internet access for most tasks and rely on cloud-based services to store documents, files and other content, were ready for mass adoption.
"Chromebooks [sales] are up considerably from last year," said Stephen Baker, a retail analyst with the NPD Group. "They account for about a quarter of the under-$300 [notebook] market in the U.S., and that's where they're going to stay. They will continue to incrementally gain share, but compared to the full PC market, they're not ready to be mainstream."
Baker based his last comment on NPD's belief that Chromebooks were not so much stealing share from Windows-based notebooks as they were from tablets. "That's the interesting part," Baker said.
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