PC Makers Turn To Google Chromebooks

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Chromebooks are computers which run the Chrome Web browser. Basically, that's it! Google(GOOG) feels that you can do everything (or nearly everything) you need to do on a computer through a simple machine based on its popular browser. And now, two years after their introduction, Chromebooks are beginning to catch on in a big way.

Chromebooks are based on the Linux operating system, but that's not really important. What you need to know is you log in to your device and you're greeted with a fully functional Web browser. If you use the Google system for communications (Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Google+, etc.) you're all set. If you also use Android devices, all of your settings and history are automatically recognized as well.

Want to write an "Office" document? Go right ahead and then save it in Google's cloud storage system. Or print it using Google's cloud printing system. Want to watch a movie on Netflix(NFLX) ? There's a Chrome app for that. And games. And thousands of other apps tweaked just for Chromebooks. There's also a Spotify app currently being tested (it's terrific).

Undoubtedly, the biggest draw is the price. Compared to Microsoft(MSFT) Windows and Apple(AAPL) Macintosh computers, Chromebooks are a bargain. The latest Samsung Chromebook retails for $249. The new Acer is priced starting at $199. An Acer exec tells Bloomberg that Chromebook sales were through the roof in December. If you check Amazon's(AMZN) current computer sales lists, you'll see these two new devices at or near the top.

But, that's not where the story ends. With Windows 8 not generating much excitement, some of Microsoft's long-time partners are also exploring the idea of Chromebooks of their own. Like Lenovo, which last week announced a Chromebook marketed to school systems. Or, today's rumor that HP(HPQ) is going to announce a nifty Chromebook of its own next month.

A few years back the "next big thing" in computing was the netbook. Small, lightweight and, most notably, cheap. For the most part, tablets killed the netbook. But tablets, the really good ones anyway, are mostly expensive. In this economy, consumers shop with their pocketbooks. Add to that great portability and ease of use and you have what could be a big problem for Microsoft and Apple in the next few years.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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