Why ChromeOS Is Positioned to Attack Windows 8, and Windows 8 Deserves It


I have something of a unique perspective on ChromeOS. See, one day in December 2010, I came home to find a mystery package on my doorstep from Google. It turned out the “Sure, I’d like to beta test a Chromebook” form I’d filled out netted me a CR-48, one of the original beta Chromebooks. So I’ve seen the operating system mature from a simple web browser to a capable operating system over the last few years, and I have to say, it’s impressed me immensely with its stability and flexibility. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Acer is seeing Chromebooks gain traction, as they are affordable, simple to learn, but also powerful.

On the other hand, I’ve spent some time over the last month with an Ultrabook running Windows 8. Now, I’ve used Windows since I was 12 years old. I had a Windows 98 computer in college, a Windows 7 netbook, and I use Windows 7 Professional at work. After five minutes (maybe less!) with Windows 8, I was so perplexed I was Googling like mad for tips. The Metro interface is confusing as heck, and that right side settings slideout seems to always appear when I don’t need it. Not to mention how wildly inconsistently apps appear as Metro style or traditional windows. It’s an honestly disconcerting experience. I shouldn’t have to have a “read the f–ing manual” experience with an operating system I’ve been using for 19 years!

Contrast that with ChromeOS. If you know how to use the Chrome browser, congratulations, you know how to use ChromeOS. There are tradeoffs for sure; you don’t have native apps with the same power as Windows, and you have to be willing to trust Google. However, if you’re looking for a simple computer to do web browsing, office document creation, and light photo editing, you don’t need the hefty power of Windows. And as Chrome adds more offline capabilities and as computer makers give it more power, the apps available will only improve even further. Google has done a lot to smooth out the rough edges as well. When ChromeOS first appeared, it had no file system to speak of, and over time the file system has become accessible and easier to use. Offline apps have become more common. It went from a “trapped in the web browser” feel to having a desktop interface. And prices on Chromebooks are rock bottom, making them a very attractive deal.

I am not sure what Microsoft intended to create with Windows 8, but what they’ve designed is a monster. With a powerful, fast computer like an Ultrabook, it’s easier to look past Windows 8’s shortcomings; on anything less than premium hardware, I can’t imagine Windows 8 being a positive experience. Whether through dumb luck or a hunch that Windows 8 would be funky, Google timed ChromeOS’s maturity well, and that bet is paying off in spades. The real question is whether this is a momentary spike, or the sign of future momentum…and now that HP has jumped on the Chromebook wagon, my money is on continued interest and public awareness. Microsoft better watch out, and maybe rush Windows 9 out quickly to wash away Windows 8 before ChromeOS does it for them!

Have you used Windows 8 and liked it? Hated it? How about ChromeOS? Let us know in the comments!

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7 replies

  1. Honestly? When I get home, I don’t want to look at a real computer. Most days I use my tablet or netbook unless I have to do some writing. Even then, I CAN write with my tablet since I have a dock for it. So, in a round about way, I have been thinking about picking up a Chromebook too. I think what will happen, eventually, is that Chromebooks or devices like them will be used by almost everyone and only geeks like myself will have a traditional laptop or desktop. Why? Normal people like my parents don’t want to have to deal with the upkeep of a computer. The only downside I see, and that’s being worked on, is that Google Drive/Docs isn’t like Office enough. I know some people who INSIST on Microsoft Office no matter how good Google Docs, Libre Office, Open Office or -name your alternative here- are. IF Microsoft can survive the Windows 8 debacle, then I think they too will fix Surface RT and make it more like the desktop than a Windows 8 Frankenstein.

  2. LOVE my Windows 8!!! I can use the Modern interface and use it as a consumption device, or switch to the desktop and use it as a powerhouse. I’ve been using Win8 on a Samsung Series 7 Slate since June and it has TOTALLY replaced my laptop. Chrome can’t do that.

    • Your slate has a touchscreen, right? I am curious, do you think you would feel differently if there were no touchscreen or you had to use it as a regular laptop? It seems most of the people who like Win8 have touchscreens…so maybe the problem is that it’s a bad fit for a non-touch device?

      Curious for your thoughts!

  3. We bough my wife a laptop with Win8. She doesn’t seem to mind the interfaces but I find the Metro interface quite annoying on a non-touch screen. I downloaded Win8 Pro and put it on my Acer-One netbook (hows that for an under-powered device) to get it off of Win7 Starter but I did install 4GB of ram. After a day of metro, I killed it with Classic Start Menu so now my Win8 acts like a Win7 but it is much faster. Win8 has really improved as a system but not as an interface.

  4. It feels to me the Metro/Modern interface is unnecessarily cumbersome on a non-touchscreen PC. I think a more logical choice during installation would be the installer detecting a touchscreen and asking if I wanted to use it as the default Modern interface, and if no touchscreen detected, ask if I want the “classic” Vista/Win7 style desktop as the default.
    Microsoft appears to be scrambling to find a unified interface a la iOS, the whole tablet married to the phone paradigm, but feels for all the world like they were trying to plaster a phone interface over a desktop OS leaving long-time users in a lurch trying to learn where the usual controls are hidden.

    Don’t get me wrong though, Win 8 pro on my 2009 laptop runs a shade better than Vista/Win 7 did, but like stevenshytle I installed Classic Start Menu so the interface runs (to me) more logically based on my past Windows experience. I’ve gotten to understand some of the quirks of the modern interface better, such as grouping and naming clusters of icons, but it wasn’t intuitive. Perhaps a desktop shortcut to an online tutorial might be handy.

    I agree with Joel that the evolution of tablets and increasingly powerful smartphones and their derivatives have allowed non-tech consumers to get on with the job of consuming and producing media and information without having to fret about the byzantine inner workings of hard drives, video cards, memory, power supplies, nor being constrained by location with users tethered to large, bulky hardware (I do confess I do like my large dual monitors at work though) plugged into a wall for power and connectivity. They are moving nicely into the realm of appliances.

  5. >Microsoft better watch out, and maybe rush Windows 9 out quickly to wash away Windows 8

    Windows 9 is only going further in the same direction Windows 8 went. There will be no Windows 10. The next 7 years will see a divide between Windows 8-9 users and Windows 7 users as the PC continues to decline. After that Windows will be history (except for windows server, which will continue indefinitely). It’s anyone’s guess what will replace it.