The Battle for Netbook OS Supremacy

Carl Weinschenk

There is a great deal of uncertainty over which mobile "form factor"-essentially, which type of device-will prove most popular. Will it be the laptop, the smartphone, the mobile Internet device (MID) or the netbook? The reality is that these devices overlap: They do a lot of the same things, but have their unique specialties. They also have their unique challenges.


It is not only a hardware battle. This week, Acer and ASUSTek promised netbooks based on the Android operating system. Though proponents say it differently, this NewsFactor story makes the point that the more fully functional the device, the more difficult it will be for Android to predominate over Windows.


In part, it's a matter of familiarity. As displays get bigger and processing power grows, folks will be more comfortable with the tried-and-true feel of Windows. It is what's available: Microsoft, one analyst quoted in the story points out, has spent decades creating a deep and rich library of applications. Another analyst suggested, however, that Android-which has high name recognition and the backing of Google-may become the centralized version of the famously fragmented "distros" of Linux in the field.


The bottom line, however, is that Windows is in a very strong position. The vast majority of users-those that come after early adopters and various other geeks-are more interested in ease-of-use and familiarity than in pushing the technological boundaries.

That's not to say that anyone is ceded the netbook territory to Microsoft. Indeed, there is a lot of intrigue, at least according to this ZDNet column by Mary Jo Foley. She says that the Microsoft's claim that PC World-the biggest electronics retailer in the U.K., according to the post-is eschewing Linux in favor of Windows for its netbooks should be considered in light of several mitigating factors. The post says that the version of Windows being used-XP-is being offered to vendors at fire sale prices, that the devices aren't robust enough to handle Vista, and that a growing number of Microsoft partners are moving towards Linux in general and Android in particular.

Things are not quiet on the smartphone OS front, either. In addition to the Pre powered by the new webOS-which is launching this weekend-and likely new version of the iPhone, T-Mobile USA is queuing up its second Android-based phone. This piece describes what the new phone will be like, and suggests that it will have more of a T-Mobile identity than the G1. CTO Cole Brodman says that the company also is looking into netbooks, and Android-driven devices are a possibility.

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