Atom + Android Doesn't Equal Netbook Success

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Posted 2009-04-02 Email Print this article Print

Forget the hype folks. Combining Google’s Android operating system with Intel’s Atom processor will lead to a netbook dead end.

Hewlett-Packard seems to be taking netbook computers in the wrong direction with its commitment to offer Google’s Android on its netbook PCs. Other than the "cool" factor, Android has very little to offer to the netbook PC market, except perhaps some hype. The last thing netbook users need is another flavor of Linux to choose from. Linux market share on netbooks has dropped to less than 15 percent since Microsoft slashed prices on Windows XP Home Edition, and Android is unlikely to change that trend.

Netbooks are in the throes of evolution. The original concept of an inexpensive Web surfing device is quickly giving way to the idea of a multipurpose device that borders on the full functionally of a laptop computer.

Many early netbook buyers are beginning to experience buyer’s remorse, wishing their netbooks did a little more and did it a little faster, and the industry is answering by increasing screen sizes from 10 to 12 inches, offering more powerful processors (such as the Via Nano) and embracing Windows as an operating system.

Not only does that mark the end for Linux on the netbook computer, but it also does not bode well for Intel’s Atom processor, which many are finding to be underpowered for tasks beyond Web surfing. Simply put, combining Atom and Android will not fuel the purchase of netbook PCs. Android has its roots as an operating system meant for cell phone and PDAs, while Atom was designed for PDA-like devices.

Netbook manufacturers will need to follow a different path to stay on the cutting edge of netbook technology and grow their market share. Some manufacturers have the pieces in place, yet have to execute to create the next generation of netbooks.

For those desiring an inexpensive operating system, Linux is still the natural choice, but feature-rich distributions that offer more than Android should be the norm and not the exception. Distributions such as Presto from Xandros or Splashtop should become the distributions of choice. Both offer a near-instant boot-up process and can coexist with Windows. Asus, for one, is well-positioned to embrace Splashtop as its Linux of choice, as it has been building Splashtop into its motherboards for some time.

On the processor front, Atom is starting to reach its limits—the CPU can’t run Windows Vista effectively and probably won’t be able to run Windows 7 in the future. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have turned to Via’s Nano processor, which offers better performance than Atom without a price penalty.

Although Hewlett-Packard is making noise in this emerging market, the netbook vendors to watch include Dell, Asus, MSI and Samsung. Each of these is offering larger screens, better OS choices and improved performance, while trying to keep the line on price.


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