To combat Chromebooks, Microsoft is pushing netbooks v2

Several years ago, Microsoft and its many OEM partners created small Windows devices that were low-power, compact, cheap -- typically with starting prices around $199.99. The devices, called netbooks, were for the most part a disaster.

Because of the low price, consumers flocked to them instead of more expensive machines, but the experience was not optimal. On some machines, running full screen 720P video was not possible as the machine would choke on the process and deliver jagged video. The end result was that the machines were scrapped as customers became angry that their budget-friendly machines could not perform all of their daily tasks.

Fast forward several years to WPC14, where Kevin Turner has announced that Microsoft and its OEM partners are going full steam ahead back into the netbook arena to make sure that they dampen the fire of the Chromebooks.

On stage, Turner held up an HP Stream laptop that was bright and colorful, and announced that it would be coming this holiday season for $199. He also drove home the point that now that Windows is free on devices with a screen less than 9 inches, this has caused dozens of Chinese manufactures to adopt the OS. What this means is that where we once saw only Android tablets at the $99 price point (and below), we will soon see Windows tablets competing too.

This move is intended to place Microsoft devices alongside Google devices at the entry-level pricing. Microsoft clearly feels pressure here and is hoping that by allowing OEMs to create lower-cost devices, it can dampen the Chromebook momentum.

One of the problems that may arise is how Microsoft is marketing these machines. If you look at the image at the top of this post, which is a slide taken from the WPC14 keynote, they are marketing these devices as fully-capable laptops. But the truth is, they are stripped down machines that offer basic functionality.

The only machine currently available is the Acer Aspire ES1 which offers an Intel Celeron processor and a 500GB 5400 RPM harddrive which will be enough to cover the basics but won't allow you to run any intensive video or photo applications. So if anyone buys this for a back-to-school laptop, it will be less than ideal for the educational sector.

The other device, as shown on the slide, will come with 32 GB SSD, but what about when you factor in the size of the OS and your applications? The amount of useable space left will be quite small and will fill up quickly and leave you with few options. Even if it has SD support, it provides a sub-optimal experience if you have to swap out SD cards all the time when you are trying to locate a file. Of course, you could use OneDrive -- but if you are not connected to the web, your files may not be available at all. Then again, Chromebooks face the same issue, so it isn't solely relegated to Microsoft.

Seeing that several years have gone by since the last netbook extravaganza, even low-end hardware may still be more than capable for the basic consumer. Only time will tell if this strategy pays off this time but if the past is any predictor of success, consumers may be left less than satisfied with their purchase.

Image via Gigaom

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I'm writing this on my 3 year-old HP Mini netbook (2gb ram and 320gb 7200 rpm HDD). It's been a solid little performer and I couldn't be happier with it. I can do all the stuff chromebooks do, plus a lot more. Just finished doing some photography editing, and it doesn't skip a beat.

Microsoft intentionally hobbled Windows 7 Starter - Starter sounded like something for losers, for example, and you couldn't actually set the desktop background! - and I think MS wanted this market to do die.

I hope the netbook returns. I hate the form function of the tablet, and I may need to replace this netbook soon!

Starter was intended strictly for developing markets - not developed ones; Home Premium was the "standard" Windows for EMEA and North America. (The specs for Starter alone made that plain.) What happened is that a lot of hardware that actually could have (and should have) come with HP came with Starter instead - for reasons of price. (And you wonder why OEMs have rotten reputations.)

I think Microsoft's biggest problem is not Chromebook or Chrome OS. It is the Start Screen. chromebook UI is more like windows than windows 8 notebooks. They should make it go to desktop by default and they are good. customers are so dumb they can't tell the difference between chromebook and windows and the fact that chromebook is more similar to windows 7 interface make them buy one. they realize when they see how crappy is chromebook but its too late because they already bought one.

> To combat Chromebooks, Microsoft is pushing netbooks v2

If Microsoft is pushing for another generation of netbooks in an attempt to kill off the Chromebook, then the article completely fails to make the key point that the strategy has worked in the past. Nobody in the comments section also brought it up.

And that is, Microsoft only started pushing XP on netbooks as a response to people flocking to the EEE-PC and other ultra-cheap netbooks running Linux. Once people realized they could get the OS they were already familiar with at the same price point, they went with those instead. Even though their performance sucked, that was enough for the market for the Linux ones to dry up.

I can see it happening all over again with the Chromebook. At least I can say that I've seen two people with Linux netbooks, years ago--to this day I still don't know anyone, not a single person, with a Chromebook (blah, blah, blah, anecdotes don't mean anything, I know).

I still have a netbook that came with XP, and these days I still fire it up every once in a while to tinker with some Linux distributions--it performs quite well with 2GB of RAM.

The main reason Chromebooks are good for their purpose is that they run an OS properly slimmed down and optimised for the platform. These computers are craptacular pieces of hardware running a full OS. This will end up being another arena in which product bastardisation will do Microsoft no favours.

I turned a few netbooks into hackintosh's (I called them HacBook Nano's) I gave one to my mom...That would be the only reason I would buy one of these little guys too, first thing I would do once getting one home is wipe Windows and install OS X or a *nix distro.

The thing that really destroys low cost Windows devices is OEM bloatware then factor in typical Windows maintenance and security software and now you've got yourself a super slow frustrating experience. To consumers who bought netbooks and were then dismayed by their performance for that reason the thing that stayed in their minds was Windows was slow, not that netbooks were underpowered.

Microsoft them self killed netbook. When they called off Windows XP..

Netbook running Windows XP could be powered by those dead cheap hardware.. And still very effective in productivity.. Infact could have went into eat sells of Surface in some developing countries :p.. Something like poor mans ferreri :D

FMH said,
They could. Open Chrome browser in Windows, and never click close. :p

But you still need to manage the antivirus software, the anti-malware software, all the OS software updates, all the notification tray pop ups, the updates to the antivirus and anti-malware software the browser search toolbars, running anti-malware scans, the apps that mysteriously instal themselves and take over your browser with pop up adverts when all you wanted was a PDF viewer and the list goes on and on.

Chromebooks are simple and ideal for people who don't need or want the complexity and ongoing management overhead that comes with Windows.

Microsoft does not understand this yet. Google does and ChromeBooks will always be better when the user needs simplicity. :p

derekaw said,
Part of the allure of the ChromeBook is the lack of complexity and Windows can't compete with that at any price.

You can do that right now; an ARM laptop with Windows RT and with windowed universal applications you get all the simplicity and none of the drawbacks.

Mr Nom Nom's said,

You can do that right now; an ARM laptop with Windows RT and with windowed universal applications you get all the simplicity and none of the drawbacks.

But that does not exist and Windows on ARM/WinRT is basically dead. Who would want to use that?

derekaw said,

But that does not exist and Windows on ARM/WinRT is basically dead. Who would want to use that?

Maybe the people who want all the things you said make a Chromebook great. Plus, you can install hardware like printers, etc...

derekaw said,
But that does not exist and Windows on ARM/WinRT is basically dead. Who would want to use that?

It is about having a long term plan - 64bit 'Threshold' for ARM with universal windowed applications, Microsoft Office bundled free with the computer which will get the students onboard, then as pallentx the support for printers etc. If you can push Windows RT down to $199 devices then software vendors will be more willing to throw their hat into the wring when there is the likelihood of volume off the back of a low entry price.

derekaw said,
..... Windows on ARM/WinRT is basically dead.....

No, WoA is not dead. Far from it. There will be many industry oriented, purpose built ARM based systems coming down the pipeline soon.

Mr Nom Nom's said,

It is about having a long term plan - 64bit 'Threshold' for ARM with universal windowed applications, Microsoft Office bundled free with the computer which will get the students onboard, then as pallentx the support for printers etc. If you can push Windows RT down to $199 devices then software vendors will be more willing to throw their hat into the wring when there is the likelihood of volume off the back of a low entry price.

OK, good luck with that.

derekaw said,

But you still need to manage the antivirus software, the anti-malware software,

Windows Defender comes preinstalled on Windows 8. You don't have to manage shite.

all the OS software updates,

Oh, because running Windows Update once a month is just so hard!


all the notification tray pop ups,

Oh the horror! Like this doesn't happen a million times a day on a typical smartphone.


the updates to the antivirus and anti-malware software

Which is handled by Windows Update. Again, BFD if have to spend a few seconds to run WU, if you don't to wait until Patch Tuesday.


the browser search toolbars,

And what kind a moron installs those?

running anti-malware scans,

Which you have to do exactly never if you have real-time protection turned on.

the apps that mysteriously instal themselves and take over your browser with pop up adverts

Which happens exactly never since Windows Vista. Dude, join us in this decade.

when all you wanted was a PDF viewer

LOLWUT?

and the list goes on and on.

No, your retarded list ended before it even started.



Chromebooks are simple and ideal for people who don't need or want the complexity and ongoing management overhead that comes with Windows.

Chromebooks are simply useless and ideal as doorstops.


Microsoft does not understand this yet. Google does and ChromeBooks will always be better when the user needs simplicity. :p

I'm pretty sure Microsoft understands that there's a segment of the population that are retards, but they also understand that most people learn things and start demanding more functionality. You can make an OS simple to use without being simplistic. ChromeOS is simplistic.

derekaw said,

OK, good luck with that.

It's not going to take luck. It takes a patient and focused organization and not one that throws as much shite on the wall as possible to see what sticks.

I am talking about 'normal' people and not you. Have you never spoken with a 'normal' person about how they manage their computer? How scared they are of breaking it? Have you never looked at a 'normal' persons add/remove programs list? Have you never looked at how many browser toolbars some people have installed.

Have you never spent hours getting a 'normal' persons computer running properly by removing all the ad-ware and all the spy wear and all the viruses. It looks like no. Thats why you can't understand what I am talking about.

derekaw said,
I am talking about 'normal' people and not you. Have you never spoken with a 'normal' person about how they manage their computer? How scared they are of breaking it? Have you never looked at a 'normal' persons add/remove programs list? Have you never looked at how many browser toolbars some people have installed.

Have you never spent hours getting a 'normal' persons computer running properly by removing all the ad-ware and all the spy wear and all the viruses. It looks like no. Thats why you can't understand what I am talking about.

I know plenty of "normal" people, and they don't have any of the problems that you mentioned. You have quite the imagination, I must say. You must work for Apple's marketing department.

derekaw said,
I help 'normal' people try and manage their computers.

Try educating these "normal" people instead of just "managing" it for them. People aren't as retarded as you think they are.

Last post on this.. You obviously don't want to 'hear' and have your own agenda, and thats to be expected.

Part of what I do is educate people, I don't think that people are retards, I think they don't care much, don't understand and don't have the time. They would rather someone do it for them.

Considering what they use their computers for mostly I think that if they had a Mac or a Chromebook then they would be better off but for now they use Windows.

derekaw said,
Last post on this.. You obviously don't want to 'hear' and have your own agenda, and thats to be expected.

It's pretty obvious that you're the one with an agenda.


Part of what I do is educate people, I don't think that people are retards, I think they don't care much, don't understand and don't have the time. They would rather someone do it for them.

If you educate these people, and they don't learn, they're retards, or you're terrible at educating.


Considering what they use their computers for mostly I think that if they had a Mac or a Chromebook then they would be better off but for now they use Windows.

The best thing about a PC is that it's utilitarian, and it can be used for something you never planned for when you purchased it. It sounds like the "normal" users that you deal with would be better off with a notepad and pen.

Those aren't really selling points any more as far as I can see. Especially when you factor in Android app support coming to ChromeOS. I honestly think that will push it over the edge and really take a lot of desktop marketshare from Microsoft.

Personally don't see anything getting pushed over an edge when you can already run Android apps on Windows systems for free and you don't have to sacrifice anything to do it. It's still a simple numbers games, one just does a whole lot more than the other.

Max Norris said,
Personally don't see anything getting pushed over an edge when you can already run Android apps on Windows systems for free and you don't have to sacrifice anything to do it.

You can run AOSP apps yes, through the Bluestacks emulator. That's a far cry from running official Android apps from the Playstore and supporting that entire ecosystem. Besides, it's not a seamless experience compared with real Android devices.

Honestly, I really think this has the potential to end Microsoft's dominance in the laptop market. I mean, ChromeOS already has 20% of it. With the Android ecosystem, that could skyrocket. No guarantees of course, but the potential is there.

Max Norris said,

It's still a simple numbers games, one just does a whole lot more than the other.

What exactly does an everyday Windows laptop do that a ChromeOS one can't? And please don't say it runs Windows desktop software :laugh: We all know that's a niche market nowadays.

simplezz said,
You can run AOSP apps yes, through the Bluestacks emulator. That's a far cry from running official Android apps from the Playstore and supporting that entire ecosystem.

Weird. My copy is running official apps from the Google Play Store. My daughter users hers to play a pantload of games, again from the Google Play Store. Seems to do a pretty decent job, even ties the installed apps into her libraries so she can fire them off very quickly. (And it's also not the only emulator out there.)

simplezz said,
Honestly, I really think this has the potential to end Microsoft's dominance in the laptop market. I mean, ChromeOS already has 20% of it.

Source? Everything I'm seeing from OS market share to mobile browser market share, etc etc all paints much smaller numbers.

simplezz said,
What exactly does an everyday Windows laptop do that a ChromeOS one can't? And please don't say it runs Windows desktop software :laugh: We all know that's a niche market nowadays.

Oh yes, billions of people using it running millions of programs, and it's a niche market. :rolleyes: Apparently there's also a good number of people who aren't terribly thrilled with the experience that the 'alternatives' provide and have gone back to the known good.. pretty sure there's a recent article about it here somewhere. Also maybe you haven't heard, but PC sales are also on the rise, including Intel posting record sales last quarter with their desktop processors. And lastly, don't need to look further than market share numbers.. Microsoft isn't exactly hurting for users.

So you got the web apps. You got Android apps. You got other OS apps if you care to expand your emulation horizons. And you got a gazillion Windows apps. Or you can go for the one that only runs two of those, neither of which offer the features or complexity that the "full" versions of software provide. Again, it's a no brainer.. who wan't less for the same price?

You can certainly run Android apps from the Play Store on Blue Stacks - the issue with Play Store apps (or any other Android apps) is that they must be formfactor-independent - in other words, they can't be targeted to the phone formfactor. (The current version of BlueStacks is based on ICS - Ice Cream Sandwich.) In fact, you can run the Play Store on BlueStacks - who said that you couldn't do so?

PGHammer said,
You can certainly run Android apps from the Play Store on Blue Stacks - the issue with Play Store apps (or any other Android apps) is that they must be formfactor-independent - in other words, they can't be targeted to the phone formfactor. (The current version of BlueStacks is based on ICS - Ice Cream Sandwich.) In fact, you can run the Play Store on BlueStacks - who said that you couldn't do so?

It doesn't come with the Play store. I has to be manually installed as far as I know. Thus, it's not a seamless experience like official Android devices.

simplezz said,
It doesn't come with the Play store. I has to be manually installed as far as I know. Thus, it's not a seamless experience like official Android devices.

There's plenty of devices that don't come with the Play Store either, and yet they still manage somehow to still be Android. Takes all of a few seconds to add it, in fact easier than most devices (Amazon's, etc), no downloading packages or firmware involved. "Seamless" is a stretch anyway, even on Chrome OS. It's either going to be an emulator or it's going to be one of those "dual OS" setups, which is about as far from seamless as it gets. End of the day it's going to be more or less the exact same thing.

Intel + Microsoft limited netbooks in the past by putting on restrictions on hardware / configuration to qualify for the discounted software / hardware at the time.

Throw on Vista was the upgrade OS (from XP when netbooks came out), even when they latter admitted it was not optimized for mobile devices. When tablets came around, it destroyed the network market.

I saw a quote chromebooks sold 3 million units in a whole year. this is way less than WP and if people dismiss it, why are they so obsessed with a product that has flopped year after year? Even in the latest OS stats, these things don't even show in the "other" category.

I honestly can't imagine what the appeal of Chromebooks is.

It's just a too-expensive, too-limited hardware-based browser. That's it. It doesn't work without a connection. And it only works with Google crap. Seriously?

Why would anyone with a brain want one of these things?

Bleh, not really. It's a glorified browser that they're desperately trying to hack some "off-line" abilities onto. Stop trying to make chromebooks more than what they are... crap most people shouldn't want and don't need.

I am not trying to make them more than they are. I am just pointing out facts and that you were wrong and you dont need an internet connection to use a Chromebook. Google Docs, Mail, Calendar, and contacts you can all use offline and is what most use for a device. And those are not the only offline apps available.

I personally have no use for a CB or a Chrome OS device but they have their place. If not for anything but to force other OEMs and MS to lower their prices. This is what competition does and apparently, MS is a little worried and is trying to head off Google with cutting prices with OEMs. And this is a good thing as us as consumers reap the benefits.

no argument with the price. But these things defeated themselves long ago. Lack of apps, lack of offline mode for many, and generally lack of anything other than a good price meant they were doomed to fail as they have.

Wouldnt call them a failure and if the rumored several other OEMs come on board, you may be seeing them more and more. And apps, even offline ones, are being added all the time it seems. And since it has forced MS to lower their prices, I would say it is a success as far as being a consumer is concerned. Bring on more competition!! No matter how good/bad the competition is...it still has a positive effect.

Chome OS will never take the world by storm and is just another option. Like Linux.

I agree. They have several at a clinic I volunteer at. Printing is a constant problem - it only works half the time and depends on a printer connected to a "real" PC with Chrome open and logged in with the same account. The whole convoluted Google print think makes these a complete joke as far as I'm concerned. I would much rather have Windows RT.

techbeck said,
.... CB or a Chrome OS device but they have their place......

After seeing bandwidth consupmtion of Chromebook compared to Windows laptop, I'd say there place is only in areas where you don't pay for data cap.

So, that's not in my house, or my mobile data plan. Maybe Starbucks WiFi and other public hotspots but that's about it.

"but won't allow you to run any intensive video or photo applications"

And the sub $200 Chromebooks that these will be competing against will allow this? What is the point of this article? There is a segment of computing devices, Chromebooks, that are meeting a certain amount of customer demand at the extreme low end. Microsoft will shortly enable more functional devices for that market segment. Where exactly is the problem?

And why is "netbook" being used as a pejorative? Why aren't Chromebooks disparaged the same way? I'm SOOOO sick of all of this anti-Microsoft bias.

Chromebooks are HUGE in schools. Mainly because of price, but also, kids just need browsers to research, and someplace to put that research (Google Docs). With that, they'll actually go a full day on a charge. These most likely, will not. I have yet to see a budget Windows laptop go more than a couple of hours. I wouldn't get a Chromebook either, but they aren't trying to be something they aren't. Microsoft is say that these can do so much more.

People are stupid when they buy things. They assume this will do what they want, then be disappointed in performance. Take netbooks for an example. They tried to be "real" computers. For some people they were fine, but others wanted more performance. When you get a Chromebook, you know what you're getting (or should).

Wouldn't pick either to be honest, would rather spend a bit more and get something with a bit more muscle under the hood, but between the choices, meh it's an easy choice. One runs everything plus the same web stuff that the other can, kind of a no brainer.

Considering I used a netbook for things Acer never intended it for, I don't see this as a bad thing. As long as they're marketed as inexpensive devices that can be used for email, web surfing, Netflix and word processing it'll be fine.

And then there are the people who will push these things to their limit and beyond. I was actually able to use my netbook as a media server (SD streams obviously). It was a short term replacement for a couple nights while my tower was boxed up for moving. It did surprisingly well.

And it did remarkably well after I maxed out the memory and installed Windows 7 on it.

My mom used it for an additional year after I got a larger laptop. And after she got a tablet, I gave it to my ex-girlfriend, who killed it. :-(

Netbooks were nifty little devices - if these really are similar, I'd call it a good thing.

I loved my old netbook. I would love something with up to date hardware running Windows with an x86 CPU. Considering how you can get amazingly powerful tablets for £200 these days I would love something similar but in a notebook form (proper keyboard not a crappy cover keyboard)

bithush said,
I loved my old netbook. I would love something with up to date hardware running Windows with an x86 CPU. Considering how you can get amazingly powerful tablets for £200 these days I would love something similar but in a notebook form (proper keyboard not a crappy cover keyboard)

I don't know how well that Celeron stacks up to other CPUs but it should be better than an Atom at least. It'd be great if they could give you those prices but with a i3.

George P said,
It'd be great if they could give you those prices but with a i3.

Probably looking to compete with what is out there now. Chromebooks just recently started shipping with i3s but hte price is 100 more. I assume the same will happen here eventually but also with a price increase.

George P said,

I don't know how well that Celeron stacks up to other CPUs but it should be better than an Atom at least. It'd be great if they could give you those prices but with a i3.

My ideal machine would be a 11-12" notebook with i3, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD for £300. I think we will start to see that kind of spec in that price range in the next 2 years.

I think the choice should be simple here, with the prices for these things the same or just a bit more, $50 for a full Windows device compared to a chromebook for example, isn't such a big difference and worth the advantages a full PC OS can give you.

My mom is using a 4+ year old HP netbook that's on it's last legs, I got it at the time for 300euros, if I can snag a new one with better hardware for the same price or even a bit less then I will, because it's time to retire that old HP.

Can I get 6.5hrs of battery life out of these. Some Chromebooks get upwards of 9-11 hours. 1.5-2 hours, which is what "most" budget laptops will get you, won't get you through the day.

what people need to understand also is that Netbooks had standard hard drive back then. None had SSD and not with the speed of current SSD. An SSD makes a big difference.

nickcruz said,
what people need to understand also is that Netbooks had standard hard drive back then. None had SSD and not with the speed of current SSD. An SSD makes a big difference.

The Acer has a regular HDD as well.

farmeunit said,
Can I get 6.5hrs of battery life out of these. Some Chromebooks get upwards of 9-11 hours. 1.5-2 hours, which is what "most" budget laptops will get you, won't get you through the day.

The Acer that's shown above is listed at 4.5hrs but I wouldn't think of it as a "netbook" per se, not with a 15" screen, it's more of a lower end laptop. And for $250-$280 for a full x86 PC I'd say that's not bad at all. I'm betting that upcoming Toshiba will get you 6hrs or more, it depends on what they're decide to use.