With the Chromebook, and its desktop cousin the Chromebox, Google is trying to do to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) what it previously did to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). That is, create a mass-market low-end alternative to a popular proprietary standard.
Android has over half the smartphone market, and while it has yet to be very profitable, it has kept Apple from taking over the mobile market. It has kept such OEMs as Samsung (OTC:SSNLF), HTC (HTC) and Motorola (NYSE:MMI) in the game. It's not exactly what Microsoft did to the Macintosh "back in the day," but it's an achievement nevertheless.
Chrome, the browser, has meanwhile grabbed the largest share of that market, displacing Microsoft Internet Explorer. That's big news in its own way, but while Microsoft once tried to use IE to "embrace and extend" its desktop monopoly, Google is going the other way, using the browser to embrace and extend toward the desktop or lap.
So it's clear that the target with Chromebook is Windows, specifically Windows 8. Before that operating system comes out, Google has a low-end standard many may find acceptable.
The hardware on both new devices is from Samsung, and that's important because Samsung's vertical integration remains the biggest threat to Apple on the manufacturing side.
It's faster, and quicker to boot, but in terms of look-and-feel it's pretty Windows-like. As in Windows 7. If you decide you don't like Metro, the Windows 8 interface, you may find yourself more comfortable with Chrome, and the price will be attractive.
The Chromebox looks like the Apple Mac Mini, according to reports, but to me it looks most like the "home computer" the salesman is holding up in the famous Gordon Moore "Moore's Lore" article from 1965. In other words, it's just a box. If you want it to be useful you have to bring your own keyboard, mouse and screen. But, hey. I've got all those things, currently sitting between a Windows 7 laptop from MSI - so anyone who currently docks a laptop and calls it a desk is in the Chromebox ballpark.
Google's blog post on all this notes its support for Windows file formats, and adds a point about Chrome Remote Desktop, still in beta, which will essentially update all your Google devices through the cloud. And just to gig 'em a little more, the page on Remote Desktop has a sort of tiling interface reminiscent of Windows 8.
So now it all comes together. Chrome is less about the client than it is about the cloud. If Google can get you to put your life on its cloud, it matters less whose device you're holding in your hand at any particular time. You'll be in Google's world.
And that's the meaning of Chromebook.