Lenovo's Chromebook should have Microsoft sweating

Students using Chromebooks from Samsung. Lenovo is introducing a Chromebook version of its popular ThinkPad laptop for the K-12 educational market. Credit: kjarrett via Flickr

Today's announcement that Lenovo is making its first Chromebook represents the latest bit of fallout from Microsoft's mishandling of the Windows 8 launch.

Lenovo introduced a new ThinkPad running Google's Chrome OS. It is designed for and will only be sold to K-12 educational institutions. But I would bet that this is just a first step for Lenovo. If successful, look for Lenovo to introduce Chromebooks for the broader market.

The move helps Google take advantage of Microsoft's weakness as the software giant struggles with introducing a new, redesigned version of Windows.

While it's been a challenge to parse through Windows 8 sales data, the consensus is that it's done fine but not outstandingly. Potential buyers have complained about a lack of inspiring new hardware designs, particularly with touch screens. The few models that are innovative – including Lenovo's Yoga PCs -- cost too much.

As the market hesitates while faced with too few interesting options or steep price tags, Google will start offering the classic ThinkPad design at a much lower price.

Volume pricing starts at $429, which is quite a bit more than other Chromebooks, but less than many of the Windows 8 laptops on the market so far. Chromebooks are often in the $250 price range and new Windows 8 machines are in the $1,000 ballpark.

The new ThinkPad will run Google Apps for Education, so young people with these computers will be using Google Apps instead of Office and Outlook. It will have three USB ports plus HDMI and VGA connections. Lenovo claims the battery will last an entire school day. In a press release, Lenovo cites an IDC study showing that Chromebooks are easier to deploy and manage than other machines.

The ThinkPad is one of the most commonly deployed laptops by enterprises. So it's a major departure for Lenovo to start offering a version that runs Chrome. But if sales of Windows 8 machines aren't living up to expectations, it makes sense for Lenovo to try something new.

It's possible that sour grapes are at play here too. Microsoft surely angered some of its closest OEM partners, like Lenovo, with its decision to build its own hardware.

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