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Pavilion 14 Chromebook shows HP's 'multi-OS approach'

Looking beyond Windows, Hewlett-Packard has embraced the browser-based Chrome OS -- though it's only pitching the $330 Pavilion 14 as a way to tap into Google online services.

HP's Pavilion 14 Chromebook
HP's Pavilion 14 Chromebook

Moving its PC line beyond Microsoft's Windows operating system by embracing Google's Chrome OS, Hewlett-Packard today announced the $330 Pavilion 14 Chromebook.

Samsung and Acer were the first to offer Chrome OS devices, with Lenovo following suit. Now HP evidently believes it's worth jumping on the bandwagon for the browser-based operating system, describing the Chromebook as part of its "multi-OS approach."

"Google's Chrome OS is showing great appeal to a growing customer base," said Kevin Frost, general manager of HP's Consumer PC, Printing, and Personal Systems group. "With HP's Chromebook, customers can get the best of the Google experience on a full-sized laptop, all backed up by our service and brand."

Microsoft has retained its cloud in the PC market despite allies' dalliances before. Dell, for example, gave the Ubuntu version of Linux an endorsement and sales channel for years. What's different now is that Microsoft, along with traditional PC allies such as Dell and HP, has been struggling to grapple with the arrival of smartphones and tablets beyond the traditional PC market.

The Pavilion 14 has unspectacular hardware -- specifications that emerged last week in a spec sheet on HP's Web site -- but HP is trying to separate it from the competition by touting its larger 14-inch display.

It uses a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor, a 16GB solid-state drive, an HDMI port, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, three USB 2.0 ports, 2GB of RAM (upgradable to 4GB), and an HD Webcam. It weighs 4 pounds and comes with a two-year deal for 100GB of storage at Google Drive.

Chrome OS runs Web apps, which means people using it for things like Facebook, Google Docs, Web-based e-mail, and YouTube will notice little practical difference compared to using a browser on a more traditional operating system like Windows or OS X. However, software that runs natively on those OSes, such as Skype, iTunes, and many games don't work on Chrome OS.

HP isn't trying to persuade would-be customers that Chrome OS is up to all computing chores. Instead, it focuses on using Google online services, calling the Pavilion 14 "a fast and easy gateway to a seamless Google experience with popular products like Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, and Google+ Hangouts for multiperson video chat as well as access to apps in the Chrome Web Store."

It's a useful suite of abilities, to be sure, which is why CNET has judged Chromebooks to be good second machines, especially with Samsung's low-cost model costing $249.

Chrome OS, like Apple's iOS, is available only preinstalled on specific hardware devices. Google periodically updates the software with new features and bug fixes. One of the latest new features to arrive in the developer version of Chrome OS lets people move the "launcher," a row of icons akin to OS X's Dock and Windows' Taskbar, to the left, right, or top sides of the screen. Previously it only could stretch across the bottom.

Google, often with considerable help from companies including Microsoft and Apple, is working to augment Web programming standards so some of that native software can run on browsers. Mozilla, too, is helping push the idea with Firefox OS, an operating system philosophically similar to Chrome OS but designed for smartphones.

However, those Web allies don't always support Google's ideas for improving Web programming, such as its Dart programming language that Google believes is a worthy replacement for the ubiquitous JavaScript, or the Native Client technology designed to let C or C++ programmers quickly move their native software or software components to a browser without security risks.

HP is selling the laptop in the U.S. through its HPDirect Web site.