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Intel's Moblin raises stakes on netbook OS race

Intel's new Moblin netbook operating system gives business netbook buyers another non-Windows option besides Google Android.

IT pros are curious about Intel's new Moblin netbook operating system and the company's decision to enter the fray against long-term partner Microsoft.

Corporate interest in netbooks, which are already a hot consumer commodity, is on the rise. However, whether or not IT pros will consider a non-Windows OS for their machines depends on how tightly their company is locked into Microsoft's stack. IDC said 10 million netbooks sold in 2008 and expects that number to double this year.

The CTO of a large midwestern financial company said he has no interest in fielding non-Windows OSes on the netbooks coming in his door.

"We are deploying some netbooks for sales associates who don't need much more than email and internet. [We are] not interested in anything except Windows 7 for OS – [because] support for more than one image is a killer."

But an IT manager of a large New York-based bank is not so devoted to all-things-Microsoft. The bank, a heavy user of virtual desktop technology for its on-site staff, also provides netbook loaners which run Ubuntu Linux to people who need to work on airplanes or other places where they can't be connected to company servers.

News of Intel's effort surfaced last week, but the fight for netbook supremacy has been raging for months. Google already had some preliminary momentum, with news that Hewlett-Packard and Dell are both considering Google Android for preloading on some netbooks.

Windows too pricey for cheap netbooks?

Several IT pros and tech solution providers said, at that time, that Google's offering was worth a look, especially if it meant lower prices. They argued that Windows represents a disproportionate percentage of overall system cost on a $300 machine.

"Ten years ago the OS was maybe 5 to 7% of the system cost. Now it can be 25% or a third of the cost of the PC. The hardware costs have come down, why not the software costs?" asks Brian Deeley, general manager of Graymar Business Solutions, a Timonium, Md.-based IT solutions provider.

Deeley said he thinks it's inevitable that netbooks, which are already in demand in some education accounts, will penetrate businesses of all sizes.

"Think about how most people work. They need the Web, they need email and maybe some word processing. Netbooks are fine for that. If you buy a $99 universal docking station from Belkin, a cheap keyboard, mouse and monitor, you can have a full system for very little money."

Intel's news raised eyebrows because of that company's long-running relationship with Microsoft and Windows. And Intel, unlike Google, already has credibility in most IT shops given its chip market share and other software endeavors.

The battle for netbooks is fierce, and notable, given that these Web-connected devices are high-volume, low-priced products, typically costing less than $500 -- and most for considerably less than that. The fact that carriers -- AT&T and Verizon -- are on the bandwagon offering low-cost Netbooks with wireless service, could keep demand humming. Verizon Wireless is offering HP netbooks at $199 with two-year data contracts starting at $40 a month. "

More on OS options:
Google Android on netbooks -- an intriguing proposition

OS choice for notebooks expands

 Microsoft has designated a version of Windows 7 for these inexpensive, lightweight machines, designed primarily for light application work and web browsing. Vista is too big for netbooks but Microsoft case for Windows 7 has been muddied by reports that it is trying to restrict the use of Windows 7 on netbooks.


Late Friday, Microsoft erased one possible impediment to broader netbook adoption when it said it will erase the limit on the number of applications that can run on netbooks. Users running Windows 7 Starter Edition on low-end devices were limited to three applications and Microsoft had planned to continue that restriction.

Netbooks start to penetrate cash-constrained business accounts

Pete Busam, vice president and COO of Decisive Business Solutions, Pennsauken, N.J. IT solution provider, sees big demand for netbooks already in education accounts. "They're a big player in the no-child-left-behind push," he said. His client base mostly runs Windows. His company is also able to resell the Verizon netbook-data service package. Users who need to run several applications at once would probably not be well served by netbooks, but for those who just need to do email, web surfing and some light word processing, they're a good solution, Busam said.

And Georgia Jones, founder of CMIT Solutions, an Austin, Texas solution provider said inexpensive netbooks -- running Linux or Windows -- will convert many business users tired of lugging not-very-compact laptops everywhere.

"If you can get away from hauling that big laptop, why wouldn't you? I have a Windows Mobile phone and use that for scheduling when I'm away but it's not enough for all I need. There's got to be a happy medium between that and laptops so you don't need rotator cuff surgery."


This report was updated Monday morning with news on Microsoft lifting application restrictions on Windows 7 Starter Edition.

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