DISCLAIMER: I’ve made no secret that I work at HP. I even work in the notebook group. However, I heard about this at the same time everyone else did – through Engadget. What follows is my personal speculation and opinion and is not based on any insider information. Here is HP’s official response on Yahoo.
A lot of blogs and press (WSJ, NYT included) have been making a big deal about HP investigating Google’s Android OS on netbooks. This should have come as no surprise as several enthusiasts had already accomplished the same thing. In fact there are communities all over putting Mac OS, Android, various Linux distros, etc. on netbooks. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to guess that OEMs are performing the same experiments on their own.
Here’s why it doesn’t matter. I posted earlier about Linux as a threat to Microsoft. Android poses the same threat. My assertion was (and still is) that the phone-like, task-based Linux experience is the key to success. Android, starting from a phone and scaling up, is designed for this. So it has the potential to be more successful out of the gate than several desktop Linux distros that have been shoe-horned onto netbooks. However, Android in this context won’t matter because it suffers the same pitfall as other task-based Linux implementations: Users see a netbook as a small notebook (rightfully so) and because of this expect a traditional notebook experience. They expect to be able to use Microsoft Office, run applications locally, store and manage data locally, etc. The tasked-based paradigm, while still able to do all of that, abstracts and makes it feel different even though the underlying functionality may be exactly the same. So Android on netbooks may be successful to the portion of the market that likes/wants the task-based experience; but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.
One article I read, and I’d link it if I could find it, went as far as stating that HP was going to ditch Microsoft and favor Android on netbooks. That’s absolute foolishness. Other articles seems to take this as a signal that Google was going to head-to-head with Microsoft for desktop operating systems. Also foolishness. Google may be taking on Microsoft. This may have been a shot across the bow. But they are not going head-to-head. Google seems more than happy to cede the offline, local experience to Microsoft. Every move by Google of the last few years – even the release of Chrome – has been about getting applications and data off of the local system and onto the web. In this sense, Google doesn’t want to compete with Microsoft and win, they want to completely disintermediate them. Why Android matters? Because Google doesn’t need PCs (or netbooks) to do this. As more an more devices become connected; then become intelligently connected (web browser capability); the less important PCs become. I can browse the web with my Wii. I can read and edit Google Docs from my phone. The prospect of my DVR or game console replacing my PC is very real, in a very near timeframe. This is going to be the coup. Completely changing the paradigm by running an end-around using intelligently connected devices. Not another OS war.