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Android to take Linux mainstream?

Netbooks will pave way for Google to squash Microsoft's OS dominance in two to three years, thanks to its Linux-based Android platform, according to an analyst.

For an OS to wrestle market share from Microsoft's Windows, it will need two things: the OS-maker's support and low licensing fees, an analyst said.

This rings true even on the Netbook front, a relatively new PC segment, and even for Microsoft.

Recently, the Android OS backed by Google was unofficially ported to an Asus Eee PC Netbook, and according to online reports, the Taiwanese manufacturer has set up a team to develop a Netbook running on the Linux-based OS.

Calvin Huang, an analyst at Daiwa Securities, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, Android is poised to "kill Microsoft" on several fronts: a big vendor-backed OS will likely provide better hardware support, and open source Android's license is free.

"Without any strong backup, Linux is just a niche platform. Now with Google's support, Android has a better chance to win users from Microsoft," said Huang.

According to Google's developers, what distinguishes Android from other Linux platforms is its Dalvik virtual machine. It provides a layer for programmers so they do not have to worry about the underlying hardware on which Android is deployed.

While this helps app developers building software for Android's mobile app market, this benefit can extend to the broader developer community, should Android find itself on Netbooks commercially.

The current economic downturn will also likely play a part in pushing manufacturers to Android, Huang added. "The license fee really matters and manufacturers don't like to be taxed by Microsoft. An Android Netbook will definitely cost less than a Windows Netbook."

But there is still the issue of user acceptance.

Several Netbooks, including Asus' Eee PC and MSI's Wind devices first came with Linux OSes, but manufacturers started looking to Windows after resistance from consumers and stores started seeing returns from customers who did not like the interfaces.

In the Philippines, Asus dropped Linux on all of its Eee PC models in the country because Filipinos were not taking to the Linux OS well, according to an Asus marketing manager.

However, Huang thinks it is a matter of time for Android. "Users need to get used to a non-Windows OS. Microsoft should be fine for the next two to three years. (After that) Google will change Microsoft's dominance," said Huang.

Another factor likely to help push user acceptance is Android's release to customers on mobile phones, providing an inroad to penetrating this market.

Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.