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Why Microsoft’s Scroogled Ads Are Wrong About Chromebooks

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Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign is wrong about Chromebooks. Chromebooks definitely aren’t for everyone, but they’re not completely useless either. And Chromebooks have more in common with Microsoft’s vision than Microsoft wants to admit.

If the Scroogled advertisements feel like political attack ads, that’s because they basically are. They’re overseen by a man who had previously run political campaigns. Luckily for Google, the main message the ads convey is that Chromebooks exist.

“When You’re Not Connected, It’s Pretty Much a Brick”

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In the Pawn Stars ad, Microsoft argues that a Chromebook is “pretty much a brick” when you’re not connected to the Internet. This isn’t true at all, as Chromebooks have more offline support than you might expect. Email, calendar, documents, PDFs, eBooks, video, images, music, even some games — all of these can be used offline on a Chromebook. Chromebooks are surprisingly offline-capable. Chromebooks are gaining new types of Chrome apps that work entirely offline.

Sure, Chromebooks are much more useful online, but so are Windows laptops. If you’re like most people, there’s a good chance you use quite a few web apps on your Windows PC and spend a lot of time in a browser. A Windows PC is “pretty much a brick” for many people when it’s not connected to the Internet, too.

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“It’s Not a Real Laptop. It Doesn’t Have Windows, or Office.”

Are Macbooks and Linux-based laptops “not real laptops”? Microsoft would like you to think so, but they don’t have a monopoly on “real laptops.” Chromebooks should be evaluated based on their actual functionality.

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Here’s the really scary thing for Microsoft: Chromebooks do have Office! Microsoft provides an entirely free web-based version of Office known as Office Web Apps. These are integrated into Microsoft’s SkyDrive website. Office 2013 on Windows even saves to SkyDrive by default, so your documents may already be available there.

Microsoft is speaking out of both sides of their mouth here. To Google Docs users, they’re saying Office Web Apps is extremely capable and should be preferred because of its excellent compatibility with Office document formats. To Chromebook buyers, Microsoft is saying there’s no way to use Office at all.

Sure, Office Web Apps are more limited and are only usable when connected to the web, unlike Google Docs. But Office Web Apps exist, and Microsoft argues it’s a very capable product that provides amazing compatibility with Office document formats. Chromebooks do have Office. It’s a more limited version of Office — but Windows RT also has a limited version of Office. How much do you actually need to do with Office? If you’re like most people, Office Web Apps would probably be more than enough.

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“Without Wi-Fi, It Doesn’t Do Much At All”

It’s important to note that some Chromebooks come with 3G mobile network access. For example, Samsung sells a “Chromebook 3G” for $330. It  includes a free 100 MB of mobile data per month on Verizon’s 3G network. If you purchased a Chromebook with 3G mobile data, you’d still be able to use it off of Wi-Fi.

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“When You Are Online, Google Tracks What You Do So They Can Sell Ads”

Google tracks what you do on a Chromebook as much as they do when you use Chrome on Windows. If you’re really worried about Google tracking you, you may not want to use a Chromebook or use Google Chrome. Even if you’re using Internet Explorer, you’re being tracked by Google Analytics and many other advertising networks every single day.

If Microsoft cared so much about your privacy online, they probably wouldn’t be partnering with Facebook and integrating Facebook into their Bing search engine. More controversially, we might point out that Microsoft was the first company to comply with the NSA’s PRISM program.

Whether or not you agree with NSA surveillance, the point is that the issue is very muddy. Is Google’s advertisement tracking really the worst thing to worry about? There are many, many other advertising networks and social media sites tracking users across the web — not to mention intelligence agencies like the NSA building up massive databases of all our activities. “Scroogled” is an oversimplification.

Google isn’t the only company that wants to present ads to you, either. Microsoft even includes advertising with many of their default Windows 8 apps.

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“It’s Not What It Appears To Be… This is Not a Real Laptop”

Microsoft also singles out the Chromebook for criticism because “it’s not what it appears to be” and “is not a real laptop.” Microsoft is applying a double standard to Windows RT here.

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Windows RT looks exactly like Windows 8 — in fact, Windows RT even comes complete with a Windows desktop. However, Windows RT is not what it appears to be — it’s not a “real” version of Windows and you can’t install any Windows desktop programs on it. You can only use new “Windows 8-style” programs from the Windows Store.

Microsoft even name-drops iTunes as an application available on traditional PCs but not available on Chromebooks. However, iTunes isn’t available on Microsoft’s Windows RT and likely never will be. If the lack of iTunes is such a problem on Chromebooks, why is it not a problem on Windows RT?

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The real problem here is that Microsoft’s vision is so close to Google’s. Microsoft envisions a future of cloud computing and more limited devices and sees the end of the Windows desktop in sight. That’s why they’re pushing Windows RT, the Surface RT, and the Surface 2. Microsoft doesn’t really believe in the long-term future of the Windows desktop. This puts Microsoft and Windows RT on a more even level with Google and Chrome OS.

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Would a Pawn Shop Buy a Chromebook?

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Many pawn shops wouldn’t buy a Chromebook. But many pawn shops won’t buy laptops at all, as the resale value is so low. Maybe the woman in the advertisement should have her mother return the Chromebook and ask for her money back. That’s a better idea than trying to pawn a gift to get to Hollywood — of course, she’s an actress and none of this is real. She’s probably already in Hollywood.

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Unfortunately for Microsoft, all they’ve really done here is establish Chromebooks as a competitor in more people’s minds. You may not want a Chromebook, but don’t let Microsoft’s political attack ads tell you how to think. Think about it for yourself.

Image Credit: John Bristowe

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/10/14

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