back to article 4 in 5 Chromebooks sold to US students in Q2 as demand rises

Chromebook shipments are back in the black – just – and makers of the hardware have the US education sector to thank where buyers ignored a campaign group's recent intensive criticism of the tech's lifespan. A buying frenzy during the pandemic led to hefty double digit jump in sales of Chromebooks – 30 million devices were …

  1. Rich 2 Silver badge


    One would think that an organisation with the buying power of a state education provider would have the welly (and hopefully the gumption) to write into the purchase contract a lifespan and support timespan clause.

    Or is that just tooooo difficult?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lifespan

      Unless they are bent or "have a vision". Like the numpty where I was. Director of "Digital" that had no fucking clue about anything digital or IT, decided to move to G-Suite because he wanted to "make his mark". The "tender" and justification for it was a lie (was a publicly available document, should still be I believe) that councilors signed off. Because in said document that was written by "consultants" he personally knew (who got their gig again with no tender) it was stated Office 365 would be more expensive than G-Suite. It wasn't. Office 365 would of been cheaper as they were willing to migrate the mail for free & local governments get a discount but the "consultants" but the cost as if the council was a private company, Google charged about £30k for the privilege of moving to their "service". Ever since its been a shit show. It was discovered as G-Suite is so basic and that an Office license was still required. After all the money people (accountants) weren't going to give up their beloved Excel (quite rightly as Google Shits, I mean Sheets is god awful).

      At one horrifying point, the idea was spouted "Lets replace all the Windows machines with Chromebooks" Fuck no, half the software wouldn't run on them, they were underpowered and that's when we discovered the sticker underneath all Chromebooks. The sticker that tells you the end of life date when Google will stop updating the OS. Just as Google are doing today, vendors were selling us kit that was almost if not already EOL.

      The whole move to g-suite has been a shit show and way more expensive than if they'd moved to Office 365. Somehow the director is still in place and its never been exposed, most likely because the councilors don't want to admit their fuck up. But then it is also the council that allowed a nonce to have a manager role for years with access to data, for years, that he should NEVER have had access to. Said staff member is now doing a 3 year prison stretch.

      1. Lon24

        Re: Lifespan

        Chromebooks don't need the power, ram or space to run Windows because they don't need it to give the similar or better experience as a thin client. Whether a thin client is appropriate for this application is a different question.

        More to the point on lifespan - are Chromebooks still being manufactured with locked down firmware so you can't simply replace the OS when support drops for a supported OS or as a fatter client? I've had to throwaway perfectly good hardware for that reason which is why Chromebooks are now off my acquisition list.

        Landfill friendly.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Lifespan

          Unfortunately, versions of ChromOS are not interchangeable. They use cryptographic signatures (Verified Boot) to check whether they are on the correct hardware, and either won't boot, or will boot into a severely degraded experience. This will allow the Chromebook vendors the ability to age-out old devices (by not providing new upgrades and builds), thus guaranteeing obsolescence.

          The generally available 'open' ChromOS Flex builds have significant features turned off (or should I say not turned on), which limit's their usefulness. They are really only useful as Web client systems, having most of their local storage and processing options turned off.

          I've not looked at ChromiumOS that much, but I expect that the eventual system you would get would be similar to ChromeOS Flex, with all licensed extensions unavailable.

          If Chromebooks were allowed to have a long supported life, I can see that there are a lot of people and organisations that might find them attractive, but as it stands with likely short lifetimes, I would not recommend them to anybody unless they have money to burn.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Lifespan

          I have a 13 year old laptop still running Linux today, it now has an SSD, instead of spinning rust, but it is fine for basic tasks, such as web browsing or using LibreOffice.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Lifespan

            >I have a 13 year old laptop still running Linux today,

            Great, what's your quote for doing on-site support for 200,000 of them ?

            1. Rattus

              Re: Lifespan

              £800 per day plus expenses.

              T&M is the only way to go, if you want me to support linux on 15 year old kit or develop an application for your new fangled 10k cubit quantum computer.

              of cause you haven't got a clue until I have done some of the tasks that you want doing if £800 per day is value for money because you have no idea how much work I will get done in that time....

            2. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Lifespan

              We recently finished a round of upgrades, most of the old kit was between 7 and 10 years old. There are still a few older PCs kicking around, attached to equipment whose applications can only run on XP or Windows 7...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Lifespan

          >> More to the point on lifespan - are Chromebooks still being manufactured with locked down firmware so you can't simply replace the OS when support drops for a supported OS or as a fatter client? I've had to throwaway perfectly good hardware for that reason which is why Chromebooks are now off my acquisition list.

          ChromeBooks don't use a regular BIOS or UEFI, they use a customized version of CoreBoot which checks the signature of the OS image, and out of the box the only valid image is the ChromeOS image for that specific ChromeBook model.

          For older ChromeBooks which are nearing end of support, there usually are some alternative firmware images with unlocked CoreBoot so you can boot a standard Linux. It usually takes a while for the community to create them for new ChromeBook models so newer models often don't have them, but they are really only needed once the ChromeBook model nears end of support (by which time it'll be on the market for some time, and by then there's a good chance that there is alternative firmware).

          But I agree that ChromeBooks should be easier to open up after losing support.

          Shopping for ChromeBooks isn't more difficult than (or much different from) shopping for regular laptops. Discounters always had lots of outdated low-spec models on sale which barely could run the Windows version current at that time, and not too long ago you could still find new laptops which can't run Windows 11. For business buyers, just make sure you check the AUE date for the model you're considering, and you should be fine. While early ChromeBooks often had a short shelf life, since 2019 or so new ChromeBook models come with 8 yrs of support, and after 8 years of use most laptops are ripe for recycling anyways (especially in a work environment).

          Also, computers like laptops no longer go into landfill, as modern recycling methods make the many precious metals and other recyclable materials too valuable to be simply dumped in a hole in the ground.

        4. ACISOR

          Re: Lifespan

          As a teacher, I can promise you... NO hardware that is being used daily by kids in schools is going to last to a five year point in a usable condition. The end date for Google support is mostly irrelevant because of that. Schools need to refresh at 4 years, or so.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Lifespan

            I accept your premise, but I disagree with the conclusion. You estimate that a device can be kept for four years. Theoretically, that means Chromebooks are fine, since they'll get 6-8 years of support. The problem is that the longest times are for the flagship models, the ones that cost as much as a Mac and you're certainly not buying. That leaves you with the standard 6-year support cycle, and they get that support from some time of the manufacturer's choosing, which isn't when you obtain them. You can go and find Chromebooks sold as new which are already four years through their lifetime (I think the manufacturers started counting before they finished making them). Those tend to be the cheapest ones, you know the ones that a cash-strapped school might buy so everyone can have them. Now you've got machines which you think will last four years, which the school will budget for lasting four years, and which probably will continue holding together for four years, but you'll only get two years of security on them. Even the worst Windows laptops will have security updates for that time, even if they're annoying to use. I haven't tried the low-end Chromebooks, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they're also painful to use, especially having seen Chrome's hardware requirements.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lifespan

        We have a number of clients on Google Workspace, and a few of them were originally on MS365.

        I get your point about nepotism in office, however if you think that Google Workspace is bad then you clearly never had to deal with the shit show that is MS365. And that is not just because Microsoft loves to distribute management controls all over the place and behind constantly changing and barely functional user interfaces, but also because Microsoft's software is also a mess of half-baked unreliable crapware, developed under a constant drive to increase user monetization efforts. That MS365 and the cloud platform it runs on, Entra (formerly called Azure), has the by far worst track record in downtimes and security incidents, just adds to the dire picture. Don't forget that this is the same Microsoft which happily left customers without a fix for already exploited security holes, not just once or twice but several times.

        In contrast, Google Workspace just works. After being being hacked badly in 2011 or so, Google has massively beefed up security, and since then it has seen a lot less issues than other cloud vendors. Also, downtimes are rare while MS365 is down pretty much every other week, and while Workspace services are more basic, it's management pane is a lot more thought out than what you get on MS365. Google's apps are often simpler but they do their job and do so without the myriad of stupid mind-numbing bugs that plagues MS Office and other MS software.

        Based on your description it sounds that this Director signed off on a transition which was planned and executed improperly, as it should have included a pre-migration analysis of the needs and legacy software that needs to be retained. Which didn't seem to have happened here. But as for "needing Microsoft Office", this is rarely the case unless the business was stupid enough to buy into some proprietary shit that is built on MS Office (and an accountant who can't do with other spreadsheet apps may want to reconsider using accounting software instead of relying on Excel kludges as if it was still 2001). For most office needs, G apps work fine, also evidenced by our clients, some of which are part of large global tech and industrial companies. More and more business applications are now web based anyways, and the need to maintain a full Windows installation often isn't there any more. We have developers using ChromeBooks (high end ones, though, not the cheap consumer/edu crap) and the Linux that comes with it to write complex software targeting a number of platforms and industries. ChromeBooks perform better than even better spec'd Windows notebooks, and the management overhead for all ChromeBooks is just a tiny fraction (and cost!) of what we had with Windows.

        All this aside, do you really want to train more British children in using shitty software from a long-term monopolist? Didn't the experience with the "computer education" called "ICT", which was little more than a course how to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and the following complaints by British industries about kids entering the workforce as computer illiterates (with no idea how a computer works, or anything beyond basic Windows/MS Office skills)? At this point, I don't think exposing students to something else than the Microsoft fiefdom is a bad thing. Especially when it also comes with Linux.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Lifespan

          All this aside, do you really want to train more British children in using shitty software from a long-term monopolist?

          So you're saying moving from training kids to use shitty software from a long-term monopolist to training them to use shitty cloud services from another long-term monopolist is an improvement?

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Lifespan

          "At this point, I don't think exposing students to something else than the Microsoft fiefdom is a bad thing. Especially when it also comes with Linux."

          You act like using that Linux mode is going to be taught. It will not. The only thing that will change is that they'll be taught to use Google Docs instead of Word to write some papers. Either way, the only skill they leave with, a useful though very limited one, is the ability to use a word processor. Neither will teach them about computer internals, since neither OS is designed to show people that stuff and schools aren't intending to hold a class on IT. For the same reason, Windows now has a Linux mode in WSL2 which is at least as strong if not stronger than Chrome OS's, but that's not going to lead to teaching Linux CLI skills in classes that weren't already doing it. Not even using Linux machines directly would bring that into education, because the first necessary step is wanting to teach that skill.

  2. colin79666

    The reality is after 4 or 5 years in education the screen casing is beaten up, keys have been picked off and the battery can barely hold a charge so the unit needs replacing anyway. I’m sure vendors could produce better quality hardware that would last longer but the sector won’t want to pay the extra so software lifespan doesn’t really come into it as much as some seem to think.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Or we could teach the users to take good care of the tools they use?

      Never mind, sorry,... it is a no go suggestion in this throw-away society...

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        You've never had kids.

        Accidents happen. Even to adults. Kids are still learning, Mr. Bumble.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          1. Learning depends on teaching.

          2. If the kit is being sold at or near EOL It won't make much difference how it's treated, it will be EOL on that date.

          1. fandom

            I remember being 15 years old and being amazed that I had used a ballpen until the ink ran out.

            But maybe you could do that since you were three.

      2. leppy232

        Have you ever met teenagers?

        Have you ever been in a school restroom?

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Fact. I have no idea why you got a downvote.

      I once supported around 200,000 Chrome books for a school district and it's the miles, not the tech, that makes them obsolete. And I also learned that Chomebooks are tougher than I would have thought.

      I am no fan of Chromebooks, but they are perfect for public schools. Easy to fix and easy to replace and easy to reset/re-image.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      When I was in school in my adolescence, that school had some laptops which could be used by students. They were the chunky models running Windows (Chrome OS wasn't a thing by this point), and they weren't always in great condition. However, one of the primary problems with them was that they were slow. This was not because they had underspeced them. This was because all of them were about five years old and someone was trying to have them run the latest version of Windows and probably multiple layers of management and antimalware software. Hardware does break down, and if these were carried around by the students at all times rather than being moved around to wherever had requested them, they'd have taken more damage. Still, they managed to keep laptops around and functional long enough for their technology to become the limiting factor. If Chromebooks are being damaged a lot more, they might want to check if there is a hardware reliability problem versus other options they could buy.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Yes, but these days, a 10 year-old laptop is very useable for anything except things like gaming, video editing, and 3D modelling.

        If you want to do some spreadsheets, send emails, write word documents, and stuff like that, then while the new laptop will be faster, possibly 10x faster, you likely won't notice the difference, because it is the difference between it taking 20ms to do something and 2ms to do it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I have a cupboard full of perfectly nice Dell XPS laptops that are out of their Dell warranty and so are 'obsolete' and are replaced according to corporate

          I can't get rid of them - but I can leave the cupboard unlocked and suggest to anyone that they might want a spare for "work from home"

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Yes, this is now true. This is why, when those computers were older, they were slow because the software was too resource-intensive for their hardware. Today, laptops of a similar age would be acceptable for school use and should be kept. Unfortunately, today, Chromebooks of a similar age are likely not to get security updates anymore, meaning that, unlike the Windows computers which will almost certainly be running Windows 10 and will get updates until 2025, and most of them will be able to run Windows 11 for updates after that. Or they could experiment with running Linux, which would provide longer support but I wouldn't count on a school system choosing to do it. The point was that you aren't guaranteed hardware failures before that ends, and schools don't just assume that it will happen and throw away all the old stuff, therefore the old stuff should be maintainable.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        When I was in school in my adolescence

        Electronic pocket calculators were "a new thing". One that we most certainly were not allowed to use! No - for us, it was slide rules and log tables..

        Kids today eh?

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Things changed so rapidly back then, I started my 'A' level courses when calculators were new and expensive. On the first day, one of my maths teachers told those of us with calculators to take them out, and do the sequence he asked.

          At the end of it, he looked up and smugly asked how many of us had answers. All of the students with basic four function calculators shook their head (because it involved trig. functions). But most of us with scientific calculators said they had.

          He said "You can't have followed my instructions correctly, then", but we showed him that we all had the same answer.

          It then dawned on him that while his calculator (which was a year or so old, and had been quite expensive) had scientific functions, it did not have exponential notation, so his sum which deliberately overflowed his calculator, worked on most of the new calculators that the class had (even on my £20 pocket scientific calculator from Dixons, which was a clone of the Sinclair Cambridge Scientific calculator).

          What he was trying to show was that slide rules and tables (which we were supposed to use for the course) had their advantages!

          Shows that even the best teachers sometime get egg on their faces!

        2. PRR Bronze badge

          > No - for us, it was slide rules and log tables.. Kids today eh?

          I was told I could not use a slide-rule "because the other students don't have slide-rules".

          You know Nero was told he could not use those Arabian Numerals. Alley-Oop was told there are no numbers greater than 10.

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Slide rules were on the essential equipment list when I started Grammar school age 11.

            I was lucky, because I chose to forgo the standard WH Smith rule that most of the other students got, and decided to use my birthday present money for a Faber Cassell log-log rule, which gave me so many extra scales (that I learned how to use) that it lasted right up to the time we were allowed to use calculators in Uni. Definitely a good investment of money and time.

            I recently, in a fit of nostalgia, found the same model on ebay (my original one got lost during my parent's house downsizing, which also lost some of my early calculators as well as a broadcast night copy of the second series of Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was broadcast unfinished, so differed from the copies you can buy now), and bought it, and even 40+ years after I had last used it in anger, I could still remember the use of almost all of the scales.

    4. GBE

      Based on what I've seen of chromebooks used by elementary/middle school kids, I wouldn't spend much time worrying about the hardware outlasting the software support. I bet that most don't last more than 2 years, and almost none make it past 3 years,

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Famously, Pelican Cases warranty doesn't cover sharks, bears, or... children under five.

  3. Tron Silver badge

    I hate the idea of Chromebooks.

    But they may be a useful solution for kids, who shouldn't need much more than a browser and the most basic apps. Someone is probably making a few bucks selling extra robust cases for them so they can bounce on a playground and survive. Can kids even write today, with a biro or a pencil?

    BIO is something we should have been kicking arses over for some time, including demanding backwards compatibility on software.

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Even if Google did provide software updates for 10 years on Chromebooks, i would hate to see what state the laptop would be in after a decade of use in schools.

    From my previous experience of working in Education IT around 5 years is how long the Dell Windows laptops would last before they started developing faults that make them too unreliable to use anymore and they were replaced.

    The issues is getting hold of replacement parts for kit that is approaching that sort of age, your looking at either having to buy and hold a stock of new replacement keyboards, screens, etc while they are still available to buy for when they eventually die or trying to source used parts.

    I have no idea on what the US schools IT purchasing procedure is like but here in the UK you would tend to find the schools would rather spend less per laptop so they got more of them for their allotted IT budget, than buy the more expensive models which would last longer but they would get less of.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      If it was EOL when it was sold it would already be due for replacement when you first open the box unless you have a policy of running kit that's not getting updates.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        unless you have a policy of running kit that's not getting updates

        [Sucks teeth]

        Nice Cyber Essentials certification you've got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it, no?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      in Education IT around 5 years is how long the Dell Windows laptops would last before they started developing faults that make them too unreliable to use anymore

      Well, Dell laptops issued to white collar workers last about the same time, so it's not the kids' fault. Dell laptops are generally flimsy and fragile.

  5. leppy232

    Unusual perspective for a Register commenter here,

    I've used Chromebooks in the grade school classroom (10th-12th). They sucked, I was extremely jealous of the one girl that came to school with a MacBook Air. At least hers wasn't kicked out of commission by rain. Genuinely had a better experience bringing my Inspiron 2200 in senior year.

    Still, I do know that they're pretty durable from that experience. Unfortunately, they're about as useful as a brick.

  6. doublelayer Silver badge

    Not hard to understand

    "He estimated that doubling the lifespan of the 48.1 million Chromebooks used by K-12 students could save taxpayers stateside around $1.8 billion dollars, assuming there are no additional maintenance overheads."

    This explains, if it was necessary, why it won't happen. Just imagine what even a small cut of $1.8B is like, and whether you would rather have that or not have it. Google already made that decision: they'd rather have it. Their experience with Android indicates that they'll never be held to account for the problems this causes others.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to recommend Chromebooks for elderly parents. Thet turned out to be much easier to support than Windows or Linux laptops.

    Buy a mid ranger Chromebook when its released and 5 years is not a bad innings. My main gripe is Currys will flog Chromebooks that were released some time ago, so the unwary would get caught out. Not too different from buying an older underspecced Windows laptop.

    But the Google messed with their Cloud apps. Gmail is a car crash of a UI. GDrive is counter intuitive. They recently pulled a fast one with Photos now counting it against Gdrive allowance. Then Android apps started appearing.

    Moved the old folks over to iPads.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I managed a huge migration a few years back with Chromebooks and it worked well. The main issue when people moan is poor training and not prepping them, or just wilful lack of interest in change. We worked through it. However, as another poster mentioned the Google experience has deteriorated lately and I would not be as ready to recommend it now. Not that Office 365 is any better. Buggy, clunky crap. My wife used to use Google Suite, but got frustrated recently so has moved over to an iPad which seems to do everything she needs..... (and no she does not use Google or Microsoft tools on it).

  8. PRR Bronze badge

    FWIW: Amazon is selling Chromebooks a YEAR out of (already extended) support, at more than I paid 4 years ago.

    review of Acer Chromebook 15 (CB3-532)

    Chromebook 15 in Silver: was $220 in 2019, now $250.

    With 1,457 ratings, nobody will see my warning. (Amazon accepted my comment without a murmur.)

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