Will Chromebooks be the dagger in Windows 8's heart?

Sales of Windows-based PCs may be plunging, but shipments of Chromebooks in the second half of the year are expected to rocket by as much as 200% to 300%, according to a just-released export. Acer, Lenovo, HP and Samsung will all be cashing in by launching new Chromebooks. How badly will Windows 8 be hurt?

Digitimes reports that shipments of Chromebooks will either double or triple in the second half of 2013. It says that not only are Acer, Lenovo, HP and Samsung readying new Chromebooks, but that other hardware vendors, such as Asustek Computers, are considering releasing them as well. Digitimes bases all this on what it calls "sources from the upstream supply chain." It claims:

HP and Lenovo are both expected to increase their Chromebook orders in the second half compared to the first, while Acer will dramatically raise its orders by three fold and Samsung four fold, helping to raise overall Chromebook shipments in the second half.

While you weren't looking, Chromebook sales have been taking off. They typically sell for under $300. The best-selling laptop on Amazon as I write this is a Samsung Chromebook with a 1.7 Ghz dual processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 16 GB hard disk. Digitimes claims that "Currently, Google, Acer and Samsung's Chromebooks together already account for about 20-25% of the US sub-US$300 notebook market, showing their rapid sales growth in the retail channel."

Meanwhile, PC shipments fell 4% in 2012 according to analysts, and may fall another 8% or more in 2013, according to Computerworld.

Clearly, the growth of Chromebooks is bad news for Windows and Microsoft. And at least one analyst believes that the recent Microsoft restructuring was done because Microsoft recognized that Windows' best days are behind it, and the company needs to focus on other services and devices, notably mobile. IDC's Al Gillen told Computerworld:

"The lost momentum [of PC shipment growth] means Microsoft was not able to grow its Windows client business. But by putting the operating systems businesses together, Microsoft can essentially offset the decline of the PC client with gains coming from mobile. It's a more holistic view."

That's assuming, of course, the Microsoft will be able to make gains in mobile. And Chromebooks will make that more difficult. Microsoft has been hurt by the high prices of Windows 8 tablets and Windows RT tablets, so much so that it recently cut the prices of the RT-based Surface to $350 from $500.

Even at that price, though, the cheapest Microsoft tablet still costs $100 more than a very good Chromebook. At $250, a Chromebook makes a very compelling laptop.

It's clear from growing Chromebook sales that Windows machines are being hurt not just by tablets, but by low-cost Chromebooks as well. And that makes life that much more difficult for Microsoft.

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