Why Android (probably) won't work on Netbooks

Examining the short history of the unexpectedly popular Netbook market, it seems unlikely that Android will be able to gain a foothold.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read
HP's Mini 1000 Netbook.

We've seen several stories recently (including one by our own Maggie Reardon) about how HP and other companies are considering using an operating system based on Google's Android platform for Netbook laptops, replacing the ubiquitous Windows XP. Examining the short history of the unexpectedly popular Netbook market, it seems unlikely that Android will be able to gain a foothold.

The very first Netbooks ran Linux operating systems, usually with a custom front-end to give users easy access to a Web browser and other frequently used apps. But as well-intentioned as that plan was, it wasn't until PC makers added the already archaic Windows XP operating system that the Netbook craze took off.

It wasn't that XP was the perfect solution for small screens and low-power CPUs -- it's that consumers searching for a simple, low-cost second or travel laptop value ease of use over almost anything else. XP benefits from looking and feeling familiar to most users.

While a non-Windows OS can easily front-load the most commonly used software (FireFox, Open Office, etc.), adding new programs can be a hassle for the uninitiated, and users can be disappointed to find their existing library of Windows software won't work (to say nothing of trying to find and install an alternative). And if something like your Wi-Fi connection, for example, isn't working for some reason, even a relative luddite can muddle through several obvious possible fixes in XP -- try getting a PC novice to figure that out under an unfamiliar operating system.

To its credit, the phone version of Android (as used on the T-Mobile G1) is very user-friendly, and an Android computer OS would likely attempt to tackle many of these issues with a features such as a built-in app store.

The Wall Street Journal says:

Market research firm NPD Group Inc. estimates that Windows comes on more than 90% of new Netbooks. Microsoft said consumers returned Linux Netbooks after discovering the PCs didn't easily work with popular programs and peripherals like printers--a challenge that could also be faced by Android, which is based on the core of Linux.

In our initial tests, Windows 7 also shows great promisefor Netbooks, and seems like a much more likely candidate for the future of Netbooks than anything else. Can a non-Windows OS win over Netbook users? Weigh in with your comments below.