Microsoft is laying the groundwork for Netbook vs Smartbook World – Visual Studio Magazine


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Microsoft is laying the groundwork for Netbook vs Smartbook World

At the Computex event in Taiwan this week, Microsoft presented its vision for a mobile computing world that will include “consumer Internet devices” (CIDs) alongside netbooks.

Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of Microsoft’s Original Equipment Manufacturer division, described two worlds of consumer mobile devices in a speech at the event on Wednesday. However, it is not clear how much the CID market and the netbook markets will be. Microsoft could face stiff competition as mobile carriers step up their efforts on the CID front.

Netbooks are low-end laptops that run on Windows or Linux operating systems and have limited hardware capabilities, including screens around 10.2 inches in width. CIDs, on the other hand, are mobile computing devices sometimes referred to as “smartbooks,” a term coined by Qualcomm, which makes the Snapdragon chipset for 3G mobile devices. Snapdragon integrates an ARM processor into the chipset and uses open source Linux-based operating systems, not Windows.

Guggenheimer said netbooks – or “small laptops” in Microsoft’s preferred terminology – have evolved from their initial use. A year ago, netbooks were seen primarily as Internet connection devices in a small footprint similar to a laptop. Now, however, people expect netbooks to work like desktops and laptops. CIDs, on the other hand, will be mainstream digital lifestyle devices, Guggenheim argued, with uses such as portable media players and mobile navigation devices.

“This next generation of smart, connected, service-oriented devices will give people mobile access to a rich body of media and information,” Guggenheimer said of CIDs, according to a press release from Microsoft. The ad described CIDs as falling “somewhere between smartphones and small full featured laptops running Windows today.”

Developers working on CIDs can use “Microsoft technologies such as Windows Embedded CE, Visual Studio, Silverlight, and Expression Blend,” Guggenheimer added. In addition, CIDs will be able to leverage Microsoft’s Windows Live services, as well as web services from other vendors.

Microsoft’s approach may appeal to developers, but the low costs of running Linux in CIDs could prove to be a competitive factor. Most Linux operating systems do not have Windows Embedded CE licensing costs, which are passed on to the consumer with every device sold. A New York Times History has set Windows Embedded CE license fees per device at “$ 3 to $ 15, depending on volume.”

Many netbooks on the market today use Intel’s Atom processor and Windows XP Home Edition, or they use a Linux-based operating system. Netbooks will also be able to run Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 7, which will be released on October 22. All editions of Windows 7 will be able to run on a netbook, Microsoft said.

The ‘Wintel’ alternative to smart books
Windows is designed for x86 and x64 devices. So far, the combination of Windows and Intel has dominated the netbook scene. CIDs, on the other hand, can be based on processors originally designed for the mobile carrier space, such as ARM, which has lower power consumption and a smaller form factor compared to Intel’s Atom chipset.

Microsoft has worked with ARM in the UK for over 10 years. However, the collaboration was based on Windows Embedded CE and Windows Mobile operating systems. When asked if Windows 7 could ever work with ARM processors, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company had “no comment on future investments in the ARM platform.”

“That said, Windows 7 currently does not support any ARM architecture. Currently, Windows runs on both x86 and x64 platforms, which thanks to the ubiquitous PC hardware standard power the vast majority. laptops and desktops around the world, the specialty device space, where ARM is well suited, we offer the Windows Embedded CE platform, ”said the spokesperson.

ARM processors currently support Linux-based operating systems for netbooks, including ThunderSoft, Ubuntu, and Xandros operating systems. They also support Google’s Android operating system for mobile devices.

At Computex, Qualcomm’s booth showcased an Asustek Eee PC netbook running Android on Qualcomm’s ARM-based Snapdragon chipset.

The Asustek Snapdragon-based netbook was “thinner and lighter than current Asustek Eee PCs which use Intel Atom microprocessors and run Microsoft Windows XP because Snapdragon chips require fewer cooling components, such as fans,” an PC World Computex report explained. However, Asustek vice president Jonathan Tsang called the technology “not mature” and “not a priority,” according to the report.

Linux initially got off to a good start on netbooks, but the XP Home edition has since taken the lead. Tami Reller, corporate vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft, noted the change, saying recently that Windows went from zero to a “97% attachment rate” on netbooks.

Linux will struggle to regain its initial lead. A netbook product review published by The Wall Street Journal cited general device connectivity and application compatibility issues as major stumbling blocks.

Microsoft may dominate the netbook operating system market right now, but the margins are slim. The XP Home edition gets a license for “less than $ 15 per netbook”, a WSJ story reported. What’s more, company officials have admitted that the popularity of netbooks has eroded the profit margins typically seen on Windows sales. Redmond is still trying to figure out the price of Windows 7 for netbooks.

Mobile operators could make the decision
Microsoft may struggle to dominate the market on the CID smartbook front. Mobile carriers will have operating system options other than Windows Embedded CE or Windows Mobile. Google may have the power to push its Android operating system for smartbooks, unlike older Linux vendors.

OEMs also seem to have plans other than just deploying Windows for netbooks.

For example, Acer plans to produce Aspire One nettops that will run on Moblin Linux, IDG News Service reported. Acer will also manufacture desktops and laptops using this operating system. Moblin will save Acer savings over using Windows XP, according to a Bloomberg.com article.

Moblin was developed as a Linux Foundation project, and it is promoted by Intel. Some reports describe Moblin 2.0 as a “rival” to the Windows operating system.

Google’s Android operating system doesn’t stand still, either. It can optionally run on x86 based hardware.

“We understand that various groups around the world are porting Android to the x86 architecture,” a VIA Technologies spokesperson said via email. The company manufactures the VIA Nano U-Series for lightweight laptops and some netbooks. The VIA Nano U-Series also supports the x86 architecture and can run Unix / Linux and Windows operating systems (XP, Vista and Windows 7).

The need to define netbooks versus smartbooks suggests a potential industry disruption.

An ARM spokesperson said smartbooks are designed for “entertainment, productivity and social networking” using a thinner device and with longer battery life than a netbook or laptop.

“Netbooks, on the other hand, are increasingly seen as low-cost, feature-free laptops designed to fetch a low price,” the ARM spokesperson added via email.

Qualcomm’s senior vice president Luis Pineda seemed to agree with this definition. In an interview with DigiTimes (subscription required), Pineda said netbooks are Intel-based Windows devices that perform less well than a laptop. Smartbooks based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset will run on Linux, not Windows.

“Windows Mobile has a limitation on screen size and resolution and Windows 7 is not supported at all,” Pineda explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is Senior News Producer for 1105 Media’s Converge360 Group.

About Jon Moses

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