Not only are Google's Chromebooks a success, but they are now the fastest-growing segment of the PC industry, according to market research firm NPD Group.

"While we were skeptical initially, I think Chromebooks definitely have found a niche in the marketplace," NPD analyst Stephen Baker told Bloomberg.

Baker says that in the past eight months, Google's browser-based devices have managed to capture 20 to 25 per cent of the US market for laptops that cost less than $300. This, amid an industry-wide downturn that has IDC analysts predicting a 7.8 per cent decline in overall PC sales in 2013.

If there has been any optimism about the hardware business of late, it has mostly focused on tablets, which IDC has forecast will outsell portable PCs for the first time this year.

But if tablets are all that consumers want, the news hasn't made it to Google's Chromebook division, which continues to market what are essentially ordinary low-cost notebooks, albeit ones running an unusual OS.

"We're seeing tremendous growth, without a doubt massive, massive growth," Chromebook product development manager Caesar Sengupta told Bloomberg.

Part of that growth is doubtless due to Google's recent retail push. Chromebooks are now available in Best Buy, Fry's, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Walmart stores in the US, as well as from online retailers Amazon and TigerDirect. In all, the devices are now on sale in nearly 7,000 retail outlets.

The Chromebook line is expanding, as well. Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung all manufacture Chromebooks today, with Asus expected to follow suit in the second half of the year. Google even markets its own branded model, the upmarket Chromebook Pixel, with a 2560-by-1700 touchscreen that puts even Apple's vaunted Retina Displays to shame.
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--jeremy