Chromebook Sales to Soar in Second Half

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Google ( GOOG) Chromebooks - not Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows or Apple ( AAPL) OS X-based devices - are turning out to be the" next big thing" in laptop and notebook computers. The low cost, lightweight devices that rely on Google's Chrome Web browser are now the hottest items around.

How hot? Currently, Google, Samsung and Acer Chromebooks account for approximately 25 percent of sub-$300 laptop sales. DigiTimes recently reported that orders for the second half of this year show the Acer ($199-$249) and Samsung ($249) Chromebooks up 300% and 400% respectively.

Google shares were slipping 0.2% to $918.17 in mid-day trading..

Chromebooks run on the Linux operating system. Most use Intel ( INTC) processors. The Samsung is unique because it uses an ARM ( ARMH)-based chip. All Chromebook tasks are accomplished using the Chrome browser. Nearly all available "applications" are downloaded from Google's Chrome Play Store. Chromebooks have little to no storage inside. You're supposed to rely on Google's Cloud for saving documents, music files and the like.

Google routinely upgrades and improves the Chromebook operating system at no cost to users. Each new version has fixed bugs, added features and overall improved usability.

Functionally, the most similar device in the WinTel world would be Windows RT machines. Both operating systems are somewhat limited in functionality and both force users to download a limited numbers of apps from their respective stores.

Windows RT devices have been touchscreen tablets so far. While inexpensive Chromebooks have not had touchscreens Google has released the deluxe Chromebook Pixel laptop with a super high-resolution touchscreen, a high-speed Intel processor and a luxury price ($1,300-$1,500).

WinRT computers will receive a major software overhaul to Windows 8.1 within the next few weeks. In time for the Christmas buying season. We have been testing the Preview software and find it has helped out test tablet with many of its early problems but changes little else of WinRT's basically limited functionality.

Both the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks have turned out to be great selling products. So much so that both Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) (from $299) and Lenovo (for educational use, starting at $429) have recently begun marketing Chromebooks. And, Taiwanese computer giant Asus recently revealed that they plan to begin selling Chromebooks models of their own by the end of this year.

We have tested many Chromebook models and found them to be very good to use for their intended purpose - cheap, modern, cloud computing. Despite Microsoft lowering the price of its Surface RT tablet to $350 we think consumers will still be drawn to these cheaper, laptop style computers with similar functionality.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.