Are Chromebooks the New Ubuntu Laptops?

Posted Tuesday January 29, 2013 at 10:12:09 pm in Technology

The Chromebook laptops have been getting a little press lately due to multiple manufacturers picking them up. But the real questions seem to be: should Microsoft be scared? Or are they just the new Ubuntu laptops?

Manufacturers

The first Chromebook was available in December of 2010, however it was not a consumer grade product. Instead it was a prototype, in particular the Cr-48. What's interesting is that this device was an Atom based laptop with a 9 hour battery life claim to fame. I remember loving the matte black hardware and superb battery life. I signed up for their hardware pilot program. Unfortunately I wasn't picked.

Since then, there have been 5 additional Chromebooks released:

  • June 2011: Samsung - Series 5 XE500C21, 6.5 hours battery life, Atom processor ($350+)
  • July 2011: Acer - AC700, 6 hours battery life, Atom processor ($300+)
  • May 2012: Samsung - Series 5 XE550C22, 6 hours battery life, Celeron processor ($450+)
  • October 2012: Samsung - Series 3 XE303C12, 6.5 hours battery life, Samsung Exynos processor ($250+)
  • November 2012: Acer - C7, 4 hours battery life, Celeron processor ($200)

Up until now, there have been 5 commercially available Chromebook laptops and 1 prototype (that we know of). Prices started at $350 back in 2011, and are now available for $250 (Samsung Series 3) or $200 (Acer C7).

By most accounts, the Acer is lackluster. Afterall it's sporting only 2 GB of RAM, a 1.1 GHz Inel Celeron processor, and a paltry 4 hour battery life. The only bright side? It's $200. Well, $220 through most avenues.

But if you go by preference and battery life, the Samsung Series 3 is your best option. $250, a sleak appearance and a more acceptable 6.5 hour battery life. 

On the horizon are 2 more from Chromebook newcomers Lenovo and HP:

  • February 2013: Lenovo - X131e, 6.5 hours battery life, AMD Fusion processor ($430)
  • February 2013: HP - Chromebook Pavilion, 4.25 hours battery life, Intel Celeron processor ($???)

I'm not forgetting about the Chromeboxes, FWIW. A Chromebox is essentially a desktop variant of the Chromebook. And right now there is only one available on the market: the Samsung Series 3 which is priced at $330.

What are they?

The goal of being a Chromebook means that it must be: cheap, small and relatively light. All of the Chromebooks currently on the market are between 11.6-12.1 inches. They all weigh less than 4 pounds. And they all (start) at less than $500. The 2 most recent Chromebooks (Series 3 and C7) are around $250. 

How are they so cheap?

Specs, for one. If you look at the processors they're all Atom, Celeron, or ARM processors. Some older processors. The bodies are typically plastic. They lack powerful video cards. Their SSD's (if they have one) are only 16GB. Screen size is typically around 11 or 12 inches. And manufacturers don't have to pay a license premium for use of the OS a la Windows.

Make no mistake, these are modern day netbooks in regards to price and hardware makeup. These are built down to a cost. In much the same way Apple uses yesteryear's technology in the iPad Mini to drive down the cost, Chromebook manufacturers are doing the same.

And with good reason. Chrome OS is a very basic OS. It's a lightweight OS. Its purpose is to (first and foremost) push the web forward. Right now native apps are still all the rage. Google simply bought Android to compete w/ Apple (and to try and get buyers ingrained into their ecosystem), however Google is a web company first and foremost. Whereas Google bought Android the company, their mission has nearly always been about the web. Search, Gmail, Maps, Google Plus, YouTube, Drive, Calendar, etc. all web based technologies. If Google could have their way, native apps would exist only sparingly...and Chrome OS would be the OS of choice.

Usage

Google wants you to live in their ecosystem. Make friends with Drive, YouTube, and the Chrome browser. Get to know nearly every website out there. There are some productivity applications like remote desktop, some basic graphic editing, etc.. But you won't be installing anything that's an executable by way of a CD-ROM/DVD drive. Hell, you won't be executing anything, really. It's all about the web and web technologies baby. More on that in future posts.

Chromebook - The only cheap laptop?

Well, no. Not at all. The Samsung Series 3 is $250, the Acer C7 is $200. There's a point where a product is either being sold at a loss to push an ecosystem/idea or being sold with nearly zero profit margins (see: the Nexus 7). 

A simple search on NewEgg shows a variety of laptops/notebooks that run Windows 8 and are less than $400. The cheapest is an Acer Aspire One which runs Windows 8 64 bit for $300.  15.6" Dell Inspirons with Windows 8 were available for $250. 15.6" Toshiba Satellites were available for $280. Even Lenovo had a 15.6" IdeaPad available for $300.

As for non Windows laptops, Ubuntu laptops are also available. Which really is what brought up my original question: are Chromebooks the new Ubuntu laptops? Afterall, when companies like Dell started selling cheaper laptops running Ubuntu, a lot of people (the tech media as well) were asking the same question they were asking now: should Microsoft be worried? I'd argue with products being available with Windows 8 available at nearly the same price...that no, Microsoft shouldn't be worried.

What they should be doing, however, is improving Windows RT so that they can stay at the price point that the Google Chromebooks are living at to have extra options available to consumers: Atom, Celeron, AMD, and ARM.

The biggest issue that Ubuntu has/had is that of marketing. Your average consumer has no idea what Linux is let alone Ubuntu. I'd venture to say that Google, even with its horrific marketing department, can push the Chromebook idea infinitely better than the Ubuntu folks can. Afterall, they're at the whim of their own manufacturers....much like Microsoft. Quick:

  • How many of us have seen a Chrome OS commercial? (everyone raises their hand)
  • How many of us have seen a Windows/Surface commercial? (everyone raises their hand)
  • How many of us have seen a commercial with a consumer grade Linux product? (crickets)

So, really, how is Chrome OS (and the Chromebooks) doing?

Marketshare

For December 2012,  the desktop marketshare breakdown is as follows:

  • Windows: 91.74%
  • Mac: 7.07%
  • Linux: 1.19%

If we're to take the entire breakdown including mobile/tablet as well as console, the breakdown is more like this:

  • Windows: 81.55%
  • iOS: 6.60%
  • Mac: 5.96%
  • Android: 2.65%
  • Linux: 1.27%
  • Java ME: 1.03%
  • BlackBerry: 0.18%
  • Symbian: 0.15%
  • Windows Phone: 0.11%
  • Kindle: 0.07%
  • Playstation: 0.01%
  • Bada: 0.01%
  • Windows Mobile: 0.01%
  • Samsung: 0.01%
  • Nintendo Wii: 0.00%
  • BREW: 0.00%

Source: NetMarketshare for December 2012

I don't know about you, but I don't see where Chrome OS is. But why is that?

Sniffing out an agent

My first reaction when thinking of Chrome OS was: isn't Chrome OS essentially one big web browser...maybe the user agent is similar to that of the Chrome browser and stat counter sites are having a hard time recognizing it.

I was doing a little Google searching and happened upon Simone Carletti's Blog. In particular a blog titled "Google Chrome OS User Agent" that was written back in November of 2009.

Simone states a Google Chrome OS user agent as follows:

79.8.208.125 - - [20/Nov/2009:23:21:31 +0000] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 2900 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; CrOS i686 9.10.0; en-US) AppleWebKit/532.5 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/4.0.253.0 Safari/532.5"

You'll notice the CrOS designation. 

So, I'm digging to find anything that can tell me how well Google's Chrome OS is actually doing. Am I being a bit too presumptious to call it the next Ubuntu laptop? Afterall, Linux at least shows up in the rankings. 

Back to Marketshare

Chrome OS has been out since December 2010. If you want to cut it some slack it's been out since June/July of 2011. About a year and a half. Do a Google search for Chrome OS marketshare. See anything? Neither do I. But I'm open to adjust this article just so we can get some information out there.

What next?

With HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Samsung on board, Chrome OS should get stronger...but I just can't see them being anything more than the next Ubuntu. However, if there's one thing Google has going for it that the Canonical Ltd. folks (the company behind Ubuntu) don't: it's $$$ and marketing. Maybe Google can break that title. Maybe Chromebooks won't be the next Ubuntu laptops.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view