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Is Microsoft serious about competing with Chromebooks?

How can one believe that Microsoft is really serious about competing with Google's Chromebooks in the education and home sectors when it launches a competitor that costs four times the amount?

The Surface "clamshell" Laptop has a starting price of US$999. The average Chromebook costs something in the region of US$300. Guess which one parents or home users will buy? And remember that there are Chromebooks made by OEMs which cost even less.

Microsoft makes excellent hardware, some of it very cheap and durable. This writer has used a Microsoft PS/2 mouse for as long as 12 years, and always buys the company's LifeChat headphones as they are both affordable and durable. And the XBox is a superb piece of hardware which shows both class and quality.

Thus, there is no reason to doubt that the Surface Laptop will be well designed and manufactured.

But the one thing that Microsoft appears not to understand is that in both education and the home market, the degree of lock-in that exists in the business sphere — and which forces businesses to stick to Microsoft's software products — does not exist.

Kids and home users simply want a computer. Period. One that will let them do all the usual things – writing stuff, browsing the Web, sending emails, watching videos. And above all, not being bothered by all the nasties for which Windows has become famous.

Now, if the new Surface Laptop cost the same as a Chromebook or an OEM clone, then there is a chance that people would look at it. But given the price differential, it is only the most optimistic person who would think that the Surface stands a chance.

There was an indication of how the Surface brand is doing last month when third quarter results for the current financial year showed a drop of 26% in sales for both Surface tablets and laptops. Microsoft put this down to competition from OEMs in this niche.

The new Surface "clamshell" Laptop is going up against the leader in a niche and trying to compete at nearly four times the price. So where is the reason for hope?

What is the logic behind this pricing? Indeed, is there any logic at all?


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.