If Microsoft Says Chromebooks Are a Con, It’s a Compliment to Chromebooks

If Google's laptops were as bad as the new "Scroogled" campaign says, Microsoft could safely ignore them.

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Once again, Microsoft has launched a new fusillade in the anti-Google campaign it calls Scroogled. This one involves an attack on laptops based on Google’s Chromebook platform, and features a celebrity tie-in: a simulated episode of the History channel’s Pawn Stars in which Rick and the Old Man turn up their noses at a prospective customer’s Chromebook. You can watch the video above and see the supporting materials — including discussion of the things Windows PCs can do and Chromebooks can’t — here.

This is the first “Scroogled” bit that I enjoyed watching. It’s kind of clever. And I’d rather watch the Pawn Stars guys than the performers in Microsoft’s other “Scroogled” videos, who feel like characters in a negative ad produced on behalf of a politician I wouldn’t want to vote for.

And yet…

The Pawn Stars bit’s supplementary text refers to Chromebook “cons” and the possibility of being “fooled” into buying a Chromebook, as if the people who find these machines intriguing are patsies. I get the same angry, patronizing, unappealing vibe that I did from past waves of “Scroogled.” (As I’ve written before, “Scroogled” does more to hurt my impression of Microsoft than of Google.)

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a case to be made against Chromebooks. I was a skeptic for years, in part because of some of the issues Microsoft points out, such as the fact that they’re designed for (mostly) online use. Microsoft raises some other reasonable issues on the “Scroogled” site — though I do find it peculiar that it says your Office docs will look terrible given that it’s perfectly possible to run Microsoft’s own Office Web Apps on a Chromebook.

I still wouldn’t want to use a Chromebook as my primary computer. But neither do I reflexively dismiss them. They’ve gotten better and sell for lower prices — well, except for the Chromebook Pixel — and Google has refined its pitch. Though they’re still far from being a suitable replacement for a Windows laptop (or a Mac) in every instance, there are scenarios in which they’re not only not a con, but the better option.

Especially for casual, decidedly ungeeky users like my mom. Earlier this year, her creaky old netbook finally bit the dust. She asked me for advice on a replacement. After considering scads of options — everything from the cheapest possible Windows laptop to an iPad to a MacBook Air — I concluded that a Samsung Chromebook was the computer most likely to make her happy, regardless of price.

And it’s made her very happy. She’s an ideal Chromebook candidate: She does mostly web stuff, Gmail and light word processing and does her computing at home on her Wi-Fi network. She doesn’t need any of the things Windows computers can do that a Chromebook can’t — and definitely doesn’t need the additional complexity and security headaches of a Windows machine. Or, for that matter, the learning curve of a Windows 8 one; a Chromebook, weirdly, provides her with a more familiar environment than the latest-and-greatest Windows systems.

Maybe the most interesting thing about this “Scroogled” anti-Chromebook push is that Microsoft feels the need to make it at all. Previous rounds of “Scroogled” have addressed categories where Google dominates and Microsoft is an underdog, such as search and webmail. They may have been grating, but Microsoft was punching up, not down.

But the new one is about PC operating systems, an area where Microsoft still rules and Google has a truly tiny market share. If Chromebooks were as useless as the new “Scroogled” material suggests, they wouldn’t have an audience and Microsoft could safely ignore them. Instead, by saying that Chromebooks are crummy knockoffs of Windows laptops, the company is saying that they matter. That’s a big deal — and, in a roundabout way, better news for Google and Chromebooks than it is for Microsoft and Windows.