Netbooks to Become the New OS Battleground


Microsoft (s msft) 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 (s aapl) and Google (s goog). 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.