Can a Chromebook really replace your Windows machine?

HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11 represents a real upturn in the design of cheap Chromebooks

Many view Chromebooks as Google's attempt to pass off a glorified web browsing machine as a workable replacement for a Windows PC.

But with the steady maturation of ChromeOS and Google cloud services, Chromebooks look like they may be finally ready to take a chunk out of Microsoft's share.

Perhaps you haven't taken notice of Google's other mobile OS, but a host of top PC manufacturers have. They're not just re-purposed notebooks either: the HP Chromebook 11.

Samsung Chromebook and Acer C7 Chromebook are the tip of an incoming Chromebook armada, with Google's own Google Chromebook Pixel leading the charge with gorgeous design and better specs than the rest, but at a MacBook-esque price.

Sales are still modest, with the IDC (International Data Corporation) recently suggesting Chromebooks only make up 1% of the combined PC and tablet market. But the pace is finally starting to pick up, eating into the lower crust of the laptop market, where netbooks once reigned supreme. Thanks in part to the onward march of tablets, the netbook sector has been somewhat hijacked by Chromebooks to become that device with 'just enough' functionality to keep lightweight users happy, with an enticing price to boot.

It all seems like unfortunate timing for Microsoft, who are now undergoing a three-pronged attack from strong competition in tablets, drowning in an armada of Android, with Chromebooks now arriving to deal further blows as they ride a revolt against the costly licensing fee that Windows ownership incurs.

Despite budget pricing, are Chromebooks ready to replace Windows for those looking to produce as well as consume? Here's a roundup of apps that will fill the gaps in Chromebook's functionality to make it a viable Windows alternative…

Office replacement

For a whole raft of users, being productive on their Windows machines boils down to one piece of software - Microsoft Office. Pulling yourself away from Microsoft's renowned productivity software can seem almost impossible, but if you're not making use of some of the more complex capabilities that Excel, Powerpoint and Word can provide, then Google Apps is a perfectly safe alternative.

With almost every piece of the Microsoft Office puzzle, there's a Google alternative, though some such as Keep (for note taking) is nowhere near as comprehensive as Microsoft's OneNote, while Google's plethora of apps and services still can't offer anything resembling the power of MS Access. However, how many people still actively use Access is debatable, and they're certainly not likely to be the kind of audience Google is aiming the Chromebook at.

There are loads of other features and categories in Google Apps that are similar to Office 365 - mobile apps and connectivity, document sharing, instant messenger tie-ins, and dozens of other topics. As long as you can survive being tied to services that only offer full functionality with a network connection, Google Docs and its siblings are surprisingly powerful.

Beyond Google's office offerings, there's plenty more to keep you productive at home or even in business. Evernote's Chrome extension and app allow you to easily keep together ideas, research projects and inspirations as well as entire web pages for future use. Other apps worth checking out for presentations and spreadsheets include SlideRocket and Zoho Shee respectively.

Powerpoint, cloud style

Can you live entirely in the cloud?

Get creative

One of the big ties to a desktop for creative types is Adobe's Creative Suite - king of which is still Photoshop. It's long been heralded as the de facto image editor and moving away from it just doesn't seem to be a pill some are prepared to swallow.

Enter web-based alternatives, the most popular being Pixlr Editor. This powerful editor borrows an awful lot from Photoshop and in some cases does it with less fuss. Due to its Flash underpinnings, processing isn't quite as snappy as Photoshop and things can get a little sluggish on the ARM-based processors that adorn most Chromebooks.