Google's Android may soon move beyond the limiting confines of the G1 smartphone and onto a much roomier machine: the netbook. Hewlett Packard is experimenting with the OS in an attempt to gauge how useful it might be on those tiny computers. And while this is great news for the consumer, it sounds like bad news for Microsoft.
Satjiv Chahil, a vice president in HP's PC division, says the reason for trying out Android is simple: "We want to assess the capability Android may have for the computer and communications industries." Android is a potent operating system, and the smartphones it's being used in are basically very small, slow computers. The Android applications store also shows significant development potential for the OS, and Moving Android into more capable hardware inside netbooks will further that software development. Android already performs many of tasks that people use netbooks for, such as web surfing and emailing.
But any machine running Android is one not running Windows. Ten years ago if you had a PC it was practically a certainty that it was running Microsoft's operating system, since Apple wasn't as popular as it is now, and Unix machines were mainly found in businesses and universities. Today I'm typing this on a MacBook while my wife is checking her work email on an Asus netbook running one of the many flavors of Linux that exist. Part of the reason netbooks are so cheap and successful is that if they come with Linux on board so you don't have to pay for Microsoft's product. Some analysts have suggested that netbooks could drop below $200 if they use an alternative operating system.
Microsoft has a version of its upcoming Windows 7 OS ready for the booming netbook market, of course. But it's a specially tailored edition for the more limited hardware found in netbooks, with some features trimmed out. Plus it will be limited to running just three applications concurrently—for "user convenience" according to Microsoft. Compared to that, running the full-featured Android OS sounds like a much better option. And if HP does start to sell its oft-praised netbooks with the Google OS, it would only be a matter of time before other netbook makers start to do the same.
Update: Microsoft dropped us a line to point out that there are several versions of Windows 7, all of which can be run on netbooks—i.e. there's a "full-featured" Win7 capability for netbooks too. But running the "bigger" versions will require a beefier netbook, moving more towards a proper notebook. From Microsoft's own info pages it's also clear that each version of Win7 is a subset of the next version up. And the lowest Starter level, tailored specifically for the entry-level computing netbook market, has a reduced footprint and is designed for "Broad application and device compatibility with up to three concurrent applications."—it is actually a stripped-down version of the "full" OS.