Who In the World Wants an Android Netbook?

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Gee, I can buy a Windows netbook or a Linux netbook. The price is the same. Which will I choose? Windows, of course. What do you think I am, stupid?

Apparently, I am not the only one who feels that way. A recent post in Microsoft's Windows Experience blog says that during February, close to 96 percent of netbooks sold shipped with Windows as the OS. That is up from under 10 percent of units shipped during the first half of 2008--and while the source is obviously Microsoft, that figure is actually right in line with Windows' overall marketshare.

That level of acceptance is one reason I do not have much hope for Google's Android OS as a real competitor on these small machines. Linux is already a lost cause, if for no other reason than that Linux machines are often returned when customers realize what they have purchased.

To seriously challenge Microsoft, Android netbooks would have to be significantly less expensive than comparable Windows models and even then would need to do something interesting enough that customers would be willing to give up Windows compatibility to get it.

I am not sure what that would be. Maybe a special purpose Android netbook doesn't need Windows, but such a machine might only be attractive for entertainment or gaming applications. Business users want at least the option of running Windows applications, not to mention a user interface that most everyone knows and, well, knows.

Windows 7 is already running on netbooks and its spare user interface should be right at home on the small machines once the OS is released. The netbook I want would have Windows 7, at least 2GB RAM, WiMAX, a solid-state hard drive, and a battery life measured in days, not hours. All but the last feature should be available before yearend (or as soon as Windows 7 ships).

I know I will get unhappy e-mail from Linux users and that's fine. The problem with Linux netbooks, like Linux desktops, is that no matter how hard it tries, Linux isn't Microsoft Windows. Linux is fine as far as it goes and especially if you already know it, but that seems to apply to only about 4 percent of netbook purchasers during February.

It's no surprise that some expect netbook sales to soon top notebook sales. Let us count the reasons: There's the economy, the idea that everyone already has a notebook but netbooks are new, the netbook form factor is fine for low-intensity use, and did I mention these machines are inexpensive?

That does not make netbooks a panacea, however. Business users I know find netbooks appropriate when a full-sized notebook is not necessary and a smartphone is not enough.

I would not want to write anything much longer than this post on a netbook, but sometimes that's all I need to write. That and responding to urgent e-mail or checking websites.

If convenience is key, a netbook might be fine. However, if protecting your eyesight or having a decent-sized keyboard matters, then a larger notebook is the best choice.

Fortunately, picking a netbook you end up shelving won't be a terribly expensive misadventure and I suspect the netbook will be useful for at least a few applications, it's limitations notwithstanding.

David Coursey thinks his old Tandy 100 was the original netbook. If CompuServe was the original "net," that is. Write him from www.coursey.com/contact or follow him on Twitter: @dcoursey.

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