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Chromebooks vs. laptops

Move over laptops – the virtualised Chromebook is here

A person using a laptop to access the Google home screen

Latest news


PIN unlock coming to Chromebooks

Chromebook owners will soon be able to unlock their devices using a four-digit PIN system.

Google is said to be adding the feature to its Chrome OS devices - allowing for locking and unlocking in much the same way as many smartphones and tablets.

Users will be able to set the numeric PIN after signing into their Chromebook, PC World reports. This would then replace the need to use a Google account password when the device wakes from sleep mode - particularly increasing convenience for owners of touchscreen models.

It is also noted, however, that the feature will only be added to the lock screen and not the login screen that appears when the device is powered up.

According to OMG Chrome, one Chromium developer commented: "It'd be great to support login as well, but there are some security considerations that have to be thought through and addressed first."

For now, however, the feature is only available for Chrome OS's Canary Channel - so regular users may have to wait a while before they receive the feature.

Whilst no time-frame is mentioned, it is expected that the new PIN unlock feature will make its way to the more-stable Chrome developer channel in the near future.

Meanwhile, it has been predicted that Chromebook sales will continue to grow in the coming years.

Citing research firm Global Market Insights, Android Authority reports that sales of Chromebooks are expected to hit 17 million by 2023.

The research firm stated: "Growing demand for these systems in the education sector is likely to drive the industry growth over the forecast period."


Windows software can run on Chromebooks

Chromebooks can run Windows software on their devices with a program called CrossOver for Android.

Thanks to the introduction of Android capability to Chromebooks, users will soon be able to install software such as Steam and numerous Windows-only games if they own an Intel-powered device, reports PC World.

Created by CodeWeavers, CrossOver borrows code from Wine – an open-source project that enables Windows software to run on Linux – and applies it to Android.

CodeWeavers president James Rarney wrote in a blog post: “CrossOver for Android installed and ran on a Google ChromeBook. More importantly, we were able to install the Steam Client into CrossOver for Android and run LIMBO and other games.

“We have DirectX 9 support, keyboard support, mouse support, and sound support today! People, we are staring at a Leprechaun riding on the back of a Unicorn while taking a picture of a UFO,” he added.

“We are running CrossOver through Android on a ChromeBook running a Windows based game

launched from the Steam client. THIS HAS NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE… EVER!”

CrossOver is yet to be released – but CodeWeavers confirmed it works on the Intel-powered Chromebook Pixel and Acer Chromebook R11.

Rarney did add, however, that the project may still need fine-tuning. He said: “There will be more testing. There will inevitably be some cleanup work to do. There will be. But CrossOver for Android is working and real, supporting the Steam Client, able to launch games and is actually playable.”

Chromebooks that include ARM chips will not be able to run CrossOver.


Could a “Chromebook Pro” be on the cards?

Google is said to be looking into the idea of a “Chromebook Pro” according to the latest reports.

The tech giant recently asked users of its Google Opinion Rewards app some questions about a potential new premium version of its Chromebook range.

The app, available through the Google Play Store, rewards users with Play Store credits in exchange for anonymous survey answers.

The survey came to light on social media site Reddit, with user ‘jellofort’ posting in the ChromeOS sub-reddit: “They asked what a Chromebook Pro should be like in my opinion and what type of people would want to use it.

“They also asked what the differences between a normal Chromebook and a Chromebook Pro would be.”

Another user named ‘feetextreme’ posted a screenshot to the thread showing one of the questions. It read: “How would you think a Chromebook Pro is different to a Chromebook?”

Website Gizmodo reasons that, as these questions do not ask if users would want a Pro version, this could suggest that “Google is already investing resources in such a device.”

The development sparked debate on the forum, with many users suggesting possible features they would want in a Chromebook Pro. 

Commenters pointed to features such as OLED, a USB-C port and SD expandable storage facility. Others suggested they’d like an improved processor and larger RAM.

The news follows a recent report by Venture Beat that noted Google had posted a job advert for a “Quality Engineer, Chromebook Pixel.”

This could point towards a new Chromebook Pixel in the future, with the advert stating: “As a Quality Engineer, you will be part of shaping Google’s next game-changer.”


Acer announces new laptops to compete with Chromebooks

Acer has announced it will be releasing two new hybrid laptops – the Switch V 10 and Switch One 10.

Small and inexpensive compared to many devices on the market, the laptops have been tipped as ideal for travellers and people on the move.

The low starting prices for the hybrids also position them as a potential market alternative to Chromebooks.

Powered by Windows 10, the new 2-in-1 notebooks are compact in size, lightweight, boast long-lasting battery life and include USB charging functionality.

Both models also contain quad-core Atom processors and detachable 10.1-inch multi-tough IPS displays.

The Switch V 10 features a USB Type-C port (for charging and video output capability) and will be available in 32GB and 64GB options.  It also boasts a Corning Gorilla Glass cover, dual-band MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a fingerprint reader – allowing users to sign in securely with Windows Hello.

The new V 10 can also be positioned as notepad, tablet, tent and display thanks to its fully convertible body.

The laptops will be available from $249 in the US and come in Pearl White, Shale Black, Navy Blue, Peacock Blue and Coral Red versions.

In comparison, the Switch One 10 will feature a brushed metal cover and is set to start at $199 – providing a lower-budget option for consumers.

The One 10 is expected to include slightly fewer features than the V 10 due to its lower price – but it does still include the touch display, fingerprint reader and detachable screen/keyboard.

The Acer Switch One 10 is set to hit shelves in North America and Europe in July – with the Acer Switch V 10 set to follow suit in quarter three.


First quarter Chromebook sales overtake Mac

Chromebook sales have overtaken Macs in the US for the first time, according to figures from research firm IDC.

Google’s Chrome-powered laptops shifted more than two million units in the first quarter of 2016, surpassing Apple’s 1.76m laptops sold.

Manufactured by Lenovo, Dell and HP, most Chromebooks are considerably cheaper than their Apple counterparts – which may help equate for their 15 percent higher sales figures in Q1.

The devices have also proved popular in the US education sector due to factors such as their simplicity and relatively low cost.

Linn Huang, research director for devices and displays at IDC, commented to The Verge: “Chrome OS overtook Mac OS in the US in terms of shipments for the first time in 1Q16. Chromebooks are still largely a US K-12 story.”

IDC also reports that shipment numbers declined for each of the top five PC manufacturers, with Huang recently noting: “Demand for PCs in the US remains sluggish. However, we should be entering a period of reprieve. Peak corporate and education buying seasons have historically started in the second quarter.

“With some IT buyers thinking about early Windows 10 transitions and with the potential continued ascent of Chromebooks in US K-12, the PC market should experience a modest rebound in the coming months.”

The news comes at a good time for Google, with the tech giant recently announcing its Play Store will be landing on Chrome OS.

The development means that Chromebook owners will now have access to the thousands of applications previously only available on Android smartphones and tablets – drastically increasing Chromebook capabilities.

Applications such as Microsoft Office and Photoshop are just a couple of the tools that will now be available to users, closing the gap in functionality between Chromebooks and laptops and elevating the devices to more than just a web-based technology.

Chromebooks have been popular in the education sector and Tech Insider suggest they are now “poised to eat into the PC market even more” with the addition of the Google Play Store.


New high-end chromebook in the pipeline

Reports suggest a new, high-end Chromebook could be on the way.

Discoveries in the Chromium OS source code appear to reveal that a new high-end device is in the pipeline – boasting 16MB RAM and powered by an Intel Skylake Processor.

The code and subsequent forum discussions also appear to confirm that Hewlett Packard will be the manufacturers of the new model - which has been codenamed ‘Chell’.

Other features of the Chromebook have also been hinted at, with suggestions that the device will have twin USB ports (USB-C and USB-A), Bluetooth capability and an SD card reader.

The discoveries add to earlier code pointing to a touchscreen and “VR config settings” – making it the first internet-focused device to incorporate VR.

It has also been reported by Yahoo Tech that, considering Hewlett Packard’s previous virtual reality inclusive desktops and Google’s VR functionality on mobile devices, it is “likely that the laptop would utilise the Chrome web browser to enable VR content”.

They also suggest that, with Google working on their own VR headset, it “would make sense if the two devices were compatible.”

Google’s Chromebook Pixel is currently the only high-end model available on the market. The Chrome OS-powered laptop leads the way in terms of features, boasting 8GB RAM, 32GB storage, a dual-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200u processor and a 12.85 inch Gorilla Glass (3:2) screen.

Resolution on the device stands at 2,560 x 1,700 (239 ppi) and also incorporates an Intel HD Graphics 5500 adaptor, 720p HD webcam and provides an estimated battery life of 12 hours (average use).


Which are better value, chromebooks or laptops?

“Chromebooks are a good choice for someone looking for a starter laptop that isn’t going to cost the earth. They generally come with a super quick processor and a lightweight design so it’s easy to see why they‘re increasingly popular,” says Kate Rickard, head of sales & marketing at PriceRunner.

“They update automatically and have in-built cloud storage so you don’t have to worry about keeping your software up-to-date or backing-up your data. Prices start from around £150 and go up to £999.99 for a highly advanced model like the Google Chromebook Pixel 2015. You do need to bear in mind that while the speed and security features are a big plus, the functionality can be a little lacking compared to other laptop brands.”

She adds: “Laptops like the Apple MacBook Air and ASUS X555LA-XX273H can provide a level of power, memory and functionality that Chromebooks don’t. Laptops start from around £170 but as you add more features the price will grow accordingly and MacBooks can often exceed £1,000. Convertible and 2-in-1 models have made the laptop a powerful multi-functional machine in the last couple of years. If you’re looking to use yours for gaming, music creation, streaming TV or downloading large files and data, you may find other laptops are stronger at handling the workload. Unlike Chromebooks though, you’ll need to regularly back-up your data.”

Are Chromebooks killing laptops?

Laptops have been the business mainstay IT tool for years, yes they’ve got thinner and faster, but they fundamentally remain the same. Now they are under mounting pressure from all sides. A plethora of cheap, light yet powerful computing devices are proliferating including tablets, phablets & smartphones, Microsoft Surface & Apple iPad Pros, and Chromebooks.

Desktop PC sales are in decline and even enterprise thin client devices are having a tough time – EMEA thin client shipments have hit a five-year low according to IDC. All of this makes it quite confusing for businesses and resellers alike to specify the right systems for a project.

Chromebooks will be shipping to the tune of 7.3m units this year, a 27 percent increase over last year, and are expected to double this figure by 2017 according to research house Gartner. While over 70 percent of sales in the EMEA region are for educational use, Gartner analyst Isabelle Durand notes that the platform could be useful in the business sector.

“Chromebook is a device that can be considered by SMBs or new startup companies that do not have the resources to invest too much in IT infrastructure,” says Durand. “Chromebooks will become a valid device choice for employees as enterprises seek to provide simple, secure, low-cost and easy-to-manage access to new web applications and legacy systems.”

The majority of enterprises seem to understand they no longer need an exclusive Windows infrastructure - there is now an increasingly sophisticated environment where mobiles devices and virtual desktops are becoming more important. With a mix of fixed PCs and thin clients in many enterprises, the door is open for cloud-connected mobile devices, such as Chromebooks. Furthermore, virtualising apps and desktops solves any manageability issues associated with Chromebooks in one fell swoop.

To illustrate this point, one interesting development in the market is Dell’s recent announcement of a premium Chromebook designed for business. While the company is up against established leaders such as Samsung, Acer and HP, it can obviously see the significant potential for professional users.

Move over laptops – the virtualised Chromebook is here

The cloud revolution has made it inevitable that businesses move everything to the cloud. With data and apps residing in the cloud, Chromebooks can be an excellent access tool for businesses.

As seamless internet connection is available in most parts of the world internet-dependency of Chromebooks is not a concern. The only challenge is the limited functionality as Chromebooks users cannot run Microsoft Office and other native programs by default. However, desktop virtualisation provides an easy answer to this solution. By using virtualisation software such as Parallels Remote Application Server, VMware Horizon View or Citrix XenApp, admins can transform a Chromebook into a powerful computing device. They can easily publish windows desktops on Chromebooks and use any application such as MS Office, Photoshop or Skype, and even legacy apps. Desktop virtualisation not only resolves Chromebook’s limitations but it also makes it a powerful and cost-effective thin client for businesses.

Opportunities for resellers

Forrester Research believes Chromebooks and other cloud-based mobile devices with tailored applications do offer new opportunities for resellers. A recently released report from the analyst house argues that there is a business case for moving part of an enterprise organisation to Chromebooks. This includes lower desk costs and lower imaging costs in terms of PCs and deploying applications. Also from the management perspective, security costs are lower. It’s easier for one user to turn the machine over to another user so the cost of hardware tends to be lower. It’s also simpler for IT to support a Chromebook rather than an Android device because of the security challenges associated with the Android OS. For example, enterprises may need mobile device management support to use Android devices.

For resellers and managed service providers who want to deliver unique cloud solutions to their customers, they need to partner with virtualisation vendors who can: deliver desktops and applications to any device and any operating platform; provide easy to deploy and manage tools; and offer a cost-effective, yet comprehensive, virtualisation tool with – of course - healthy margins.

So while many traditional devices are in decline, modern cloud-orientated virtualised devices are making sound commercial sense for businesses, not least Chromebooks.

Giorgio Bonuccelli is marketing director at Parallels

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