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Why is Microsoft wasting its time bashing Chromebooks? [updated]

Updated Dec 6th, 2013 3:51PM EST
Microsoft Anti-Chromebook Campaign

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So it seems that Microsoft has put together yet another ad bashing Google’s line of Chromebooks. The Verge’s Tom Warren says this aggressive line of attack raises a key question: Why in God’s name is Microsoft actually worried about Chromebooks? I’ve tried to figure this out myself and I have not been able to come up with anything resembling a logical answer.

An attack on Chromebooks would make obvious sense if Chromebooks were selling like crazy and were significantly eating into Windows-based PC sales. Right now, however, there is simply no evidence that Chromebooks are making a dent in the consumer landscape, let alone hurting sales of PCs. In fact, Chromebooks don’t show up anywhere on NetMarketShare’s rankings of most-used desktop operating systems and according to some estimates Chromebooks have sold even worse than Microsoft’s original Surface RT.

What are eating into PC sales, however, are Android tablets that OEMs such as Samsung and Lenovo are pumping out by the bushel. Why Microsoft would decide to target Chromebooks — which almost no one uses — instead of Android tablets — which tens of millions of people use — simply defies basic logic. If Microsoft is as worried about Google as Warren suggests it is, why isn’t it bashing the Google devices that people are actually buying?

The one logical reason I can think of for Microsoft to be nervous about Chromebooks is if holiday shoppers in Best Buy and Staples see them as super-cheap laptops and buy them thinking that they’re just more affordable PCs. This seems to be the thrust of the company’s latest ad where it details all the ways that a Chromebook is basically just a browser with a keyboard and not a full-fledged personal computer.

But even this doesn’t make much sense since consumers who buy Chromebooks thinking that they’re full-fledged PCs are very likely to get angry and return them, which would do immense damage to the Chromebook brand without Microsoft even lifting a finger. Perversely, Microsoft might even by hurting itself with these ads by educating people more on just what Chromebooks are so that casual users who just want cheap laptops to do email and web surfing might find themselves more interested than they were before.

In all, this seems like a puzzling marketing move for Microsoft that doesn’t have much of a logical purpose. But since this is the same company that thought the best way to introduce the Surface to the world was through elaborate dance routines, I can’t say I’m surprised.

UPDATE: Here’s one possible answer to my question. As GigaOM reported a couple of months ago, Chromebooks are making big headway in public school classrooms. In fact, Google exec Caesar Sengupta claims that around 22% of school districts in the U.S. are now using Chromebooks in some capacity.

So I do understand that aspect of it. I still don’t understand why Microsoft is creating anti-Chromebook ads targeting consumers when it’s school administrators, not consumers, who are buying Chromebooks in bulk.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.


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