Chromebooks offer access to the Web and the cloud ... and that's really just about it. But Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) thinks the cloud is ready to take on the task -- and that its solution is better than anything Microsoft (MSFT,Fortune 500) has to offer.
"No one is saying that they're satisfied with what they have; people are frustrated with tech in businesses," said David Girouard, president of Google's enterprise business. "Luckily, there is a choice now. With Chromebooks, we wanted to show the promise of the cloud solution."
Google is targeting its device at the enterprise. It's offering companies Chromebooks for $28 per user, per month, which includes all of the hardware and software maintenance costs. Google thinks that will be a winning proposition for IT administrators fed up with the cost and complexity of maintaining fleets of office PCs.
With that "promise of the cloud," Google believes it has its finger on the pulse of what PC users actually want. That's different from what Microsoft tells people it needs: a head-to-toe software model across all devices.
The best illustration of that battle of mindsets is the two companies' productivity solutions: Google Docs and Microsoft Office.
Docs, Google's Web-based suite of content tools, is a key Chromebook building block. But for businesses to switch to Google Docs, they'll have to accept what Google admits is a limited editing tool, compared to its biggest competitor.
"You can't do everything you can do in Word and Excel in Google Docs Spreadsheets, but there's no need for that," said Jonathan Rochelle, manager of the Google Docs product. "Microsoft relies too heavily on the features in its Office productivity suite. People will err on the side of ease of use, taking the place of individual features."
Unsurprisingly, Microsoft disagrees. The software king offers a similar cloud-based productivity suite in Office 365. But Microsoft played down 365's relevance as a stand-alone tool, saying its offline suite remains critically important for customers.
"There is no transformation to the cloud for Office," Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft's business division, said in an interview earlier this year.