by Shane O'Neill

Android Netbooks Will Fall to Windows Stronghold, Linux Indifference

Jun 05, 20094 mins
Data Center

Android-based netbooks provide much-needed competition for Windows, but the obstacles to success are massive.

Should Microsoft be scared about Google expanding its mobile OS Android to netbooks? Well, how scared can a company be when it owns 98 percent market share of something?

Not very. Let’s face it: The netbook “battle” between Windows and Linux is a straight-up massacre.

At least for now. Android could be the young buck that can turn the netbook market on its ear. Who else could do it? Apple? Puh leeze. The whole point of netbooks is low price and we all know Apple doesn’t do “low price.”

But a Linux/Android netbook will compete well on price, likely to cost $50 to $100 less than a netbook running Windows XP.

I think most people interested in the PC industry want Android on netbooks now, for more choice, a better price, longer battery life and to see if Google can actually be a PC player. The same way that many people want Microsoft to go after King Google on search (Bing!), just as many want to see Google challenge the powerful Windows OS on PCs. There are many layers in this war of tech titans.

It’s unknown exactly when Google will deliver Android to the netbook masses, but PC maker Acer lit a spark this week. It announced it will begin selling a version of its Aspire One netbook running Android by the third quarter of this year. A few days later, Acer then announced that its Android netbook will come with Windows in a dual-boot configuration, which took some luster away from the big news.

Chip makers are also hovering around Android, with both Intel and smartphone chip developer ARM Holdings clamoring for use on Android-based netbooks. Acer’s Android netbook will use Intel’s low-power Atom microprocessor.

But Android netbooks using ARM-based chips are also in the works and promise the best price, battery life and energy efficiency. Some of the ARM-based machines are being dubbed “smartbooks”, a somewhat redundant category that Microsoft is not threatened by. The PC version of Windows does not work with ARM-based chips and so Microsoft will not offer Windows on so-called smartbooks.

Nonetheless, netbooks remain a daunting prospect for Google. Sure, the Google brand name provides some comfort, but public indifference to Linux will be a tough cross to bear.

Say what you want about Linux and all its wonderful freeness and support — a tiny percentage of people use it (about 3 percent of netbook users in the U.S.). Microsoft recently wrote on its Windows Team blog about how Windows netbook market share is now 98 percent and how the UK’s biggest computing retailer has stopped selling Linux netbooks in its stores.

Why don’t people use Linux? It could be fear. Or long-time comfort and trust with Windows and its compatibility. Or it could just be that most business users and consumers don’t know what the hell Linux is. They don’t know Linux from a Lexus.

Google could change this by raising brand awareness. It could ease the fears of netbook users and get lots of them using Linux everyday. This is Linux’s best chance at widespread use. That is what all the Linux gurus out there want, right? Isn’t it?

Still, there’s only a slim chance Android on netbooks will make progress against Windows. It will enter a market where Microsoft has almost total dominion. And it does so using an eight-year-old operating system, Windows XP. Brand new Windows 7 will ship on Oct. 22 and it was designed to run on netbooks.

Google will have to market Android on netbooks like crazy, beat Microsoft on price and be ready to hold the hands of skeptical consumers. And then pray.

What do you think? Can Android netbooks really compete with Windows?