Laptops

Is a Google Netbook on the Horizon?

Reading today's rumors of a Google netbook makes me wonder whether there is anything Google won't do to make a buck.

The Googlephone makes sense in a high-risk "upset the whole industry" sort of way. But, what does a Google netbook really have to offer?

In this case, God may not be in the technical specs, but in the business details. Does Google have some plan to subsidize these products to get its ads in front of business users? Might the Google netbook be effectively closed to non-Google applications as a result?

Underpowered as they are, netbooks aren't really business computers, at least not if you have real work to do beyond e-mail and Web surfing. Google's Chrome OS may solve some of the performance problems that plague netbooks, but at the expense of requiring a broadband connection for access to many applications.

If I hadn't just spent time with people who have seen a real Googlephone, er, Nexus One, out in the wild, I'd discount talk of a Google-branded netbook. Now, I am willing to accept the notion.

Yes, a Chrome OS netbook does need to meet certain technical specifications, including the use of a solid-state drive instead of a conventional spinning hard drive for storage.

Google is perfectly capable of finding manufacturers who would happily build such a machine, provided it would include Google and "Made for Chrome OS" labeling. Microsoft and Intel have been doing this for many years.

I am not opposed to Google working very closely with hardware vendors to create products, but I don't see how it makes sense for Google to be directly competing with the HPs, Acers, Lenovos, and Dells of the world.

Perhaps, Google just wants to make sure Chrome OS will get a good start in the world and will then bow out of hardware. Microsoft has done this in some market segments, but stayed as a competitor in others.

Microsoft has stayed away from branding its own computers, however, allowing a Windows-compatible hardware ecosystem to flourish. Google, however, may be heading off competition among Chrome-compatible hardware even before the OS is released.

Google's entry into handsets and netbooks may not be a coordinated attack on two industries at once, but probably is. Google has been mum on its business objectives, besides driving advertising revenue, but I think there is more to it. Google doesn't need to sell hardware and give away operating systems in order to sell advertising.

However, if Google can develop significant market share with devices that only show its advertising and, perhaps, only run its applications, then it will have the sort of market control that Bill Gates could only dream of.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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