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Lenovo ThinkPad 13: Chrome OS or Windows 10?

Lenovo ThinkPad 13
Lenovo ThinkPad 13

When it comes to the new Lenovo ThinkPad 13, the PC maker is telling channel partners and customers to "have it your way" -- selling the system with either Google Chrome OS or Microsoft Windows 10 preinstalled. It's the latest sign that Windows 10, while off to a strong start, faces true competition on laptops and notebooks from Google.

Lenovo is set to unveil the ThinkPad 13 and other devices at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In a teaser alert, Lenovo initially positions the notebook for the education market -- but also says that it's ideal for some business professionals, too:

"Turning to education for a minute, students and educators often need a notebook that offers exceptional value and balances mobility and productivity. With the option of Windows or Chrome operating systems, the new ThinkPad 13 offers real flexibility making it also ideal for some business professionals. With multiple input/output options including a USB type C port, the ThinkPad 13 does not skimp on features. It also includes SSD storage and up to 16GB memory on the Windows model. It is the first ThinkPad to support Chrome for Business. Oh and did I mention Mil-Spec durability."

No doubt, Lenovo and Microsoft have a touchy relationship these days.When Microsoft approached Lenovo about potentially reselling Surface devices in 2014, Lenovo said no. Microsoft's launch of Surface tablets and the more recent Surface Book -- a complete notebook replacement -- strained the company's relationships with some PC makers.

Chrome OS vs Windows 10: Real Competition?

Still, Lenovo can't simply abandon Microsoft and Windows 10 for potential operating system alternatives. After all, Windows 10 has earned generally positive reviews and the operating system is now installed on more than 200 million devices, according to Microsoft.

In my mind: Windows 10 largely restored Microsoft's credibility in the desktop and mobile (i.e., tablet/notebook) software markets. But competition looms. In addition to Mac OS (about 7 percent market share in the PC sector), Google has gained respectable ground with Chrome OS.

Indeed, Chrome OS notebook sales grew about 27 percent to 7.3 million units in 2015, if Gartner's original predictions held true. Generally speaking, Chrome OS notebooks are mostly low-end devices -- think of them as Web-heavy and client-light. They're particularly popular in classrooms and the education sector, where Chromebooks made up almost half of the 3.9 million devices shipped to the US K-12 market from April through June 2015.

Chrome OS vs Windows 10 in Business?

Lenovo's confidence in Chrome OS as a true business-class alternative to Windows 10 seems to  be growing. But that doesn't guarantee that ThinkPad 13 with Chrome OS preinstalled will be a hot seller among business users.

No doubt, Chrome OS is part of the broader Google for Work and Google Cloud Platform initiatives at the search giant. Google overhauled its channel partner program about a year ago, allowing partners to more easily connect the dots between the company's cloud and mobile offerings.

And now, Lenovo seems to be following Google's lead -- positioning Chrome OS as a web-managed platform that could increasingly appeal to business customers. Will Lenovo's channel partners agree? We'll be watching.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.