A Chromebook is a laptop running the Linux-based Chrome OS as its operating system. The devices were originally designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and data utilising Cloud technology. The original Chromebook was an example of a thin client. The first Chromebooks for sale, by Acer Inc. and Samsung, began shipping on June 15, 2011. In addition to laptop models, a desktop version, called a Chromebox, was introduced in May 2012, and an "all-in-one" device was introduced in January 2014, by LG Electronics. Chromebooks are primarily sold both directly from Google and from the company's retail partners. By 2012, schools had become the largest category of customer. That October, Google broadened its marketing strategy to include first-time computer users and households seeking an additional computer. In October 2012, Simon Phipps, writing in InfoWorld, said, "The Chromebook line is probably the most successful Linux desktop/laptop computer we've seen to date". From January to November 2013, 1.76 million Chromebooks were sold in US business-to-business channels. ABI Research (and others) have shown them most popular in the US K–12 education market (and growing elsewhere, at least, in Western Europe) and "anticipates Chromebooks to continue to dominate the education market in 2016". The Electronic Frontier Foundation states that Chromebooks are still spying on students without consent from their parents, two years since a formal complaint was made against Google.
The first Chromebooks for sale, by Acer Inc. and Samsung, were announced at the Google I/O conference in May 2011, and began shipping on June 15, 2011. Lenovo, Hewlett Packard and Google itself entered the market in early 2013. In December 2013, Samsung launched a Samsung Chromebook specifically for the Indian market that employed the company's Exynos 5 Dual core processor. In addition to laptop models, a desktop version, called a Chromebox, was introduced in May 2012, and an "all-in-one" device was introduced in January 2014, by LG Electronics. The all-in-one is named the Chromebase. Critical reaction to the device was initially skeptical, with some reviewers, such as then New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, unfavorably comparing the value proposition of Chromebooks with that of more fully featured laptops running the Microsoft Windows operating system. That complaint dissipated later in reviews of machines from Acer and Samsung that were priced lower. In February 2013, Google announced and began shipping the Chromebook Pixel, a higher-spec machine with a high-end price tag. The Pixel C is based on Android.
Initial hardware partners for Chromebook development included Acer, Adobe, Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard (later HP Inc.), Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Intel, Samsung, and Dell. Chromebooks ship with Google Chrome OS, an operating system that uses the Linux kernel and the Google Chrome web-browser with an integrated media-player. Enabling developer mode allows the installation of Linux distributions on Chromebooks. Crouton is a script that allows the installation of Linux distributions from Chrome OS, and running both operating systems simultaneously. Some Chromebooks include SeaBIOS, which can be turned on to install and boot Linux distributions directly. With limited offline capability and a fast boot-time, Chromebooks are primarily designed for use while connected to the Internet. Instead of installing traditional applications such as word processing and instant messaging, users add web apps from the Chrome Web Store. Google claims that a multi-layer security architecture eliminates the need for anti-virus software. Support for many USB devices such as cameras, mice, external keyboards and flash drives is included, utilizing a feature similar to plug-and-play on other operating systems. Like the prototype Cr-48, Chromebooks have a specialized keyboard complete with buttons for opening and controlling multiple browser-windows, as well as a Web search button which replaces the caps lock key (caps lock being activated by pressing both alt+search). An analysis of the Samsung Series 5 components by iFixit in June 2011, estimated a total cost of $334.32, representing US$322.12 in materials and US$12.20 in labor. With an initial retail price of US$499.99 that also pays for retail margins, shipping, marketing, and research and development, the profit margins on the Chromebooks are quite thin, requiring a large production run to make a profit. While Chromebooks are designed to be used when connected to the Internet, users are able to access Google applications such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Drive in offline mode. Chromebooks also come with a built-in local music-player, a photo editor, and a PDF- and Microsoft Office document-viewer that are functional without Internet access. Other apps with offline support include Amazon's Cloud Reader, the New York Times App, and Angry Birds. Google Play video content is available offline using an extension to the Chrome browser. All Chromebooks, except the first three, boot with the help of Coreboot, a fast-booting BIOS.
Sales and marketing
The first two commercially available Chromebooks, the Samsung Series 5 and the Acer AC700, were unveiled on May 11, 2011, at the Google I/O developer conference. They were to begin selling through online channels, including Amazon and Best Buy in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain starting June 15, 2011; however, Acer's AC700 was not available until early July. The first machines sold for between $349 and $499, depending on the model and 3G option. Google also offered a monthly payment scheme for business and education customers at $28 and $20 per user, per month, respectively for a three-year contract, including replacements and upgrades. Verizon offers models equipped with 3G/4G LTE connectivity 100–200 MB of free wireless data per month, for two years. Google's early marketing efforts relied primarily on hands-on experience: giving away Samsung machines to 10 Cr-48 pilot program participants along with the title Chromebook Guru and lending Chromebooks to passengers on some Virgin America flights. At the end of September 2011, Google launched the Chrome Zone, a "store within a store", inside the Currys and PC World superstore in London. The store had a Google-style look and feel with splashes of color all around the retail store front. The concept was later changed to a broader in-store Google shop, which has not expanded beyond the PC World on Tottenham Court Road. In addition to these marketing strategies, Google Chrome has created several "Chromebook minis" that demonstrate the ease of use and simplicity of the devices in a comical manner. For example, when the question "How do you back up a Chromebook" is asked, it is implied to refer to data backup, but instead, shows two hands pushing a Chromebook back to the end of a table. This is followed by the statement, "You don't have to back up a Chromebook," showing how all data is stored on the web. In an article published on ZDNet in June 2011, entitled "Five Chromebook concerns for businesses", Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols faulted the devices for lack of virtual private network capability, not supporting some Wi-Fi security methods, in particular Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) Enterprise with Extensible Authentication Protocol-Transport Layer Security (EAP-TLS) or Cisco’s Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol (LEAP). He also noted that its file manager does not work, the need to use the undocumented crosh shell to accomplish basic tasks such as setting up a secure shell (SSH) network connection as well as serious deficiencies in documentation. In one of the first customer reviews, the City of Orlando, Florida, reported on their initial testing of 600 Chromebooks as part of a broader study related to accessing virtual desktops. Early indications show potential value in reducing IT support costs. End users have indicated that the Chromebook is easy to travel with and starts up quickly. One stated that "If I just need to stay connected for emergencies, I take my Chrome," but when traveling for business she would still take her laptop. Orlando does plan to continue to use the Chromebooks. On November 21, 2011, Google announced price reductions on all Chromebooks. Since then, the Wi-Fi-only Samsung Series 5 was reduced to $349, the 3G Samsung Series 5 was reduced to $449, and the Acer AC700 was reduced to $299. The updated Series 5 550 and the Chromebox, the first Chrome OS desktop machines, were released by Samsung in May 2012. While the two lowest cost Chromebooks emerged later in the fall: the $249 Samsung Series 3 and the $199 Acer C7. The following February, Google introduced the most costly machine, their Chromebook Pixel, with a starting price of $1299. All models released after May 2012, include 100 GB–1.09 TB of Google Drive cloud storage and 12 GoGo WiFi passes. By January 2013, Acer's Chromebook sales were being driven by "heavy Internet users with educational institutions", and the platform represented 5-10 percent of the company's US shipments, according to Acer president Jim Wong. He called those numbers sustainable, contrasting them with low Windows 8 sales which he blamed for a slump in the market. Wong said that the company would consider marketing Chromebooks to other developed countries, as well as to corporations. He noted that although Chrome OS is free to license for hardware vendors, it has required greater marketing expenditure than Windows, offsetting the licensing savings. During the first 11 months of 2013, 1.76 million Chromebooks sold in the United States, representing 21% of the US commercial business-to-business laptop market. During the same period in 2012, Chromebooks sold 400,000 units and had a negligible market share. In January 2015, Silviu Stahie noted in Softpedia that Chromebooks were eating into Microsoft's market share. He said "Microsoft is engaged in a silent war and it's actually losing. They are fighting an enemy that is so insidious and so cunning that it's actually hurting the company more than anything else. The enemy is called Chromebooks and they are using Linux...There is no sign that things are slowing down and Microsoft really needs a win, and soon if it wants to remain relevant." In 2015, Chromebooks, by sales volume (to companies in the US), are second after Windows based devices (with Android tablets, overtaking Apple's devices in 2014): "Chromebook sales through the U.S. B2B channels increased 43 percent during the first half of 2015, helping to keep overall B2B PC and tablet sales from falling. Sales of Google OS-equipped (Android and Chrome) devices saw a 29 percent increase over 2014 propelled by Chromebook sales, while Apple devices declined 12 percent and Windows devices fell 8 percent."
Education market The education market has been the Chromebooks' most notable success, competing on the low cost of the hardware, software and upkeep. The simplicity of the machines, which could be a drawback in other markets, has proven an advantage to school districts by reducing training and maintenance costs. By January 2012, even while commercial sales were flat, Google placed nearly 27,000 Chromebooks in schools across 41 states in the US, including "one-on-one" programs, which allocate a computer for every student in South Carolina, Illinois, and Iowa. As of August 2012, over 500 school districts in the United States and Europe were using the device. In 2016, Chromebooks represented 58 percent of the 2.6 million mobile devices purchased by U.S. schools and about 64 percent of that market outside the U.S. By contrast, sales of Apple tablets and laptops to U.S. schools dropped that year to 19 percent, compared with 52 percent in 2012. Helping spur Chromebook sales is Google Classroom, an app designed for teachers in 2014, that serves as a hub for classroom activities including attendance, classroom discussions, homework, and communication with students and parents. There have, however, been concerns about privacy within the context of the education market for Chromebooks. School officials at schools issuing Chromebooks for students have affirmed that students have no right to privacy when using school-issued Chromebooks, even at home, and that all online and offline activity can be monitored by the school using third-party software pre-installed on the laptops. Further, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has complained that Google itself is violating the privacy of students, by enabling the synchronisation function within Google Chrome ("Chrome Sync") by default, allowing web browsing histories and other data of students - including those under-13 - to be stored on Google servers and potentially used for purposes other than authorised educational purposes. A point of contention has been the fact that users of school-issued Chromebooks cannot change these settings themselves as a measure to protect their privacy as only the administrator who issued the laptops can change them. The EFF claims that this violates a Student Privacy Pledge already signed by Google in 2014. EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo stated: "Minors shouldn't be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center. If Google wants to use students' data to 'improve Google products', then it needs to get express consent from parents."
CR-48 At a December 7, 2010, press briefing, Google announced the Chrome OS Pilot Program, a pilot study and the first Chromebook, the Cr-48 Chrome Notebook, a prototype, to test the Chrome OS operating system and modified hardware for it. The device had a minimal design and was all black, completely unbranded although it was made by Inventec, and had a rubberized coating. The device was named after Chromium-48, an unstable isotope of the metallic element Chromium, and the participants were named Cr-48 Test Pilots. Google distributed about 60,000 Cr-48 Chrome Notebooks between December 2010 and March 2011 for free to participants and in return asked for feedback such as suggestions and bug reports. The Cr-48 was intended for testing only, not retail sales. The Cr-48's hardware design broke convention by replacing certain keys with shortcut keys, such as the function keys, and replacing the caps lock key with a dedicated search key, which can be changed back to caps lock in the OS's keyboard settings. Google addressed complaints that the operating system offers little functionality when the host device is not connected to the Internet, demonstrated an offline version of Google Docs, and announced a 3G plan that would give users 100 MB of free data each month, with additional paid plans available from Verizon. The device's USB port is capable of supporting a keyboard, mouse, Ethernet adapter, or USB storage, but not a printer, as Chrome OS offers no print stack. Adding further hardware outside of the previously mentioned items will likely cause problems with the operating system's "self knowing" security model. Users instead were encouraged to use a secure service called Google Cloud Print to print to legacy printers connected to their desktop computers, or to connect an HP ePrint, Kodak Hero, Kodak ESP, or Epson Connect printer to the Google Cloud Print service for a "cloud aware" printer connection. The Cr-48 prototype laptop gave reviewers their first opportunity to evaluate Chrome OS running on a device. Ryan Paul of Ars Technica wrote that the machine "met the basic requirements for Web surfing, gaming, and personal productivity, but falls short for more intensive tasks." He praised Google's approach to security, but wondered whether mainstream computer users would accept an operating system whose only application is a browser. He thought Chrome OS "could appeal to some niche audiences": people who just need a browser or companies that rely on Google Apps and other Web applications. But the operating system was "decidedly not a full-fledged alternative to the general purpose computing environments that currently ship on netbooks." Paul wrote that most of Chrome OS's advantages "can be found in other software environments without having to sacrifice native applications." In reviewing the Cr-48 on December 29, 2010, Kurt Bakke of Conceivably Tech wrote that a Chromebook had become the most frequently used family appliance in his household. "Its 15 second startup time and dedicated Google user accounts made it the go-to device for quick searches, email as well as YouTube and Facebook activities." But the device did not replace other five notebooks in the house: one for gaming, two for the kids, and two more for general use. "The biggest complaint I heard was its lack of performance in Flash applications." In ongoing testing, Wolfgang Gruener, also writing in Conceivably Tech, said that cloud computing at cellular data speeds is unacceptable and that the lack of offline ability turns the Cr-48 "into a useless brick" when not connected. "It's difficult to use the Chromebook as an everyday device and give up what you are used to on a Mac/Windows PC, while you surely enjoy the dedicated cloud computing capabilities occasionally."
Pixel Launched by Google in February 2013, the Chromebook Pixel remains the high-end machine in the Chromebook family. The laptop has an unusual 3:2 display aspect ratio touch screen featuring what was at its debut the highest pixel density of any laptop, a faster CPU than its predecessors in the Intel Core i5, and an exterior design described by Wired as "an austere rectangular block of aluminum with subtly rounded edges". A second Pixel featuring LTE wireless communication and twice the storage capacity was shipped for arrival on April 12, 2013. The machine received much media attention, with many reviewers questioning the Pixel's value proposition compared to similarly priced Windows machines and the MacBook Air.
Samsung Series 5 Reviewing the Samsung Series 5 specifications, Scott Stein of CNET was unimpressed with a machine with a 12-inch screen and just 16 GB of onboard storage. "Chrome OS might be lighter than Windows XP, but we'd still prefer more media storage space. At this price, you could also get an 11.6-inch (290 mm) Wi-Fi AMD E-350-powered ultraportable running Windows 7." On the other hand, MG Siegler of TechCrunch wrote a largely favorable review, praising the improvements in speed and trackpad sensitivity over the CR-48 prototype, as well as the long battery life and the fact that all models are priced below the iPad. In June 2011, iFixit dismantled a Samsung Series 5 and concluded that it was essentially an improved Cr-48. They rated it as 6/10 for repairability, predominantly because the case has to be opened to change the battery and because the RAM chip is soldered to the motherboard. iFixit noted that the "mostly-plastic construction" felt "a little cheap". On the plus side they stated that the screen was easy to remove and most of the components, including the solid-state drive would be easy to replace. iFixit's Kyle Wiens wrote that the Series 5 "fixes the major shortfalls of the Cr-48 and adds the polish necessary to strike lust into the heart of a broad consumer base: sleek looks, 8+ hours of battery life, and optimized performance."
Samsung Series 5 550 In May 2012, Samsung introduced the Chromebook Series 5 550, with a Wi-Fi model and more expensive 3G model. Reviews generally questioned the value proposition. Dana Wollman of Engadget wrote that the Chromebook's keyboard "put thousand-dollar Ultrabooks to shame" and offered better display quality than on many laptops selling for twice as much. But the price "seems to exist in a vacuum—a place where tablet apps aren't growing more sophisticated, where Transformer-like Win8 tablets aren't on the way and where there aren't some solid budget Windows machines to choose from." Joe Wilcox of BetaNews wrote that "price to performance and how it compares to other choices" is "where Chromebook crumbles for many potential buyers." He noted that the new models sell for more than their predecessors, and while the price-performance ratio is quite favorable compared to the MacBook Air, "by the specs, there are plenty of lower-cost options."
Samsung Series 3 In October 2012, the Series 3 Chromebook was introduced at a San Francisco event with the Samsung Chromebook XE303. The device was cheaper, thinner and lighter than the Chromebook 550. Google marketed the Series 3 as the computer for everyone, due to its simple operating system (Chrome OS) and affordable price. Target markets included students and first-time computer users, as well as households looking for an extra computer. The lower price proved a watershed for some reviewers. New York Times technology columnist David Pogue reversed his earlier thumbs-down verdict on the Chromebook, writing that "$250 changes everything." The price is half that of an "iPad, even less than an iPad Mini or an iPod Touch. And you’re getting a laptop." He wrote that the Chromebook does many of the things people use computers and laptops for: playing flash videos, and opening Microsoft Office documents. "In other words, Google is correct when it asserts that the Chromebook is perfect for schools, second computers in homes and businesses who deploy hundreds of machines." CNET's review of the Series 3 Chromebook was even more favorable, saying the machine largely delivered as a computer for students and as an additional computer for a household—especially for users who are already using Google Web applications like Google Docs, Google Drive, and Gmail. "It's got workable if not standout hardware, its battery life is good, it switches on quickly, and the $249 price tag means it's not as much of a commitment as the $550 Samsung Series 5 550 that arrived in May." The review subtracted points for performance. "It's fine for many tasks, but power users accustomed to having more than a couple dozen browser tabs open should steer clear."
Samsung Chromebook 3 The Chromebook 3 is distinct from and distinguished from the similarly named Samsung Series 3 in several respects: newer (released 2016), different architecture (Intel Celeron N3050 instead of Exynos 5 Dual ARM Cortex), thinner (0.7"), and less expensive (about $100 less than the Series 3); while remaining a full implementation of ChromeOS.
HP HP's first Chromebook, and the largest Chromebook on the market at that time, was the Pavilion 14 Chromebook launched February 3, 2013. It had an Intel Celeron 847 CPU and either 2GB or 4GB of RAM. Battery life was not long, at just over 4 hours, but the larger form factor made it more friendly for all-day use. HP introduced the Chromebook 11 on October 8, 2013, in the US. In December 2013, Google and HP recalled 145,000 chargers due to overheating. Sales were halted, resuming with a redesigned charger the following month. The HP Chromebook 14 was announced September 11, 2013 with an Intel Haswell Celeron processor, USB 3.0 ports, and 4G broadband. Engadget praised the computer's design and convenient micro-USB charging, but criticized a sticky trackpad and short battery life, worse than the Samsung Chromebook with the same Exynos processor. An updated version of the Chromebook lineup was announced on September 3, 2014. The 11-inch models included an Intel processor while the 14-inch models featured a fanless design powered by a Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. HP Chromebooks are available in several colors.
Two types of desktop computers also run Chrome OS. Chromebox Classed as small form-factor PCs, Chromeboxes typically feature a power switch and a set of ports: local area network, USB, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and audio. As with Chromebooks, Chromeboxes employ solid-state memory and support Web applications, but require an external monitor, keyboard, and pointing device.
Chromebase Chromebase is an "all-in-one" Chrome OS device. The first such model was released by LG Electronics which integrated a screen, speakers, 1.3-megapixel webcam and microphone, with a suggested retail price of $350. The company unveiled the product in January 2014, at International CES in Las Vegas.
Chromebit The Chromebit is a dongle running on Google's Chrome OS operating system. When placed in the HDMI port of a television or a monitor, this device turns that display into a personal computer. Chromebit allows adding a keyboard or mouse over Bluetooth or via the USB port.