HP and Computer Makers, Two Operating Systems Aren't Better Than One

Leo Apotheker, HP's new CEO, says that in 2012, every HP PC will run the company's WebOS operating system -- presumably in conjunction with Windows in most cases, although no details are available just yet. ViewSonic has an Atom-powered ViewPad that dual-boots between Android 1.6 (a version so old that I've forgotten what its dessert-themed codename was) and Windows 7. Lenovo continues to demo its Windows laptop that lets you pop out the screen and use it as an Android tablet. Other companies are also working on split-personality, multiple-OS computers. More than one of the hardware makers that are doing this is using the phrase "the best of both worlds" to explain why it makes sense for one device to run two operating systems.

Is it just me, or is this a profoundly lousy idea?

Look, I'm not opposed to the idea of multi-booting different OSes on one machine in all situations. Actually, my primary computer these days is a MacBook Air stocked with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Windows 7 and a beta of OS X 10.7 Lion. I also see the virtue of products such as the lightweight, Linux-based Splashtop, which many PC makers pre-install on their systems to let users boot into a browser without being forced to load up Windows in its entirety. And we don't yet know enough about HP's intentions with Windows and WebOS to form a definitive opinion about them. (I'd love to discover, once we know what's up, that the idea is more appealing than it sounds.)

But the operating system sits at the heart of any hardware platform. Providing two them will surely result in an experience that's not Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magical so much as Pushmi-Pullyu ungainly.

Right now, Google's Honeycomb -- not yet widely available and not on ViewSonic's tablet -- is the first version of Android that's suited to tablets. Windows 7 is not truly tablet friendly; Windows 8, due late next year, is the first version that might be. It's not yet clear whether HP's WebOS is PC friendly, at least if "PC friendly" involves working well with a keyboard and mouse and running the sorts of programs people want to use on PCs. Various combinations of iffy OSes won't add up to one good experience. They could add up to an experience that's less satisfactory than if the same computer made do with one inadequate OS.

As with a lot of things about tablets and other newfangled computing devices, one piece of advice still seems sensible in many cases: Wait! I usually address that sentiment at consumers who can't decide whether to buy now or bide their time. But in this case, I'm talking to the hardware manufacturers who are cobbling together Frankencomputers rather than holding off until they can put one well-rounded, capable, appropriate operating system on their devices.

Of course, I could be wrong. If any of the Windows/Android tablets turns into a certifiable hit, I'll admit i misjudged the situation-and I'll eat a ViewPad by way of apology.

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