Microsoft's Steve Ballmer Strikes Again

It seems every time Microsoft's CEO mocks a new tech product, it becomes a best-seller. Sales of Google's Chromebooks are starting to pick up, much to the chagrin of Microsoft and Apple.

Jan 5, 2014 at 7:07PM

It's a shame that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer will step down from his post -- away from the limelight, investors will lose out on his uncanny ability to correctly foresee upcoming tech trends.

It's simple: If Ballmer has mocked it publicly, it's almost guaranteed to become the next big thing. When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced the iPhone, Ballmer couldn't stop laughing. The keyboard-less, $500 smartphone he was convinced would never catch on with business users went on to revolutionize the world of mobile computing.

Now it looks like history is about to repeat itself: Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chrome operating system is starting to catch on, much to the detriment of Microsoft and, to some extent, Apple.

Ballmer on ChromeOS
Shortly after Google announced ChromeOS, Ballmer was asked about Google's cloud-dependent operating system -- what did he think of it, and was Microsoft planning something similar?

"I will be respectful," Ballmer responded, cracking an enormous grin and holding back a laugh. "Who knows what this thing is? ... They already announced an operating system [referring to Android]. ... You don't need two client operating systems."

Fast-forward to today: Chromebooks, laptops running Google's ChromeOS, have finally caught on, and Microsoft has responded with an aggressive, anti-Chromebook advertising campaign.

Chromebooks are starting to sell quite well
When the first anti-Chromebook ad made its debut, a number of tech observers were left scratching their heads: Why was Microsoft giving Google free advertising? Chromebooks, while full of potential, just hadn't sold in large enough quantities to be considered a legitimate threat.

But recent sales data challenges that notion: Chromebook sales have really started to pick up. In December, research firm NPD reported that, for the first 11 months of 2013, Google's Chromebooks composed about 21% of the business-to-business notebook market, up from basically nothing in the prior year.

On, two of the three best-selling laptops during the holiday shopping season were powered by Google's ChromeOS. Admittedly, Amazon is just one retailer, but it's an extremely important one.

Why Microsoft and Apple investors should be concerned
As the demand for Chromebooks grows, investors in both Microsoft and Apple have reason to be concerned. Obviously, Chromebooks are an alternative to PCs running Microsoft's Windows or Apple's Macs, but going forward, they could start to steal sales from the tablet market.

As Microsoft's ad points out, Google's Chromebooks are limited in what they can do. They aren't total paperweights without the Internet, but they certainly aren't machines built for power users. They excel at basic computing tasks -- browsing the Internet, checking email, and using Google Apps -- while they start up almost instantaneously, remain largely impervious to viruses, and update themselves. They're also cheap and fairly lightweight.

In short, Chromebooks offer the sort of computing experience that many tablet buyers may have been after. They don't run apps, but typing and doing productive work is far easier on a Chromebook than it is on a tablet.

Apple has seen sluggish iPad demand in recent quarters -- in October, Apple said it sold just 14.1 million iPads, largely unchanged from the prior year. This might be a sign that the market is nearing saturation, or that competition is rising from tablets running Google's Android, but tablet manufacturers, of which Apple remains the largest, could lose potential sales to Chromebooks.

The next great tech trend
As with the iPhone before it, ChromeOS is starting to emerge as the next great tech trend. Hardware manufacturers from Acer to Samsung to Dell and LG have embraced Google's operating system, and Chromebooks are finally starting to catch on.

With their vast limitations, Chromebooks certainly aren't for everyone, but their price and ease of use make them attractive alternatives to both PCs and tablets -- and a threat to Microsoft and Apple.

A better investment than Microsoft and Apple?
There's a huge difference between a good stock, and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it's one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends, Apple, and Google and owns shares of, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers