Why worry with Windows 11 when you've got Chromebooks (and Chrome OS)?

What does Windows 11 really bring to the table? Better security (maybe) and Android compatibility, yes. But don't Chromebooks already have that covered?

Chrome OS Features
Google, modified by IDG Comm

I've been preaching the benefits of Chromebooks over Windows since the first commercial Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5, rolled off the production line in June 2011 — 10 years ago. But it’s only been in recent months that Chromebook sales numbers have shown that others are getting on board. With Microsoft last week announcing Windows 11, I wonder if the execs have also seen those numbers and decided it was time to rush out a new Windows desktop ahead of Microsoft's Azure-based Cloud PC.

Don't believe me? Consider this: in 2021's first quarter, Windows dropped to 75% of the global PC market from more than 80% in 2020, according to IDC analyst Linn Huang. Windows hasn't had such a small share of the desktop market since the 1990s.

Windows used to dominate the desktop. By Statista's count, in January 2013, Windows had almost 91% of the market. But it's been slowly declining ever since, and by November Statist had pegged Windows's market share at 73%. 

At the same time, Stock Apps reported global Chromebook shipments soared by 276% year-over-year — and almost reached 12 million unit sales in the first quarter of 2021 alone. Now, 276% is nothing to sneeze at. And while 12 million is still far below Windows laptop and PC sales of 84 million units for the same quarter, it's not insignificant either.

PC vendors certainly can see those numbers. HP and Lenovo rule the Chromebook market, with 7.5 million sold units ,or 60% of total shipments in the first quarter of this year. Other vendors are also profiting more than ever from Chromebooks. Acer, for example, shipped 1.43 million Chromebooks in Q1 — up 178% from Q1 2020. Simultaneously, Dell practically doubled its sales to 1 million units sold. Samsung, however, was the real winner in terms of growth; its Chromebook sales gained an astronomical 2233% year-over-year to 1.2 million units in the first three months of 2021.

For the first time in many of our lifetimes, Windows actually faces a significant challenge on the desktop. Apple and Mac fans, of course, have always had their 10% or so of the market, while hardcore Linux users — that would be me! — hangs on with its perpetual 1%.

So it's no wonder Microsoft pulled the Windows 11 rabbit out of its research hat. I still think what Microsoft really wants is for users to move to its Cloud PC Desktop-as-a-Service, but it also knows most people are still comfortable with its PC-based Windows model.

It could be that Cloud PC is proving harder to perfect than Microsoft expected; it should have been out by now. We'll see what Microsoft has to say at its annual Inspire partner conference in mid-July. If officials are talking up Windows 11,instead of Cloud PC, we'll know that the cloud-based Windows has been put on the back burner.

I do think Microsoft is making a big mistake by playing up Windows 11. It's not even out yet, and users, including experts who know Windows as well as I know Linux, are reporting that even newer PCs aren't compatible with Windows. Indeed, Microsoft already admits that almost half of its Surface lineup won't be upgradeable to Windows 11. If your Surface laptop is four years old, odds are you’re out of luck.

Do you know what you will be able to upgrade your Windows 10 PCs to though? Chrome OS, or to be more precise, CloudReady OS. This is a Chrome OS -ompatible operating system that’s based on Google's pure open-source Chromium OS. (It was created by a company named Neverware, which Google acquired in late 2020.)

CloudReady OS still isn't completely compatible with Chrome OS. It doesn't support the Google Play Store or run Android apps. But I'm absolutely sure it will.

You can administer it with Chrome Management and the Google Admin console. Ironically, you can deploy it with Microsoft Windows Deployment Services (WDS) or Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). You can also install it with other business installation programs such as Altiris or Symantec Ghost.

And unlike Windows 11, which appears to be very picky about what hardware it will work and play well with, you can install CloudReady OS on any PC with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Neverware warns you, though, that you shouldn't run it on systems from 2007 or earlier. Yes, that's right.  You may very well have some dusty Windows XP and Vista machines that can run CloudReady OS.

Windows 11? I think not. Heck, let's get real: you wouldn't want to run Windows 7 on boxes with 2GB of RAM.

My point is that if you want an affordable and good upgrade for your existing PCs, you should look to CloudReady and not Windows 11. And, if you're looking for new PCs — and your users don't require Windows 10 specific software — you should consider Chromebooks. You'll be glad you did.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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