HP joins the Chromebook crowd, but I'm still not convinced it'll hurt Windows

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This morning, HP officially joined Lenovo, Samsung, and Acer by announcing it is now offering a Chromebook.

In comparison to the others, it’s big, heavy, and on the expensive side. The HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook has a 14 inch screen, weighs four pounds, and costs $329. It's got 16GB of storage on board, and users can access 100 GB of Google Drive storage for free.

The Acer is the cheapest of the bunch at $200, and Lenovo’s Chrombook selling to the education market only for $429.

But what really matters is if people will be comparing the HP Chromebook to Windows machines from HP and others. With that comparison, the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook is still big and heavy and lacks storage. But it’s definitely cheap, at $329.

Are Chromebooks a threat to the Windows empire? When rumors of the HP Chromebook surfaced a week ago, I argued no. I wrote that the recent launch of Chromebooks reminded me of a few previous instances where the big OEMs came out with Linux machines only to see them fizzle away.

It happened with desktops and more recently with netbooks. In both cases, the Linux machines didn’t take off and Microsoft comfortably held onto its grip on the market.

A few readers made some interesting points in the comments section after my story arguing that times have changed more than I suggest, giving Chromebooks a real chance.

Ezequiel Gonzalez made a good point. He wrote: “The real problem for Microsoft is that the era of the ‘Jack of all trades master of none’ computer is fading away.” Rather than having one Windows laptop at home, some people may have a Windows desktop at work, an iPad for travel, a Chromebook at home, and any kind of smartphone they like.

Ian Ray, another commenter, took it one step further. “Jack of all trades, master of none is the key here. For some reason, Microsoft is still having the conversation where people somehow want an ‘all-in-one’ device,” he wrote. He called the new unusual form factors that have popped up around Windows 8 “ridiculous,” including their price tags. “The concept of an inexpensive, secure device that runs a web browser is clearly not ridiculous to the consumer,” he wrote.

Chris Christensen made a different point that also has merit. “Microsoft has introduced an OS that is as unfamiliar to customers as Ubuntu,” he wrote.

Windows 8 is indeed a big departure from previous versions of Windows and will feel different to users. The resulting confusion could crack the door open a bit further than during previous attempts to push Linux, inviting people to try out something new.

I remain unconvinced that Chromebooks will crush Windows. My thinking is along the lines of another commenter, bobk54. “There will ALWAYS be a market for MS, it’s just getting more and more crowded.” Again, instead of having your one or two trusty Windows machines, people are spreading their compute needs across a handful of devices, and maybe only one of those runs Windows.

While people in technology might sing the praises of Chromebooks, the general public will try them out and be disappointed at their limitations. They may not fade away entirely like past attempts at pushing competitive OSes, but it’s unlikely to grow to more than just a niche product.

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