Forget macOS — it's Chrome OS vs. Windows for desktop domination

As we move to cloud-based Desktop-as-a-Service, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Chrome OS, the original DaaS, moving past macOS as the No. 2 desktop.

Chrome OS Features
Google, modified by IDG Comm

I've been saying for ages now that Google's Chrome OS would become Microsoft's Windows top competitor. I had the timing wrong, but my prediction that "most of us will be moving to cloud-oriented operating systems" is finally coming true. According to IDC's latest PC sales numbers, by 2020's fourth quarter, Chromebooks were outselling Macs by two-to-one.

Specifically, in the fourth quarter of last year, Windows had 76.7% of the market (it's in no danger of losing its top ranking this decade); macOS had 7.7%; and Chrome OS had 14.4%. For 2020 year-over-year compared to 2019, Windows lost 4.9 percentage points, from 85.4% to 80.5%; macOS was up 0.8 percentage points, from 6.7% to 7.5%; and Chrome OS established itself firmly in second place by jumping 4.4 points, from 6.4% to 10.8%.

In its analysis of the 2020 personal computing device market, research firm Canalys reported that Chromebook vendors' overall market almost quadrupled in size over the same period a year earlier. As Canalys Research Director Rushabh Doshi put it: "Demand for Chromebooks is through the roof."

Why? That's easy. Thanks to the coronavirus, 2020 was the year where almost all of our kids "went" to school virtually via Chromebooks.

As Doshi explained: "With many countries being forced to accelerate their digital education plans in the wake of additional lockdowns, schools and universities are clamoring for easy-to-deploy solutions, and Google’s digital offerings for education are proving quite popular over rival platforms, especially in the US and Western Europe."

Canalys also found, to no surprise, that Chromebooks were also wildly popular with small and medium-sized businesses that just needed cheap computers that work and are easy to manage. You try moving your entire workforce from the office to working from home and see how you like buying and administering a slew of Windows machines. For many companies faced with that dilemma, it was an easy choice.

We're not, by the way, going to go back to working from the office. No matter how successful the COVID-19 vaccines turn out to be, the C-suite has figured out that most people are more productive from home than they are in the office. And, just as nifty, it's far cheaper to have you work from home than to pay millions for an office building.

Thinking about lowering costs, Google recently bought Neverware. Never, who you ask? It's a business, which made its own Chrome OS fork you could use to update older Windows PCs with a brand-spanking-new copy of Chrome OS. With it, you can take your old Windows 7 machines, or a Mac, and repurpose them into perfectly fine Chrome OS PCs.

I like this idea. And, more to the point, I know several businesses that have already made the leap. It enables them to get years more work out of older machines that were never, ever going to run Windows 10.

Google is also making it easier than ever to manage the Chrome browser with Chrome Browser Cloud Management. It enables you to view and manage bookmarks; track Chrome versions; report on Chrome apps and extensions; and remotely troubleshoot and clear browser data. In other words, it's pretty darn handy.

Of course, Google isn't the only company to figure out that inexpensive, cloud-based computers make sense. As I've been saying lately, some company named Microsoft has been working on their own Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offerings.

As I take out my crystal ball for another peek into the future, I don't see Chromebooks overtaking Windows anytime soon. But, I do see the combination of Chromebooks and Windows DaaS operating system nudging out stand-alone Windows PCs by 2026. Stick around, we'll see if I'm right.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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