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Walmart taking the Chromebook mainstream

Google's low-cost, Web-centric laptops also to be sold at Staples

Walmart has begun selling the Chromebook in 2,800 of its approximately 4,600 U.S. stores, expanding the reach of this still-on-the-margins platform.

Staples will also be selling the Chromebook in 1,500 stores, Google said on Monday.

Chromebook has long been available on Amazon, among other online retailers, and the $249 Samsung Chromebook has been its laptop category bestseller for months.

Chromebook is also sold in Best Buy stores and in the coming months will also be available Office Depot, Office Max, Fry's and others, Google said on Monday.

Chromebook is now officially just about everywhere, and that will help educate users about the platform.

But using a Chromebook can be a jolt for a new user. Just about everything is browser-based and runs the cloud. Even a simple tool such Notepad on Windows is not available, natively, on the Chrome OS.

But there are apps that provide Notepad-like functionality, and will save content in the cloud. Users will work with Google Apps tools, its spreadsheets, docs, and an expanding universe of cloud-based tools.

If you believe that PCs of the future will be entirely cloud-based, then Chromebook may be offering its users an inside track in operating in this new world.

There are other benefits as well. Chromebook systems, with the SSDs at least, boot-up and shut-down in seconds. The cloud-based storage and synchronization makes it easy to move from system to system.

But while retailers may want to take Chromebook mainstream, it still has a way to go before it is mainstream, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester.

Forrester estimates that about two million Chromebooks have been sold, which include some school systems and corporate deployments. "It's not clear that there is a lot of end-user uptake," said Gillett.

Some of the retail push may be about having an alternative to Windows 8 in the market. Windows 8 has been blamed by some analysts for especially weak PC sales.

"[PC makers] are really concerned about the uptake of Windows 8 and whether that's impairing their ability to sell machines, and they just want to have an alternative out there," said Gillett. "It's not so much that they think there is anything wrong with Microsoft, they just want an alternative."

One striking characteristic of many Chromebooks is cost. Walmart will be selling Acer's 16 GB system for $199.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is [email protected].

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Read more about laptops in Computerworld's Laptops Topic Center.

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