Asus announced yesterday a new version of its Eee PC at the CeBIT tradeshow. The subnotebook has won a lot of good press and it seems a few fans. But when it comes to the operating system, the wow hasn't started now. . .and apparently it won't anytime soon. Among other changes, the Eee PC 900 is now available with Windows, but it's XP not Vista.
That's not a huge surprise given the hardware limitations and pricing of the Eee PC. But with similar products trickling into the market and Intel making a big push with its new Atom processor family, I've been wondering how quickly Microsoft would move to develop a lightweight version of Vista to compete with the Linux variants showing up on mobile Internet devices and low-cost laptops. Now we've got part of the answer.
At the Asus press event, a Microsoft executive reportedly said Vista was not an option because of Asus's other requirements. "We couldn't go the Vista route," said Thomas Bauer, Microsoft's general manager for manufacturer relations in Europe. "We are in close discussions with Asus [regarding] how to take that forward... in regards to the Windows 7 Europe timeframe." In other words, it isn't going to happen with Vista, period.
The Eee PC 900 has several hardware updates including a larger 8.9-inch display with a higher resolution, double the memory (1GB), as much as 12GB of flash storage, a larger keyboard, a better Webcam, and optional Bluetooth and WiMax modules. Both the Linux and Windows versions of the Eee PC 900 will be more expensive than the current models.
Even though Vista isn't in the cards, Microsoft may view the Eee PC 900 as a nice test-bed for its "software and services" strategy to compete with free and low-cost productivity and communications suites such as Google Docs. The Windows XP version of the Eee PC 900 also includes Microsoft Works and Windows Live services.
I first saw the Eee PC last June at the Computex tradeshow in Taipei. At the time, the company made some bold promises for both the price and shipments. It hasn't met those goals--so far Asus has shipped 350,000 Eee PCs and it plans to ship 3 million to 5 million in 2008--but it has certainly influenced the industry.
Though many stories on Intel's plans for Atom refer to $250 laptops, neither the company nor its hardware partners have said much about the hardware or software specs for netbooks or desktops (Intel is calling these net-tops). Even with a tiny, inexpensive microprocessor, it will still be a challenge to build a laptop around that price--with or without Windows.