NEW YORK – Microsoft is gearing up in its fight to bring Windows to the lower end of the laptop market. The company earlier announced it would sell sub-$200 versions of its Lumia smartphone, and will target this price range again with Windows OS laptops for $199 and $249.
During Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference, COO Kevin Turner announced that the firm has partnered with Acer, Toshiba, and HP to produce a Google Chromebook alternative. Google's devices, which run its Chrome and Android OSs, are manufactured by Acer, Toshiba, and Samsung, but are priced at least $100 more. Although Microsoft would not comment on the move toward Chromebook-like devices, analyst Rick Doherty was skeptical of the lower-tier, basic computing choice.
"I'll ask people if they would do their child's college application or their taxes on a Chromebook, and there is always silence," Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group, told EE Times. "The appeal of Chromebook is hours of battery, lighter in price because of the solid state memory... All this enabled sub-netbook pricing, and for some very sensitive markets it's great."
About one in six Chromebooks are returned due to customer dissatisfaction, Doherty estimated, citing concerns about connectivity and issues trying to save documents to the notebook rather than the cloud. Chromebooks are approximately 20% cheaper than a netbook or whitebox notebook, mostly due to the absence of a hard disk drive.
Like Chrome-based Acer and Samsung models, specs for the Windows-based HP Stream show limited on-board memory at 2 GB, though HP also supports 64 GB and 32 GB NAND flash. The Acer and Samsung Models offer a 16 GB SSD. HP Stream users will receive 100 GB of cloud storage for Microsoft OneDrive over two years.
HP Stream teardown.
Google and Microsoft will also rely on different processors, with the HP Stream running AMD's quad-core Mullins SoC while the two Chromebooks support dual core Intel Atom chips. Low power consumption on HP Stream, at 4.5 Watts, may also allow the laptop to run without a fan.
Separately, Microsoft is giving away Windows licenses to smartphone and tablet developers for free in order to encourage app developers and compete against Google Chromebooks.
Microsoft is skating on thin ice with manufacturers after manufacturing its own mobile devices, Doherty said. Entering into Chromebook territory may be too much for a company experiencing tremendous organizational and directional change.
"The Windows 8 launch was a mess, and we don't think they're ready to take on an extra load," Doherty said.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times