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Dell's Chromebook is a sign of shakier times for Windows

Gregg Keizer | Dec. 12, 2013
Microsoft's top 3 OEM partners are now all experimenting with Chrome OS

Nonetheless, Baker agreed that Dell moving to Chromebooks is a portent, and tangentially, a threat to Microsoft.

"It's all part of the general activity of the PC OEMs. OEMs can't sit back and depend on Wintel anymore," said Baker, using the term for the Windows-Intel partnership that dominated the computing industry until tablets, especially Apple's iPad, appeared. "They're using AMD processors, they're using ARM processors, they're using different OSes.

"It's just like Microsoft isn't relying exclusively on the OEMs anymore. It's another sign of the breaking apart of those oligarchies," Baker added.

Microsoft ruffled more than a few OEM feathers last year when it launched its own hardware brand, Surface, which now includes a second generation of tablets and tablet-notebook hybrids. And while its anti-Chromebook ads don't mention OEMs by name, by knocking the platform, Microsoft also knocked those who sell them, including its biggest PC partners.

Some, including Moorhead, expected that Dell would forget about experimenting with Windows alternatives after Microsoft loaned CEO Michael Dell $2 billion to help him take his company private.

Not the case. "It was just a smart investment in a partner," Baker said of the Microsoft loan. "Will Dell continue to be an important Microsoft partner? Of course. Will they be Windows exclusive? No. You need to look at it from that perspective."

Although Dell has said nothing official about expanding its Chromebooks effort into non-educational market, that's a certainty, Moorhead said. "I do expect them to take this into other markets.... There can't be a return on investment from just one market."

 

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