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Google phone OS to transform Linux netbooks, says researcher

Windows for mini-laptops, Android for appliances

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Google's Android will be the saviour of the Linux netbook, and we'll start to see small, cheap computers based on the phone-oriented operating system later this year.

So suggested market watcher Ovum today after claiming that, despite the early sales successes of Linux-based netbooks, they're now being outsold by Windows-loaded versions.

Ovum's argument is that netbook buyers seeking a small and/or cheap laptop will generally opt for Windows machines - presumably for the familiarity and software compatibility the MS OS brings.

Linux's opportunity here is to become the basis for the netbook as internet appliance, Ovum said.

We'd note that's exactly what Linux has almost always been on netbooks, which is why the main suppliers of Linux-based SCCs - Acer and Asus - and others opted for relatively unknown distros rather than big names like Ubuntu or Fedora.

They wanted to create cheap machines with a fixed set of software functions, and for that a tailored Linux distro is ideal. In turn, this kind of 'appliance' notion is perfect for certain user groups - kids, for instance - who will use the machine as is and won't be wanted to download and install extra apps. These groups were the people netbooks were originally aimed at.

Over time, netbooks have become viewed more as little laptops than get-online devices, and that's favoured partly more mainstream Linux distros but mostly Windows XP.

But, says Ovum, netbooks span the space between laptops and smartphones too. A shift in the direction of phones rather than PCs favours Linux over Windows and, because the devices are more fixed-function, less general purpose tools in that segment of the market, more appliance-like, less document- and file-centric versions of the open source OS will be preferred.

Enter Android, which has a Linux foundation but a more tightly controlled user environment on top that will allow netbook makers to limit the roles their devices can be put to in order to better define them as internet appliances.

Chuck in the Android app store and you can give punters ways to stretch the boundaries a bit, so they're not entirely restricted to the functions the vendors think they need.

Ovum said it expects "back-to-basics" netbooks to appear later this year at the $200 (£142/€154) mark - half the price of the majority of today's netbooks. ARM chip makers are keen to get in on the act alongside Intel's x86-based Atom, and vendors are looking at ways of broadening their product portfolios.

They particularly want to increase battery life and deliver fast start-up times, which may also favour ARM/Android designs. That, in turn, is one reason why Intel is so keen on the Linux-based Moblin distro. ®

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