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Summary:

There’s plenty of great mobile tech news out of Computex; in fact, I’m still kicking myself for not having a passport yet. If nothing else, I think that missing the show will finally push me to get my passport so I don’t miss any other good […]

Asuseeepc701There’s plenty of great mobile tech news out of Computex; in fact, I’m still kicking myself for not having a passport yet. If nothing else, I think that missing the show will finally push me to get my passport so I don’t miss any other good worldwide events. The new OLPC-like peer from Intel, the Eee PC 701, sounds interesting of course; especially when starting at $200. Then there’s the NanoBook, another 7-inch screen device with a keyboard that should come in around $600. Several near-pocketable devices are in the mix also: the Raon Digital EVERUN and the Amtek U560.

So we’re seeing the product pipeline here and it got me thinking: do we have the wrong operating system to be mobile? Perhaps the OS we need isn’t available just yet….

Let’s actually backtrack to Windows on the phone. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the name "Windows Mobile" doesn’t belong on a phone. "Windows Mobile" is what people want on their mobile computers. Yes, a current WinMo device is indeed a computer, albeit a smaller and underpowered one when compared to a full Windows-based computer. Perhaps the name "Windows Phone" or something like that would better describe it. That would free up the "Windows Mobile" moniker for a leaner, meaner and lighter Windows that fits on these smaller notebooks and handhelds.

What got me thinking about this approach was the following quote from Engadget on the new Intel Eee PC701: "The 7-inch ultraportable is based on an unnamed Intel chipset, and runsregular Windows XP or Linux without a problem, but really shines in its"easy" mode that strips things down to a barebones OS mainly forinternet browsing (sound familiar, Foleo?)."

See that bit about the "easy" mode? That’s where I’m going here. Although the hardware is becoming more mature, there’s only so much performance you’re going to get running a full-blown operating system with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. I’m using those specs as an example as they’re likely what the $200 notebook is going to have.

Make no mistake: I love the ability to run Windows Vista Ultimate on my 7-inch UMPC day-in and day-out. I’m not really the target audience for these lower-priced products that were just announced, however. While much of what I do (web browsing, e-mail, read eBooks, etc….) is just what those products are for, I also like to have the full digital experience: download and play music from the Zune Marketplace, view videos and not worry about stuttering or frame drops, etc…. I’m mobile and thanks to Vista, I can do just about anything with my device that any other notebook owner can do. Of course, that’s with some upgrades and at a much higher cost than what we’re going to see with this next wave of mobile devices. Still, I crave the flexibility to do many computing tasks in many locations; that’s why my UMPC is the most used device I own.

Again, I’m not the target for those devices, since I want my device to do everything. ;) The target audience to me are folks that want to be mobile and use basic computer and Internet functionality. In fact, the phrase "basic functionality" becomes more inappropriate each day as web-based apps become more mature and functional. New offline capabilities increase the usefulness even more, so perhaps the vast majority of target users aren’t as focused on hardware specs as I am. To keep prices down, the OEMs have to limit the hardware capabilities and to effectively do that, perhaps there’s room for a new "Windows Mobile" operating system as it were. Lighter and leaner is the key.

What do you think, is there a time and place for a full version of Windows and a lighter version? Has Nokia’s experiment with the N800 and Maemo Linux proven that Linux is a true contender in this space here? Since Apple can fit the Mac OS X kernel in a phone device, could they enter this space with a portable computing device that fits the bill?

  1. I think the Eee PC 701, outside of the horrible name, is quite a compelling device. From what I see, you basically get a device that is more powerful and more functional than a N800, but only gives up in the way of a larger form factor. If these rumors of a $200 price tag are correct, this would certainly be the perfect device for me. A real keyboard, the possibility of running XP, and, oh yeah, damn cheap. I like the N800, but I also don’t like to spend $350+ on a device that doesn’t really do all I want to do.

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  2. “What do you think, is there a time and place for a full version of Windows and a lighter version?” — I thought the time was years ago and I’ve been pushing it ever since.

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  3. At this price point and with those specs, it would be a pretty sweet Ubuntu box (or Xubuntu more likely for speed).

    I definitely think that MS should be making a light version of windows. As it is now I have many options in Linux to run a full desktop on a very low spec’d machine. Not so with Windows. They could pull it off.

    In my opinion they also need to make a brand new shell to replace explorer. One that is focused on touch/pen input. New skins for every core app needed on a portable umpc-like device: IE/FF, explorer, a media player (similar to what they did with the Origami experience thing).

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  4. Microsoft allready has the lighter version, XP Embedded.
    It’s oems whos job is to make it available.

    I have been using xpe on my umpc for months now and I’m wery happy with it.

    My setup: 4gb flash drive with xpe, ie7 and media player.
    With those and some device specific software and some small apps my os/sw footprint is 700mb, 70mb ram, 18 prosesses…

    I’d say it’s light ;) …and you can imagine how fast it is compared to Vista .

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  5. JKK, that’s great and I’m familiar with XPe, but let me pose the question a different way: why aren’t there any UMPCs based on XPe? I don’t think the burden falls solely on the OEMs….

    Your experience definitely sounds positive, so maybe it’s time for a fresh look at the OS driving these devices?

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  6. Ya the closest thing out there is XPe. In UMPC’s, I believe it’s used for the AVS in the Q1′s.
    I don’t know.. maybe cell phones merging up with PC’s will solve the problem. Better support for touchscreens in Linux would help a lot.

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  7. Kevin, it sounds like you’ve hit on the raison d’etre for the Folio…

    Your line of thinking also explains rumors of an ultra-portable MacBook running a stripped down version of OS X just as the iPhone has a stripped down version of OS X with an optimized GUI.

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  8. Think from another angle (i believe it’s OEMs’ angle) : If you can run XPE, you can run XP, so why not just run with fully loaded XP?

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  9. Joshua A. Hall Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    There is a time for a mobile version of winddows. It was windows ce. It did not take off to well with stripped down applications. I am using windows 2000 on a 8Gb flash card. The device is a fujitsu p1120. It is a very stable and usable OS. I can run windows media, divx and itunes, full ms office apps, quicken. It needs less ram and Hard (Flash)drive space. I think if Microsoft would allow OEMs to use older versions of software; the systems could be cheeper and faster. What slows down the hardware is the software. I had a HP 100lx that run dos. It was great at what it did. It had lotus 123, Quicken, and run off the shelf software for dos. I think this could be accomplished by doing the same thing, but with a later OS, such as windows 2000. Small form factor with older os that runs fast with slower hardware.

    That is my 2 cents worth

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  10. And by the way, concluding from what i read over many pages, i don’t think iPhone runs a stripped down version of OS X. First of all, it has some kind of ARM processor, (ARM confirmed this) and OS X is written for x86 architecture (since the transition to Intel), so it can not be the same os. We can’t run windows xp on pdas. We could if MS compiled it for ARM, but even if they did, it would take a century to boot. (Remember the Pocket PCs running Windows 95? Yes there were emulators, but you get the idea) And iPhone can’t run third party apps (at least for now) If it was the normal OS X, it would run it’s applications. They just wrote a new OS (based on unix again as OS X) and named it OS X like MS do with Windows and Windows Mobile.

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