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Report: HP considers Google Android for Netbooks

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Hewlett-Packard is "studying" Google's open-source software for mobile phones to use on its low-cost Netbooks.

Hewlett-Packard is considering using Google's Android operating system on its low-cost Netbooks, an executive at the company told The Wall Street Journal.

In a story posted Tuesday, the Journal reported that Satjiv Chahil, a vice president of HP's PC division, confirmed that the company was studying the Google software.

"We want to assess the capability Android may have for the computer and communications industries, and so we are studying it," Chahil was quoted as saying in the Journal article.

Chahil declined to say for certain whether HP plans to sell Android devices, the article stated.

Android is a Linux-based operating system that was originally designed for cell phones. The operating system is currently available on only one phone, T-Mobile's G1 made by HTC. In February, HTC also announced it will offer Android on another phone called the HTC Magic. Several other handset makers, including Samsung and Motorola, have also promised Android-based phones.

But now experts are predicting that the open-source operating system could be used on other devices, such as the emerging low-cost laptops known as Netbooks. In fact, market research firm Ovum recently predicted that Android-powered Netbooks will emerge in 2009, as manufacturers attempt to drive the price of Netbooks to around $200 or less.

The reason is simple. Linux-based software, such as Android, is free, while Microsoft charges a hefty licensing fee for the Windows operating system. In order to hit super low price points, manufacturers need to cut costs wherever they can and that means ditching Microsoft's Windows software.

The problem is that most consumers are comfortable and familiar with Windows PCs and thus prefer a Windows-based Netbook to one using a generic Linux operating system.

Laurent Lachal, the open-source research director at Ovum, believes that Android could reverse this trend, especially as the Android software finds its way onto more mobile phones and Google's Android application store, known as Android Market, builds its inventory of new applications.

Independent software developers can now charge for applications on Android Market, which Laurent believes will increase support from the developer community.

HP has already been working on ways to offer an inexpensive and easy-to-use interface for its Netbooks that is an alternative to Microsoft's Windows. In October last year, it announced the Mini 1000 MIE, a Linux version of its Mini 1000 Netbook that is meant for casual, online use. The device costs $379 versus another version of the Mini 1000, which comes with with Windows XP and either an 8.9-inch or 10.2-inch screen for $449.

Android isn't currently available on PCs, but other PC makers have said they are considering using the software. Asustek Computer has already said it is considering using Android. And Dell is also considering the software for its upcoming smartphone.

Google declined to comment on whether HP or any other Netbook maker is planning to use its Android software, but the company emphasized that its Android software is not restricted to mobile phones.

"The Android smartphone platform was designed from the beginning to scale downward to feature phones and upward to MID and Netbook-style devices," a Google spokeswoman said. "We look forward to seeing what contributions are made and how an open platform spurs innovation, but we have nothing to announce at this time."