It's not news that Microsoft will get Windows 7 out as fast as possible this year. Vista has been a complete dog, so Microsoft will rush to deliver what is essentially a cleaned-up, lightweight version. What is news is that Google will have its own contender for desktop operating system king: Android.
Android, you ask? What would a Linux-based phone operating system be doing on the desktop? Running it, perhaps. You see, Matthäus Krzykowski and Daniel Hartmann, founders of start-up Mobile-facts, discovered late last year that Android has two product policies in its code. Product policies, they explained, are instructions in an operating system aimed at specific uses. Android's two policies are phones and MIDs (mobile Internet devices). You probably know MIDs by their more popular name: netbooks.
The light begins to dawn, doesn't it? But just because a program says it can do a job doesn't mean it can actually deliver the goods. Recall, for example, just how well Vista ran on "Vista Capable" PCs.
So, Krzykowski and Hartmann decided to see if they could get Android to work on a netbook.
It took them about four hours to compile Android for an Asus' Eee PC 1000H. Then, they reported on VentureBeat.com, "we got the netbook fully up and running on it, with nearly all of the necessary hardware you'd want -- including graphics, sound and wireless card for Internet." In other words, Android is already a desktop operating system.
OK, but that doesn't mean anyone is actually going to build and sell Android-powered computers, does it? Yes, that's exactly what it means.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Samson Hu, chief of Asus' Eee PC business, said Asus has assigned engineers to develop an Android-based netbook by the end of the year -- though he said it hasn't decided whether to ship such a product.
But in this economy, would any company waste expensive engineering on a project that might not ship? I don't think so. Android makes sense for Asus, which has already shown a willingness to back a Linux maverick.
As for applications, the wide array of open-source software that all Linux distributions share would be available, but so would Google's Chrome Web browser and its wealth of Web-based applications. You can bet those are going to work very well with Android/Chrome.
I'm sure Asus won't be alone in adopting Android. According to Barclays Capital analyst Israel Hernandez, netbooks are the one bright spot in the PC market. Android just makes them cheaper and more profitable.
I put it to you: If you were in charge of a computer company in a lousy market, and one of your choices was to invest more in the one product line that's showing signs of life, would you do it? If you had a choice between paying a considerable chunk of cash for Windows and a lesser sum for Android, what would you do? Before answering those questions, you'd have to decide whether people would be willing to buy something other than Windows. Most haven't been, but when the alternative is from Google, which is now as well known as Microsoft, there's a real chance things could be different.
I predict that by December, we'll see not only Asus selling Android-based netbooks, but at least a half-dozen other vendors doing so as well. In bad times, businesses have to be smart, and Android on netbooks is a smart move indeed.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story, "The Google OS is Coming By Year's End" was originally published by Computerworld.