What is Microsoft’s response to Chromebooks?

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Volunteering as “IT-manager” for a non-profit organization I have been evaluating an Acer Chromebook 314 (intel i3 based) for a couple of weeks and I am blown away with functionality and price/performance ratio. We are using Microsoft 365 Teams and during the years we have been struggling with BYOD but run into constant problems if the users are already in a Microsoft 365 organization – the non-profit E1 tier is not playing nicely with commercial tiers!

We have been limping forward with Chrome profiles it has been the secret sauce to solve this issue. Most of our users are up and running.

Out of curiosity I bought a Chomebook and has been performing my non-profit work to 100% using this Chromebook and I am impressed. The Teams web-client is completely compatible and running meetings and the office applications without a glitch. The only issue I have found so far is that Chrome (the browser) is not supporting multiple profiles in Chrome OS – really convenient as an admin!

The hardware is pretty decent at the price ($480 in Sweden). The keyboard is really nice with a distinct throw and island style that I really like. A bit quirky layout without the Win/Mac-key but it works. The Full-HD screen is really nice but the 16:9 aspect is hard for a long-time Mac user to accept – 16:10 is so much nicer. Battery doesn’t leave anything to wish for. Connects like a charm to my iPhone and WiFi. The trackpad could have been a bit nicer, but I like the small size instead of the enormous trackpads these days.

As “IT-manager” is see the big benefit here as a completely hands-off device without any problems with drivers, OS updates or AV/Firewall issues.

So – what is Microsoft’s response to this? Will we see any nice Windows-based devices running 10X or something similar with just the Teams client?

Your thoughts greatly appreciated!

/Mattias

Comments (52)

52 responses to “What is Microsoft’s response to Chromebooks?”

  1. anoldamigauser

    I fear that with the death of Windows 10X, Microsoft has bailed on the idea of a Chromebook competitor. Certainly they will not have something compelling, at least from the perspective of hands-off maintenance, for the foreseeable future. Sun Valley is likely to have most if not all of the usual Windows issues with regard to maintaining the system, and unless it is much further along than we have heard, it will not be shipping till late Q3 or Q4.

    I too am the "IT-Manager" of a local non-profit. They are using G-Suite, Zoom and a hodge-podge of other applications and phone apps to support their operations. Microsoft 365 would probably have been a better choice if they were starting from scratch, but it would be a bit of a heavy lift now. The staff and volunteers are very normal, not technical people.

    They were looking to buy devices for some of the volunteers and a few of their clients...Chromebooks were really the only viable solution. Even if they were running Microsoft 365, it would probably be my recommendation.

    • hrlngrv

      Should any OS which can't run all Win32 software have Windows in its name?


      Even not running most Win32 software (presumably 10X would have run bundled Win32 applets and some Win32 software in the MSFT Store), would 10X have been significantly smaller than Windows 10 Home? If not, and Windows 10X were just another version which requires 64GB disk storage, or more specifically, 20GB free disk space to handle upgrades without problems, could it compete against Chrome OS?

      • shameer_mulji

        "Should any OS which can't run all Win32 software have Windows in its name?"


        No. But then the solution is simple. Don't brand it Windows.

        • shark47

          That actually makes sense. I don't think Windows as a brand is as powerful now as it was 10-15 years ago. Windows Phone shouldn't have used the "Windows" name. Microsoft also ruined it by trying to Make Windows 10 Mobile more Windows 10 like. What a stupid idea.

      • anoldamigauser

        A rose by any other name...

        The real issue is that short of the Office applications, most normal users do not need Win32. The idea that Windows 10X needed Win32 containers just muddied the waters and added complexity that 95% of the world doesn't need.

        Hell, they could polish up Windows 10 Mobile, add the new Edge browser and the ability to run PWAs, and brand it as Microsoft Mobile or a TeamsBook, or whatever. They need to make it an appliance, so no one cares about the operating system.

        • hrlngrv

          That's the big question. Is MS Office the main Win32 program used by most PC users OUTSIDE WORK? Maybe, but I doubt it.


          I figure about 1/4 of home/leisure PC users still want to use one or two old Win32 programs which have become abandonware. Never to be upgraded or maintained, but still useful. If that's the case, those PC users are NOT potential customers for a lite MSFT OS. Of the other 3/4, those who want to or believe they need to run one or more DESKTOP Office programs also aren't potential customers for a lite MSFT OS.

          • anoldamigauser

            When talking about a Chromebook competitor, it will either be a secondary device or the primary device for a person with limited need of a computer. Those home users running abandonware need a Windows machine, and probably have one...running XP or Windows 7.

            • hrlngrv

              What would be the appeal to average Windows users of a lite MSFT OS?


              Those average users are likely to be as indifferent to privacy issues vis-a-vis Google as they are to learning the differences between CMD and Powershell. What they'd likely see is that there's more available for Chrome OS than a lite MSFT OS which doesn't run Win32 software.


              Perhaps more to the point, Google makes money from Chrome OS as Chrome OS users use the web. How would MSFT monetize a new lite OS? Would OEMs be willing to pay to license it? I don't figure they'd be willing to pay more than they do for Chrome OS, which would almost certainly mean MSFT would lose money on a lite OS.

              • anoldamigauser

                Average users do not even know that CMD and PowerShell exist. They just want an appliance. Their interest in a Microsoft Lite OS may only be, "Well I have a Windows computer now, so I will buy the Microsoft one instead of the Google one." But, yeah, that may not be a huge market, and that might be the factor in Microsoft's decision. As to monetizing a Lite OS, perhaps they can bundle it with a Microsoft 365 subscription, and, of course, it is not like Microsoft does not do some tracking and advertising as well.


                The elephant in the room is the K12 education market, and without a competitor to Chromebook, Microsoft is going to find it increasingly hard to compete in. Schools are choosing Chromebooks because they are easy to manage and quick to repurpose. When they do, they choose Google Workspaces and Google Classroom because it is the easy choice. Microsoft can certainly pitch Chromebooks with Microsoft 365 for Education, but will they?



                • hrlngrv

                  The K-12 (primary-secondary) education market isn't just about cheap hardware and software. Google has also established itself in that market because its management tools are A LOT EASIER than anything MSFT provide.


                  Can MSFT simplify it's deployment and management tools without undermining the value of MSFT admin certifications and thereby really pissing off the people in enterprises who decide which PCs and servers to buy and use? Maybe not.


                  Could MSFT have an entirely different deployment and management system for a new lite OS but leave Windows in enterprises as-is? Maybe, but the risks would be considerable while the rewards from lite OS in schools modest at best.


                  From my perspective, MSFT has made design decisions for Windows and supporting products FOR DECADES which have entrenched those product in UNCHALLENGED place on enterprise and gamers' desktops. It may not be possible for MSFT to extricate itself nimbly from those designs in able to compete against Chrome OS in education markets without risking the collapse of some of the enterprise edifice.


                  IOW, it just may be the case that MSFT can't be all things to all software markets. I believe that's now a well-established fact in mobile device OSes.

        • rob_clive

          Officebook. Windows 365 + Edge + Remote app capability.

          BOOM!


          As a person who does IT support, I LOVE certain aspects of chromebooks. Something like an officebook, where you sign in with your 365 credentials and it downloads these basics, would be perfect for a large group of "my" clients.

      • bkkcanuck

        Should any OS that does not run Win16 have Windows in it's name? Sound ridiculous? Well it is then and it is now....

        • hrlngrv

          Aside from the fact that Windows XP could run 16-bit Windows programs (which, being 16-bit, aren't Win32) well past 2010, giving users of 16-bit Windows software roughly 15 years in which to transition to 32-bit, good point.

    • matsan

      Fully agree! After ditching their mobile efforts, I guess we will not see anything else but Windows for many years to come.

      I cannot understand why win32 must be shoehorned into every OS and that has been the doom for a long row of attempts at arriving at a Chrome OS or iPadOS competitor. Apple's stuff is compelling from a user perspective but as a non-profit not possible that's why I'm looking at Chrome OS now.

      No one expects to run macOS on an iPad and I don't expect to run all crazy applications on the Chromebook (as I have another computer running macOS). Haven't started to experiment with the Linux subsystem on this machine yet.

      I have been working the last years to phase out various systems and we are more or less fully on Teams now and that's pretty nice from an admin point.

      • hrlngrv

        | I cannot understand why win32 must be shoehorned into every OS


        It doesn't have to be, but any OS which can't run Win32 software better not have Windows in its name.


        That's the problem. The Windows brand has huge value, so MSFT tries to leverage that brand value with every new OS attempt. However, if such new OS doesn't actually run Win32 software, the OS becomes the next reviled Windows RT.


        MSFT has neither the patience nor the risk-taking appetite to launch a truly new OS. The lumbering ultrasaurus it has become in 2021 just can't do what the feisty deinonychus of the early 1990s pulled off.

        • wright_is

          Exactly, if they re-badged ChromeOS as EdgeOS, that would be all they need. But as long as they try and ride on the capital of Windows, it has to be Windows. Any attempt to remove bits of it will make it not Windows and therefore a failure for anyone buying a "Windows" PC.


          I'd like to see a lightweight OS moving forward, which is just .Net and uses HyperV to encapsulate Win32 instances for applications (I've been saying this for nearly a decade now). You need that Win32 support, but it shouldn't be part of the core OS moving forward. As each new iteration comes around you make that Win32 support a little more "difficult" - less cross-over to other applications and more isolation. This would force developers to start looking at the future and slowly dumping their Win32 legacy code, whilst still letting, for example, corporate customers with legacy LoB software to still run it.


          We are still waiting for Siemens PLC monitoring software to move away from IE11 and ActiveX(!!) for example.


          But, for the companies I work for, a "cloud" PC is out of the question. Applications, like the phone software, ERP etc., run locally and there are no web clients for it. Likewise, we are bound to use local applications and local (on-site) data storage by policy, we couldn't move to the cloud if we wanted to. That means that any replacement for Windows still has to have those fully featured, local applications moving forward.

          • bkkcanuck

            I would not go as far as saying it has to have Win32 support, but they should make sure they make it as easy as possible to migrate the application to a modern framework. They have to make sure all their own applications run on that platform, and they have to basically 'invest' in making sure important 3rd party applications available (bribe, encourage, or ... invest in a replacement if the developer is resistant either through VCC or directly). It is not about whether the platform can run everything for everyone, but that it can satisfy enough of the market and provided enough application support for most people (and provide enough of a benefit to attract people).

        • shameer_mulji

          There's nothing stopping MS from selling a lightweight consumer OS (not branded Windows) right alongside the current full-fledged Windows OS. Apple does it successfully with iPadOS / macOS.

          • hrlngrv

            | There's nothing stopping MS from selling a lightweight consumer OS . . .


            Aside from MSFT's profit motive.


            Is there any reason to believe a lite MSFT OS which doesn't run Win32 software would establish itself any more quickly than Chrome OS has? Does MSFT really have the collective mindset needed to put forth a determined and persistent effort?

  2. Paul Thurrott

    Sorry to jump into this semi-randomly, but in reading through the comments, I sort of wondered to myself ... why doesn't Microsoft just make a Surface-branded Chromebook? Or make Surface Laptop and/or Surface Pro available with Chrome OS?


    I know. But think about it for a second. Microsoft already sells an Android-based device, the Duo. Why not Chrome OS? (And why not release Surface Neo with Android or Chrome OS?)


    Just thinking out loud here. Not married to the idea. But ... it's a thought.

    • anoldamigauser

      There is no logical reason that they could not do this, but institutionally, I think Microsoft would rather fall on its own sword than use another Google OS.

      There is no reason they could not develop a Chromebook alternative, but can they find partners and a market for one. Perhaps they could package it with a Microsoft 365 Home/Personal account and sell it that way, or perhaps there is not a market for it and they will just market how well they work on Chromebooks.

    • wright_is

      I would say EdgeOS. Not just simple ChromeOS, but take the OSS ChromiumOS and Edgify it, like they do with the Chromium Browser.

      • Greg Green

        I’m not sure many people know what Edge is. Maybe Microsoft OS instead, if they make their own. The MS brand may have some negative baggage, but I don’t think it has as much among average users as Windows does.


        Either way MS marketing will screw it up, whatever they do.

    • mi1984

      Perfect, code name

      "Stick a Fork In It"

    • rob_clive

      To me, I want the convenience and simplicity of a chromebook tied to office 365 credentials. I find managing office 365 to be much better than google for business. I just think MS gets business better than google, and 365 has more options for admins.


      I've suggested an office book where you basically can sign in with your MS 365 creds, you get a more secure OS + the full version of office + edge + remote app ability. For a large number of business users I think this would make sense.

  3. peterc

    >>> So – what is Microsoft’s response to this? Will we see any nice Windows-based devices running 10X or something similar with just the Teams client?


    well I’m of the opinion MS has chosen to not invest heavily in OS device specific products again, much like their other attempts at a light modern OS. They don’t want, nor do their OEMs want warehouses of unsold product. I suspect the hurdle of making Win10X only available on new devices was a hurdle.


    This coupled with their CloudPC service being ready for mainstream roll out probably means MS are focussing on revamping and reworking full fat desktop Windows and WOA, and a CloudPC service running MS365 etc which can be utilised by any OS with browser etc.


    In theory why produce a light modern OS device when it can be Cloud based, and available on any device you have. If you can install MS edge or it comes reinstalled you can probably access the full MS CloudPC service offering.

    That’s just my personal hunch….

  4. minke

    I run a small nonprofit and we have a mix of systems due to legacy issues: Mac desktops that mostly utilize Microsoft Office on the nonprofit plan, along with a Google Workspace nonprofit account we use for some things. We also have an old PC running an unsupported version of QuickBooks. Frankly, Chromebooks could cover 99.9% of what we need most of the time, except some people are personally wedded to the desktop Microsoft apps. Frankly, if I was able to start over I would go Chromebooks and Workspace 100%. Just the daily notices from Microsoft about "important" updates and changes are so overwhelming that I can't keep up and simply ignore most of them. Every major update seems to break something for awhile. Most recently after updates I have to wait for some interminable verification process when trying to open any Ms desktop app. Apple's updates are better, but sometimes take hours.

  5. Daishi

    On a completely zero evidence basis I like to believe that the plan that lead to the cancellation of 10X is to bring the Win32 containers to the main OS and concurrently slim down and simplify the system for regular users so that the response to ChromeOS is just Windows. Just a new and improved Windows that is everything ChromeOS is but with all the functionality we expect from Windows.


    Or at least that’s the dream...

    • wright_is

      I'm with you about half the way. To "ChromeOS"ify Windows, stripping out local applications is not possible for users like myself, where Cloud solutions just aren't an option. You still need a "full" OS underneath and local applications.


      I agree, slim down Windows and push the Win32 cruft into containers, but it still needs something, say .NET 6, for local applications.

      • matsan

        We have migrated two PCs running windows win32 applications for accounting to EC2:s running Windows in AWS. Connecting to them using Microsoft's RD Client (for Android) works well on the Chromebook as well.

        Being cost-efficient we are even using the AWS API to turn the instances off when not needed.

        • wright_is

          Unfortunately you can't run it on a local server - requirement we can't circumvent.


          We are looking at AutoCAD terminal servers on site, but a lot of our production software is directly connected to the production line and therefore cannot have any Internet access.

  6. arnstarr

    Apart from the price, o365 E1 is identical for non profit and commercial users.

    Upgrading old computers with solid state drives is one approach to stretching the IT budget while getting better performing Windows 10 computers.

    Did you join your Windows 10 Pro computers to Azure Active Directory? You have 10 free licenses of Business Premium which include Intune and other device management tools.

    Techsoup will sell you 50 licenses of Windows 10 Pro for about $11 each, under the Get Genuine program.

    • matsan

      Since we try to use BYOD and the user's computers may be managed by another organization it is impossible for us to force anything like Azure AD onto them. We had high hopes for Teams desktop client supporting multiple accounts, but still waiting.

      The problem we see with the E1 non-profit license from our organization is that it overrides any other license on the user's computer. Since E1 doesn't include locally installed office applications, logging in with E1 seems to disable the locally installed office (home or commercial licenses).

      • arnstarr

        In the Office apps, you can sign in with multiple Microsoft accounts. There is no need to sign out of the account which has the Office licence just to sign in with E1.


        • matsan

          Interesting. I'm normally on a Mac with my company's E3 license to get the applications installed locally. As soon as I add the E1 non-profit account in Teams, the rest of my office desktop applications are signed out from the E3 license and shows "not activated". I then sign back in to the E3 license in Word or Excel and the E1 is kicked out of Teams.

          Other users on Windows have their computers locked down by their IT department and they don't have sign in with other account.

          YMMV...

          • anoldamigauser

            Seems they are proceeding with a policy of least privilege, which is kind of stupid. If you have an accounts with multiple entities using various levels of Microsoft 365, they should go the other way, and use greatest privilege.


            If you use the web version of Teams, you may be able to create a separate profile in Edge/Chrome and use that for connecting to the E1 account. On a Windows machine, you could set up a second user with a local account and then add the Work/School account for the E1 user. Not sure how this would work on a Mac.


  7. geoff

    Perhaps Windows-on-ARM is the natural competitor to Chromebooks.


    It's almost an 'EdgeBook', with Edge, Office, Teams, File Manager, etc, etc - all implemented as ARM64 apps. For most people, that's *almost* everything they need.


    Windows-on-ARM has the same look and feel and UI as 'normal' Windows, so learning how to use it is not a problem. People have been using Windows for decades.


    Win32 App support can and should be via a (seamless) remote desktop connection to a virtual PC in Azure.


    Local Apps can be installed, of course, probably via the store as the default method. I expect that ARM 64 will be the best Apps for a Windows-on-ARM PC, but local x86 Win32 Apps could be allowed if the user insisted on it, via the existing translation layer (and the performance hit that comes with it).


    The main problem is price. Windows on ARM seems to me to be expensive. Chromebooks tend to be very cheap, but a lot of that 'cheapness' is from the horrible hardware that Chromebook makers use.

    • Scsekaran

      Absolutely


      Windows On ARM with comparable price to Chromebooks is better option than any other cut down version of windows. The focus should be on more ARM64 native apps including all Microsoft software with x86/x64 emulation used for compatibility of apps not in active development.


      Samsung already announced Samsung Galaxy Book Go laptop with snapdragon 7c Gen2 for the price of $349 WOA.

      5G version with snapdragon 8c processor-price not known

      Do More on the Move With Samsung Galaxy Book Go and Galaxy Book Go 5G – Samsung Global Newsroom


      These will directly compete with Chromebooks in the price segment with the power of Windows underneath


      • rob_clive

        Problem is you want the security and simplicity of chrome os (or at least I do... a market of one). Secure + simple for many business users, with power users getting full windows.

  8. Paul Thurrott

    How about this:


    Samsung Galaxy Book Go Brings Snapdragon on the Cheap

    https://www.thurrott.com/hardware/250762/samsung-galaxy-book-go-brings-snapdragon-on-the-cheap


    $350

  9. rob_clive

    There are a lot of clients I know who would be perfectly happy with an "officebook" running MS office and Edge. If you add in the good features of chromebooks ( easy sign-in/config, refresh, security and simplicity), This would be a fantastic device. Really wish they had continued down that path.

  10. winner

    RT

    S-mode

    10S

    Windows Lite

    10X

    ?

  11. ringofvoid

    As an IT Manager you really should check out the Google Admin Console for administering ChromeOS devices. As of a few weeks ago, Microsoft has abandoned Windows 10X for the time being.

    • matsan

      Thanks! Looks like I need a Google Workspace account for this functionality, but it's a great feature to manage all devices from one point.

  12. jimchamplin

    I believe their response to Chromebooks is...


    ... Hope nobody buys a Chromebook.

    • matsan

      That strategy has been sort of working for many years and I was a believer of it until a month ago. Microsoft EdgeBook (or TeamsPad?) would be an interesting concept.

  13. matsan

    Thank you all for your insights. Just want to round off by saying that i put the Chromebook to a test last Friday - 6 hour workshop in Teams with video, bluetooth connected AirPods and presenting - all on battery over Wifi. Not a single issue and 30% battery left when done. Sharing tabs, screen and presentations just worked.

    Had to quickly charge the AirPods during the lunch-break and used the built-in speaker and mic during the luncheon. There are room for improvements in that department.

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