Chromebooks remain a tiny presence in the US, says one ad network. But is looking at traffic necessarily the right measurement?

The share of North American web traffic from Chromebook systems doubled last year but was still only 0.2 percent of the total in the five months to January 2014, the Chitika ad network has calculated. Curiously, Linux traffic also nearly doubled to 1.9 percent.

On the face of its good news for Microsoft execs but perhaps these numbers aren’t as significant as they first appear.

The first issue is that the calculation is based on ad impressions not unique visits (“this means that if a user views ten pages that contain Chitika code, they will register ten ad impressions.”). That tilts the numbers towards Windows PCs because of the effect of business users who still account for a huge volume of web usage during the working day. Chromebooks are being bought by consumers and schools so far and are non-existent in the workplace.

The firm offering these numbers, Chitika, is a middle-ranking ad network (300k websites), but its ads do appear on a fair cross-section of websites so we can assume they are a good indication even if a comparison with one of the very large ad systems would be interesting.

The important question is whether comparing Chromebook and PC traffic is the right measurement because we know that the deployed population of PCs is vast. To get an idea of how successfully Chromebooks are doing, we need to know how much traffic they are generating from recent sales, not against historic ones.

Based on snippets of evidence, my guess is that Chromebooks are probably somewhere around five percent of new consumer PC sales and growing. Given that volume Asian PC vendors now privately dismiss the Windows PC as a platform based on an aging and over-priced business model, this could easily grow to ten percent in the next year or two.

The odd stat from Chitika’s numbers is the apparent rise of Linux. In September 2013 the firm detected this at 1.1 percent while only five months later it has risen to 1.9 percent. Can Linux PCs really have nearly doubled in a matter of months?  More likely, the systems are just becoming more apparent.

In the coming year, PC vendors will offer a new generation of Chromebooks as well as desktop Chromeboxes.  Chitika’s next set of numbers will be interesting.

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