Will Chromebooks muscle out Windows and Mac laptops?

Chromebooks aren't just playthings anymore. They're muscling up, with Intel's help.

You may consider Chromebooks merely solid, inexpensive notebooks, but the newest generation may be muscular enough that you'll want to buy one not just in addition to a Windows or Mac notebook, but instead of one.

That was the takeaway from this week's Intel Developer Forum, where a series of new Chromebooks were shown off. The new laptops will run on Intel's powerful new Haswell chips. The current generation runs on Intel's much less powerful Atom chips.

Intel made it clear at the show that the one-time Intel-Microsoft duopoly is dead, and that the company is investing heavily in Chrome. Intel president Renee James told the IDG News Service:

"Microsoft is not the only client operating system anymore. The same way for years and years Microsoft balanced between Intel and AMD, we're in the same situation now. Our customers want choice, and we offer choice."

Intel is backing up its words with money. Doug Fisher, vice president of the software and services group at Intel, says that Intel has more than 1,000 engineers working with Google on Chrome hardware. And Google and Intel are serious enough about Chromebooks that Google will be introducing a desktop Chrome machine.

Having Intel publicly come out in favor of Chrome will likely make Chromebooks even more successful, with enterprises and IT folks as well as individual users. Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group says:

"Intel knows how to sell to government and corporations, [and] their brand helps validate the product as a valid solution. [What Intel is doing] is critical if the product is going to be more than a curiosity. It doesn't assure success but it makes that positive outcome more likely."

Also making it more likely that Chromebooks will succeed is that a new generation of Chrome apps are real apps, not just links to Web sites. The Chrome blog claims that the apps' new capabilities:

Brings together the speed, security and flexibility of the modern web with the powerful functionality previously only available with software installed on your devices. (Think apps designed for your desktop or laptop, just like the ones for your phone and tablet.)

What does this mean for you? Up until now, when you were considering buying a new notebook, you likely balanced the affordability of a Windows machine against the elegance and simplicity of a Mac. But now there's a new variable in the equation: Powerful Chromebooks, which will likely be significantly less expensive than both Windows machines and Macs.

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