Android-Based Netbooks in 2010?

Netbooks run either Windows or Linux, and both are readily available in shops all over the world. The Linux variants chosen by several netbook manufacturers are usually derived from desktop distributions, and obviously, Windows is a desktop operating system as well. However, netbooks have small displays, and both Windows and GNOME/KDE and some of their applications aren’t always suited well for such an environment. Enter Android, Google’s Linux-based phone operating system. It is suggested that Android-based netbooks will appear on the market in 2010, maybe even sooner.

The hard work seems to be mostly done. As a new year’s present, the boys and girls from VentureBeat ported Google’s Android to an Asus EEE PC 1000H – although recompiled might be a better description, since they didn’t have to do much actual porting. Google’s Dima Zavin claimed he had ported Android to the Asus EEE PC 701, and as it turns out, the 1000H didn’t pose much trouble. Linux support for the EEE line is obviously pretty good, so the drivers were readily available as well. The 1000H is almost entirely supported, including graphics, wireless, and sound.

Android seems to be pretty well prepared for devices with larger screens than phones, as the operating system and its user interface adapted itself seamlessly to the larger dimensions. VentureBeat found out that Android has two product categories in its code: phones and mobile internet devices (MIDs). The default webkit browser and the music player worked just fine on the 1000H.

It is not exactly surprising that it took little effort to port Android to the EEE; after all, it’s “just” a Linux distribution aimed at phones, and Linux’ hardware support and open source nature allow for easy porting. It obviously helps that the EEE line is very well supported already by Linux.

However, it remains to be seen if Android on a netbook makes sense. The operating system is first and foremost aimed at phones, and this means that concessions have most likely been made in the interface to better accommodate smaller screen sizes. The same probably goes for various applications written for Android. This means that if Google is serious about pursuing the netbook market with Android, developers will have to make sure their applications work well not only on phones, but also on devices with larger screens.

In the end, I think it takes less effort to retrofit, say, Ubuntu or OpenSUSE on a netbook than to stretch Android to run on them. Various netbook-specific variants of popular Linux distributions are readily available, so why put time, money, and effort into Android?


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