I Want an Android Netbook, and I Want It With the Windows Version's Specs
David Coursey at PCWorld knew full well he'd opened a can of worms when he asked why anyone would want an Android netbook. Personally, I'd rather have an Ubuntu Netbook Remix powered one, or one with an operating system tailored with the latest Moblin Image Creator utility, but I'm sort of one of those types anyway.
I love and use open source software, nearly exclusively. I think the last time I really sat down to run Windows was when I transferred Windows XP on to my husband's newly built "mostly playtime" machine. As much as I love open source software, however, I am a stronger advocate for having the right tool for the job, and using the software that works best for the user and the task at hand. The right tool can vary greatly between users, tasks and even hardware. I have a few qualms about Coursey's statement that nobody could possibly ever want an Android netbook, unless the price was signficantly lower. I just don't believe it, and the nature of netbooks, people's expectations of what they can (or can't) do, and hardware disparities between Linux and Windows models further complicates the netbook operating system war.
Coursey sums up why someone (both civilian and business folk) would want a netbook quite nicely: netbooks are "appropriate when a full-sized notebook is not necessary and a smartphone is not enough." When he fleshes out that statement, however, it becomes a little less clear why one would need Windows (or, perhaps more accurately, why it would be "stupid" to opt for an alternative operating system):
I would not want to write anything much longer than this post on a netbook, but sometimes that's all I need to write. That and responding to urgent e-mail or checking websites.
Sure, I'm able to do that on my husband's Windows XP-driven MSI Wind. I am also able to do so on my EeePC running Xandros -- the main difference being that my EeePC boots a lot faster. All right, the EeePC's Xandros installation has a very different (and in some ways overly simplistic) interface. It isn't difficult to navigate (though I can see clearly why a business traveler might balk at using a netbook with a user interface that looks that simplistic).
Here's the rub: My husband purchased his MSI Wind for school, where, alas, very specific versions of Microsoft Office were required. That was the only reason -- he is not a Linux user in any sense of the word, but he would have preferred, in this instance, to have an alternative operating system. Coursey alludes to the alleged higher return rates of Linux netbooks that netbook manufacturers are somewhat at odds over -- but let's turn this on its head for a moment. If Linux netbooks are being returned because they aren't able to deliver what the buyer needed, how many Windows netbooks are purchased that either don't deliver (because the required tasks are beyond the scope of a netbook) or are complete overkill for the casual web surfing, email checks, and vacation photo uploads that are typically done with these machines?
It's very possible one might need Windows on a netbook, and that's (honestly) perfectly fine. I'm also guessing that many people who buy netbooks could happily use any well designed and configured operating system to carry out their required tasks.
Of course, there's that other sticking point. Windows and Linux netbooks are not created equal. Windows models (whether needed or not) tend to have more RAM factory-installed, and often, larger hard drives (some ASUS EeePC models are exceptions to the hard drive rule). Windows XP might require the heftier specs to run as well as the less beefy Linux counterparts -- but there's certainly the feeling that purchasing a Linux machine means missing out on the heftier hardware. Both versions of a given netbook might fit the bill, but as someone who prefers Linux, I'd think twice about shelling out a lesser amount of cash when an extra $50 to $75 could get me a machine with better system specs -- operating system be damned. I'll install Netbook Remix myself, then.
On an even playing field (when it comes to system specifications), I think we'd see even more Linux-based machines purchased. With consumer education -- not only focusing on what Linux (and Windows) can and can't deliver, but what netbooks are really best suited for -- the numbers would slide more into alternative operating system territory. Consumers should be able to choose the system that works best for them -- and they should be able to choose between truly equivalent machines.