Microsoft: Now that you can say “netbook” again… don’t

Sure, Psion may have dropped its trademark claim to the word “netbook,” but now Microsoft doesn’t want you using the word. Not because the big M is claiming some sort of stake in the trademark. But because it’s just not very descriptive. That’s something I’ve been arguing for the past year, but which Microsoft and computer makers haven’t always seen eye to eye with me on it.

Look at it this way. When you call something a netbook, you’re kind of making it sound like it’s a web browser with a keyboard and not much else. But mini-laptops are actually capable of much more. They can run a variety of operating systems ranging from Windows XP to OS X, from Ubuntu to Mandriva, and even Windows 7. And they can handle a wide variety of applications, including office software, web browsers, multimedia applications, and even audio or video editing applications (although don’t expect blazing speeds when it comes time to render video).

For much of the past year or so, the computer makers putting out netbooks were in something of a pickle, though. Because they wanted to convince customers that these little laptops offered enough features to be worth shelling out some cash for. But they didn’t want you to buy a netbook as your only PC, because they’re cheap and computer makers, software companies, and pretty much everyone involved makes less money on netbooks than larger laptops.

So what’s changed, and why does Microsoft want you to start thinking of netbooks as “low cost small notebook PCs?” It could be so that Microsoft can try to push PC makers to install Windows 7 Home Premium on most upcoming netbooks instead of the lower cost Windows 7 Starter Edition. But I think there may be another factor at play here: ARM.

Today, the vast majority of netbooks use Intel Atom processors and are capable of running Windows. But starting very soon we’re going to see a flood of mini-laptops sporting ARM processors, which aren’t x86 compatible, and which therefore don’t run Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Instead they’ll most likely run Google Android, Linux, and other operating systems. And many of these devices will probably be distributed by telephone companies who will bundle them with long term wireless broadband service contracts, much the way they do with cellphones.

If this new class of mini-laptop really takes off, and I have my doubts (largely because those wireless carriers want to charge as much as $60/month on top of whatever you’re already paying for phone service), these ne devices could take a decent chunk of market share away from Intel and Microsoft.

So Microsoft’s new strategy is to highlight the fact, finally, that netbooks are really just small, low cost notebooks that are faster and more capable in many ways than ARM powered mini-laptops (although they may not be as portable or get the same kind of battery life).  Small notebooks might  not have all the bells and whistles of larger, more expensive machines. But maybe they don’t need their own name which pigeonholes them inappropriately.

On the other hand, Qualcomm recently came out with a cute new name for ARM-based mini-laptops: Smartbooks. The name is an indication that these low power little laptops are a cross between a laptop and a smartphone. But it also rolls off the tongue a lot easier than “low cost small notebook PCs.” Maybe Microsoft shouldn’t insist on retiring the “netbook” name so quickly.

  • pixel qi fan in waiting

    Call them:

    Netbooks

    and

    Netbook “Plus”

    One of the advantages of the netbook name is that folks are getting one thing and are not over thinking the product at the start, and are amazed at the features once they actually see it in the store or where friends tell them of the use the get.

    OF course, LINUX versions with OpenOffice.org is Microsoft’s fear as 50% of Microsoft income is from Office sales. Notice you don’t see OpenOffice.org on XP versions at all, and one has to wonder if Microsoft has a say about that? A big question.

    The ARM and Xcore86 (such as Gecko Edubook) have both Intel and Microsoft wondering. However, both will have market share as folks do buy brand (and Microsoft and Intel have a well established brand).

    I just want longer battery use, Pixel Qi screen and OLPC powersaving with MeshNetworking vs just WiFi… and Intel’s processors were rejected by OLPC not because of anything other than they used too much power. I am sure Intel is working on this now, and in a short time will be very aggressive in this area (where they will be on a par with anything else, and their brand name will carry market share weight). Now Intel processors use too much power (letting ARM in the door for now).

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    The problem with “Smartbook” is it is Qualcomm's name. We don't want to have another name problem like we had with “netbook”.

    Now that Android has been ported to MIPS we will have to devise yet another name.

  • animatio

    “low cost small notebook PCs” ……. what a f****g tonguebraker from THE GUYS ….
    keep it net … as everybody knows the word know – netbooks is the term!

  • JohnW

    Do you only use a laptop on your lap?
    Do you only take notes with your notebook? Or are they all even the same size as a notebook now?

    Netbook is fine… As the functionality improves so will what it implies to people.

  • MonkeyKing1969

    Tough call, because a proper noun like Netbook can be easily pejorated or ameliorated depending on how people use it over th next few years. Words can come to mean anything if enough people use them in a certain context too long. But that is true of any word, if I started a blog about how mini-notebooks are underpowered and worthless then I can easily make mini-notebook a scathing pejorative. I could just as easily start a blog to make the term netbook an ameliorate term that means all things modern and desirable.

    I think Netbook is a perfectly good moniker as long as Microsoft, Intel, and all the manufactures stop trying to kick it like a dog to the curb. If everyone works to make Netbook mean small/capable/computer that is what it 'will' mean.

    And, any name that is choose must live side by side with Smartbook now. That term is catchy and also is rather descriptive of a device between Smartphone and Notebook, so that term won't soon go away. It also instantly ameliorated by having 'smart' in the title. A Stalebook or a Shitbook is less desireable as you might imagine.

    The biggest drawback for Mini-notebook is that it more then two syllables. It doesn't roll of the tongue either, so people would not even use it, likely shorting it to Mini-note or worse in short order. Mini-notbook is almost sure to fail as a term. WIth that in mind its either Netbook or a better term, because Mini-notebook is not going to last.

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  • Mark

    >I just want longer battery use, Pixel Qi screen and OLPC powersaving with MeshNetworking vs just WiFi… and Intel's processors were rejected by OLPC not because of anything other than they used too much power. I am sure Intel is working on this now, and in a short time will be very aggressive in this area (where they will be on a par with anything else, and their brand name will carry market share weight). Now Intel processors use too much power (letting ARM in the door for now).

    The problem regarding power consumption here is a problem with the x86 architecture itself. It is not a problem of Intel's chip technology per se. x86 is a CISC architecture. x86 chips are essentially RISC chips with a complex CISC instruction decoder and sequencer added.

    ARM chips are RISC chips. The leave out the CISC decoder entirely.

    In this way, ARM can design a chip like the Cortex A9 MPcore and have it use only 250mw per core. The Cortex A9 MPCore can have up to four CPU cores. Yes, ARM are about to produce a quad core CPU running at over 1GHz and consuming something in the region of just one to two watts.

    The Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU recently announced is a dual core ARM CPU running at 1.5. GHz.

    http://eetimes.eu/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=2

    Yet it uses way less power than the Atom processors in typical use on netbooks.

    No matter what Intel do, if they stick with x86 architecture then they cannot come close to that power/performance ratio.

    Pixel Qi screen + ARM multicore = way more CPU grunt + lower power consumption = much longer battery life with no loss of performance.

    Even better, ARM architecture does not have to pay any patent royalties (unlike x86 where Intel and AMD have to pay each other for every CPU).

    So you potentially get not only less power, not only more CPU grunt, but it will also cost less to produce per unit.

    It would be win win win for a full-featured Linux netbook on ARM architecture.

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  • Supportive

    Somehow I do not think “Microsoft Windows license” and “low cost” do not go hand in hand… :-P

  • Supportive

    EDIT: Heh… I mean, somehow I think “Microsoft Windows license” and “low cost” do not go hand in hand… :-P

    A slip of tounge there…

  • Toni Borgetto

    Microsoft is basically trying to push the Netbooks into a territory where customers would pay 500 or 600$ – so that they can charge for a full Windows 7 licence.

    As long as Netbooks are expected to be cheap, they simply can't charge as much. So they want to emphasize that these are just “little notebooks” – well, they aren't! They are *cheap* little notebooks, and that's an important distinction.

    Nowadays you can buy a fully usable Netbook for 300$ or even less, and soon the ARM-netbooks will come, with price points below 200$. There's simply no place for an expensive Windows licence with these netbooks.

  • DougC3

    Do we give up anything of significance, other than some compatibility, with the loss of x86 architecture and CISC decoding?

  • Toni Borgetto

    Microsoft is basically trying to push the Netbooks into a territory where customers would pay 500 or 600$ – so that they can charge for a full Windows 7 licence.

    As long as Netbooks are expected to be cheap, they simply can't charge as much. So they want to emphasize that these are just “little notebooks” – well, they aren't! They are *cheap* little notebooks, and that's an important distinction.

    Nowadays you can buy a fully usable Netbook for 300$ or even less, and soon the ARM-netbooks will come, with price points below 200$. There's simply no place for an expensive Windows licence with these netbooks.

  • DougC3

    Do we give up anything of significance, other than some compatibility, with the loss of x86 architecture and CISC decoding?