One of the more surreal moments at this week's Computex show in Taipei must have been a chat during which Microsoft's OEM boss laid down the law. Steve Guggenheimer, a friend of long standing, told the crowd that netbooks don’t really exist.
If anybody can pull this off, he's the guy. A much-traveled and well-liked Microsoft exec, Guggs now has the job of protecting Microsoft's longest-lived cash cow, the revenue it gets from selling operating systems to hardware vendors for delivery with new PCs.
Microsoft has been toying with how to charge for Windows 7 on netbooks in a way that protects the Golden Goose (Windows hardware sales) without killing the newest brood of Goslings (netbooks).
As much as Microsoft wants more netbook revenue--as close to "real notebook" OS prices as it can get--it can't risk putting too much of a crimp in netbook sales by raising the reported $15-a-machine it gets for Windows XP.
Increase the price for Windows netbooks very much and Microsoft potentially gives an unintended push to non-Windows netbooks, meaning Android more than Linux.
What's a Microsoft lifer supposed to do? Give a speech! And as for its content, there are two ways things can go:
A) He's right, of course. These "low-cost small notebook PC" devices, to use Gugg's catchy phrase, do much more than just surf the Internet and check e-mail. Which is true, as the machines, originally touted as a handy way to do simple tasks, have been discovered to be fully capable little PCs.
B) He's also wrong, of course. These "netbooks" have a catchy name that does, in fact, spotlight a really good reason for their existence: to allow the user to make use of Wi-Fi and other Internet access more easily and from more places. That netbooks also do other things should be presumed, after all they are really just low cost small notebook PC devices, right?
If Microsoft really wants the term "netbook" to go away--it was Intel's term, after all--we need something catchier than "low-cost small notebook PC" as a new term of endearment for these dwarf marvels.
It looks like Microsoft wants to redefine a low-end netbook that gets the full OS discount, while creating a higher-end netbook niche that can carry a larger burden of OS cost without driving away customers. Processor speeds are one way to do this that Microsoft has supposedly been considering.
This will be a moving target, of course, as netbooks prove that older technology, at least in terms of processor speeds, is still plenty for many, even most users. Netbooks, will get faster and more powerful, regardless of what's convenient for Microsoft's financial model.
In the end, Microsoft may find it better to define what a "low cost small notebook PC" is based on price, not processor. Machines that retail for less than $400 get the OS for less, while machines over $400 pay more. Or maybe just charge a flat percentage and get it over with, across the board.
Then there will really be a Microsoft tax.
As for names, Guggs needs to send "low cost small notebook PC" to the dustbin of bad six-letter acronyms. But, there's hope for something catchy: He just needs consult the folks who named Microsoft's search engine "Bing."
Think of what they could do to netbooks!
In Microsoft's universe, netbooks could get a name that sounds sort of Bing-ish. A subtle reminder for people to use Bing on their new machines. Synergy, at last!
Yes! Microsoft could call them Bongs, thus allowing customers to Bing on their Bongs!
Yes, I understand the name is already in use, but there seems to be nothing that Microsoft thinks a $100 million ad campaign can't fix. Maybe they've been working on Bong already?
David Coursey uses Bing, and doesn’t own a Bong. He tweets as dcoursey and can be contacted through www.coursey.com/contact.