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Summary:

Microsoft has already experienced the power the netbook has to open up operating system options for PC consumers, since it saw Linux distributions being included as the default operating system on consumer-oriented machines for the first time with the advent of the small, affordable, feature-light machines. […]

netbooks

Microsoft has already experienced the power the netbook has to open up operating system options for PC consumers, since it saw Linux distributions being included as the default operating system on consumer-oriented machines for the first time with the advent of the small, affordable, feature-light machines. They’ve since managed to gain a foothold in the very lucrative market by staving off the end-of-support date for Windows XP, and it looks like they’re making sure Windows 7 is better suited for netbook use than Windows Vista was to ensure continued presence in that market.

But will it be enough? Recent reports suggest that others are poised to enter the fray, and the winner could well be determined by who provides an OS that can best deal with the hardware constraints presented by the netbook’s small form factor and lower price point. The new competitors Microsoft might have to deal with have already bested them in another mobile arena, that of smart phones, so it looks like competition will indeed be fierce. The new companies vying for the netbook market share look to be none other than Apple and Google. Round 2! Fight!

Apple, as we reported yesterday, seems to be working on a small touchscreen device, something which seems even more likely today, thanks to corroborating reports from the Dow Jones news service, which cites two sources “close to the situation.” The Dow report goes into even more detail, describing the size of the screen (9.7 to 10 inches) and reiterating the second half of 2009 launch date for the device. Has it struck anyone that Snow Leopard will in fact be the perfect version of OS X for running on netbook hardware? The whole purpose of it is basically to improve the performance and lower the processor footprint of Leopard. In retrospect, it seems like Apple was telegraphing their plans, and I just wasn’t clever enough to pick up on it.

Google seems ready to bring Android into the netbook realm, at least according to a report at DaniWeb about how support for mobile internet devices (MIDs), which could easily apply to netbooks, is hard coded into the OS, even though we’ve yet to see it borne out in real-life application. And why not? Their own Chrome browser is basically tailored to netbook use, and having it supported by a lightweight, touchscreen-capable OS is the perfect recipe for netbook success.

At the end of the day, we have to remember that each of these companies is, first and foremost, in the business of making money. That means that a revenue generator like the netbook can scarcely escape their notice. And it’s basically impossible, considering the numbers netbooks are putting up, that companies like Google and Apple who devote massive spending to R&D would just give it a pass. Much more likely they’ve just been playing their hand close to their chest, but pretty soon, I think we’re going to see all the cards on the table.

  1. I think you are right in that the battle for this new mobile platform is where the action is for the foreseeable future but Windows seems like a long shot bet even so.

    Google Android is supposedly going to appear on netbooks later this year, and Apple’s iPhone version of OS-X will likely fuel Apple’s efforts at a “category killer” which is rumoured to launch soon. While Windows 7 is optimised to run on smaller hardware though, it’s a far cry from what in the other two camps is a complete re-write of the OS, or in Googles case, a completely new OS. Microsoft’s mobile OS, WinMobile, is not only old, creaky and already beaten, it does not share code with Windows itself and is at the moment being completely re-written in secret.

    The word is that the next version of Windows Mobile won’t arrive until late 2010, and that’s just too late. MS is hoping to use trickery and contracts to keep it’s hopes alive in the meantime but neither Apple nor the netbook manufacturers hoping to use Android are standing still.

    At the end of the day, the best hardware with the best OS will win, so to me it’s likely to be Apple if they chose to enter the category at all.

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  2. I disagree. It may not be the best OS that wins, more likely the cheapest OS with good enough features that may win. Look at Windows, good enough and cheap (to the consumer). Lets hope that the best OS wins and that in my opinion is Apple OSX (iPhone/iTouch or Mac version).

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  3. First of all, nice big article! But, there is one setback for microsoft…

    They are pushing things too far and they still have ‘Vista’ to repair and fix! Keeping track of two OS is going to be a big roller-coaster ride!!

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  4. Yeah cheapest will more likely be the victor!

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  5. I have to disagree. Netbooks are occupying a space that I don’t believe the iPhone version of OSX or Android can fill. People put up with the clunky interfaces (compared to full-sized keyboard and mouse) and underpowered apps (anyone seen Office or Photoshop on an iPhone or G1?) on their smartphones because the handsets are super portable.

    Netbooks are very portable, yes, but not as portable as phones. And they generally require wi-fi to get internet access. People put up with the slower 3G and EDGE speeds because, again, their phones are always available. As small as netbooks are, no one wants to carry one EVERYwhere (to the bar, a restaurant, work, the park, to pick up the kids, to the tennis courts or golf course, etc.).

    So, in the end, I think people are going to want a full-featured OS for their netbooks… Windows XP, Windows 7, Snow Leopard, Linux, all are perfect for this, as long as they can run acceptably on underpowered hardware. Sure, no one is going to want to do all their Photoshopping on a netbook, but if they 100% can’t, then there’s precious little reason to carry a netbook with them everywhere they go.

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  6. Well cheapest does sometimes win, but in this case we are talking about a whole new platform.

    In that case, the company that gets there first (Apple) might define the platform and thus dominate. Microsoft doesn’t even have a viable entry in the battle at this point. WinMobile has already failed big time and the first re-tooled version (WM 7.0 )that really has a chance is still more than a year away and is currently total vapourware.

    I see OS-X dominating and Android filling up the rest of the market, with webOS form Palm being a possible wild card.

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  7. Constable Odo Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    If the proposed Apple netbook runs on an OSX Mobile variant, of say, Snow Leopard Mobile, it will already have a solid platform in place. It will be far more convenient than what other netbooks are offering since it would be able to directly download music, videos, apps, games, podcasts, etc. from the iTunes Media Store. Mobile.Me users would already have their storage cloud. Apple could lock up Apple netbook users by pulling them from other Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch users. Again, forget about outright volume. Make a device attractive enough that can maximize profits for the company and still sell in decent numbers.

    Apple merely has to make a simple, decent and affordable device. The only drawbacks are that the Apple netbook will undoubtedly cost $200 to $300 more than any other netbook being offered and it will likely cannibalize sales of the MacBook. In this economy I don’t think it can be helped. Better you cannabalize your own lineup than have some other company do it.

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  8. It’s interesting that you cited the desire by Apple to make Leopard use a smaller footprint and operate more efficiently as an indicator that it was targeting a smaller system. I thought another indicator was Safari 4 beta moving the tabs to the title bar would also be good for small screens.

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  9. Bernie good points and let us not forget about the new Quicktime Player ridding itself of borders and transport controls.

    Apple’s steps are clearly taking the UI and saving as many pixels as possible. This means that whether you want to call it a Netbook or a Tablet or whatever Apple is certainly thinking about a product that runs full OS X and is mobile.

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  10. When Apple decided to switch to Intel in 2005, Jobs said their focus was on mobile, and not just computers. When Apple revealed iPhone using OS X, the battle was on. When Apple brought out the App Store, and bought PA Semi, it was doubling down.

    Apple’s ARM-based “netbook” will have both software and hardware advantages over anyone else. This next product is a result of a coherent Apple strategy that’s been ongoing for at least 4 years (and maybe 8 years back to the iPod).

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