Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

Summary: Would you be more likely to buy a Linux Netbook if it ran the same software as your phone? Would that be insulting to the Netbook, or damning the phone with faint praise?


An Indian Web site has confirmed ASUS is developing a version of its Eee PC Netbook to run Google's Android software.

When I tested Asus' Netbooks last year for my Linux Laptop series I found a lot of uncertainty within the company about distros. The company has not advertised which distro it favors, and the two units that arrived here ran different ones.

This meant I had two completely different procedures for adding software, something ASUS had not mentioned either to me or to customers when it advertised Linux on its Netbooks.

While Ubuntu has made a serious effort to be the distro of choice on Linux Netbooks, with HP and Dell both putting it into the pipeline, ASUS has been notably resistant. Its present move is in keeping with that reticence.

An ASUS executive emphasized to Bloomberg that no product release decisions have been made. But the fact is Android is based on Linux so there is no reason why it could not be grown into a full Linux distro. Journalists have already made the port. Gizmodo is fascinated.

The questions are how far Android engineers want to go in that direction, how far they want to let others go, and whether they would consider it in the project's best interest to have a Netbook version.

Personally I think the better story is what ASUS has against Ubuntu, but that's just me.

Would you be more likely to buy a Linux Netbook if it ran the same software as your phone? Would that be insulting to the Netbook, or damning the phone with faint praise? 

Looks like we're about to find out.

Topics: Linux, Android, Dell, Hardware, Laptops, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Software, Ubuntu

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  • Smartbook?

    Perhaps a "netbook" running Android should be called a "smartbook", since it is essentially a "smartphone" with a netbook size keyboard & display.

    In reality, the current generation of "netbooks" are small, low power, low cost "notebooks", especially if they are running a full desktop OS. Other than supporting 3G, which notebooks can also, they don't really live up to the "net" in the name. Android, which is almost completely "net"-oriented, does.

    The key things I would expect to differentiate an Android "netbook" from a current gen "netbook" are:
    - net-oriented "thin" OS (Android)
    - fast boot & run time
    - super long battery life (days?)
    - always-on operation (like a mobile phone)
    - simple to learn, simple to use
    - touch-optimized UI
    - mobile phone calls (if GSM/3G equipped)
    - app store for easy app installation
    - ultra low cost BOM (ARM CPU?; small SSD)
    • That's a Psion

      What you are actually describing is a beefed-up version of the mother of all Netbooks, the Psion Series 7. Built in 1999 it had the EPOC (Symbian) OS which later became the most effective smartphone OS, it had a colour touch screen (stylus operated), solid-state memory, instant-on (no boot time at all) and an ARM CPU. It also was about the same size and weight as present-day netbooks. Ran for a full day or even longer on one charge (note that it's smaller brother, the Psion 5mx, used the same OS in a smaller case with a monochrome screen, and that one ran for a week on two AA batteries). These things had the connectivity of that age (infrared, serial, flash card slot) but it could easily have been wifi, BT and 3G if they had been built today. They already did have a web browser, e-mail and a whole host of functional software including an EPOC-specific set of office software (word processor, spreadsheet, database, draw, voice recorder, note taker, calendar - anyone with a Symbian phone will recognize it). My old Psion 5mx even runs a route planner written by the guys who later started TomTom - and it will connect to a GPS receiver. That's stuff designed and built more than a decade ago, which is almost prehistoric in computing terms, and they were more truly netbooks than the present offerings. Indeed these seem to be mostly smaller, low-priced laptops to attract customers who won't pay 1500 to 2000 dollars/euros for a new subnotebook.
      Looking at the specs of especially the Windows offerings in netbooks, I don't think they are all that low-powered, by the way. They are just not as fast as the latest subnotebooks; but then they don't run bloated Vista either. I'd say they are comparable with subnotebooks of 3 to 4 years ago, the most important difference being the screen and keyboard size (9 or 10 inch instead of 12") and a pound less ballast. But a 1.6 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM and a 60 GB harddisk is just what my second-hand Thinkpad X31 has, and that one runs XP admirably. Like a netbook it comes with wifi, ethernet and, depending on the specs, Bluetooth. 3G could be added through USB or in the PC Card slot; it also has a flash card reader, firewire, sound in/out, external monitor connector and multiple USB 2.0 ports. Sounds familiar? The real competition for the present crop of netbooks is probably refurbished Centrino-powered XP subnotebooks sold on eBay (or the other way around, depending how you look at it).
      The real Netbook has been buried when Psion sold out, it just needs to be revived.
  • So much we don't know

    I'm thinking that if Asus decides to design a netbook for the Android operating system, it will look very different from a regular EEE-PC.

    I also think that the developers over at Asus are going to make some changes and enhancements to the operating system to make it better suit a netbook. It will probably not be exactly like the OS installed on the G1.

    As for direction, Google can't really stop anyone from putting Android on whatever device they wish to put it on. It's free and open source, after all. I do think however that they have requirements when it comes to access to the Android Market place. It could be that for your Android powered netbook/phone/whatever to be able to utilize the app store, it will need a GPS (for example).

    Hopefully they'll put some thought into it, and not just slap it onto a 701 they couldn't get sold with Xandros pre-installed.
  • Conspiracy Theory?

    [B]Does Xandros Provide Support for the Eee PC?
    No. The Eee PC is an ASUS product and is solely supported by them, including Operating system issues. The Operating System on the Eee PC is not a Xandros Product. While Xandros may have aided in the development of the Eee PC OS, it is owned and supported by ASUS.[/B]

    There you have it, they picked what they thought was the best distro for their netbook. Probably because it worked the best at the time?

    Now, why is is Asus soliciting Google, I would suspect it is the other way around since an Asus Android phone is most likely coming next? Would any hardware vendor not talk to any Linux distro about getting it on their system for the right reasons?

    • Asus' game

      Asus' game seems to be avoid Ubuntu. Why?
      • I started wondering the same...

        ...a few weeks ago. But its not just Ubuntu. Why are some of the netbook makers avoiding the distros with the larger communitites Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE, etc. I'm not knocking the distros they choose but they just don't seem to pick the best distros to help introduce new users to Linux. Dell and HP seem to be serious. Some of the other OEM's seem to have some underhanded goal.
      • I don't think it's the case.

        As i said they picked Xandro's as a base, probably because out of the box, it worked the best, they took the time to modify it and it has "stuck". Keep in mind though, it has only been a year, and now we know the next mainstream OS they are working on.


        I think you would have something if their Xandro's version was languishing and they weren't working on something else. I am not even sure how long Ubuntu remix has been available.

  • Why Not an ASUS Android Netbook?

    I think it is an interesting experiment. The marriage of smartphone and netbook was bound to eventually happen. That it occurred between two leaders in their respective fields is natural. One or more of the phone companies will pick up on this and be offering a free ASUS Android Netbook all for signing a two-year contract for services. I remember reading last year that Michael Dell said these newer forms (netbooks) would soon become commodity items and be offered by the phone companies.
  • Mobiles are already surprisingly functional

    Google Mail and Google Maps are simply amazing on a mobile. Opera mini is also fantastic. You can convert otherwise unproductive time to productive time very easily with even a cheap mobile with internet access.
    Quite amazing.
    You can also socially network with the Facebook app, and the built-in phone on cellphones fits into this well.
    A lot of the java games and apps on mobiles are quite amazing. Not to mention Skype (voicecall and messaging).

    I've thought for a while that PCs would be _More_ functional if they could run all Cellphone apps, but to date support of MIDP2 is actually fairly difficult to get on a PC.

    A tiny laptop with MIDP2 support would be pretty cool, and Android with Google Apps support, and perhaps gears, would be stunning. I'd be interested in this.
  • RE: Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

    If I have to run Linux, my choice distro is fedora.

    No way do I support Google anymore, so I'm saying no to Android.

    I much rather prefer running Windows on my EEE...
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Will Android end up being yet another linux distro?

    Honestly, I'm not sure it is a good decision. The android system for netbook will have to be very different from the one for smartphones. The way to install apps has to be different (you don't want to be limited to restricted java based apps), the ui has to be different... all in all, Android could very well be yet another linux distribution. And I doubt this is where google wants to go with Android...

    By the way, what is Google opinion on this anyway? What I find fascinating is that it looks like Asustek decided alone to port Android for netbook systems... What about Google? What's their view on this? Wouldn't it be a smartest to join forces with Canonical?

    Thibauld - http://www.allmyapps.com
    • Google doesn't have a problem with it.

      It was revealed that there were already hooks built into Android for netbooks.

      As for Java based apps...thats not a limitation...thats future thinking. Its the most popular language out there and its in line with Microsoft's ideas of getting everyone onto managed code through .Net. And for what its worth Mono is being ported to Android so you'd have the option of C# and any other runtime someone decides to port.

      Remember here Google doesn't have to drive the movement of Android. They open sourced if for a reason. Anyone can make what they want of it.
  • Neither option Dana

    Really, why must it be "insulting to the Netbook, or damning the phone with faint praise?" Both devices run Linux........that's the only point that needs to be made. If they both run the same OS, I fail to see how that is a bad thing as far as the user is concerned; he/she knows that they will talk to each other very easily. But if they are running different systems, but both Linux, he/she knows that.......well, why repeat myself. I have just bought a new mobile......the first thing I had to do is come to grips with how it worked; and it is the exact same with a new laptop or netbook or anything.....I am being simplistic I suppose, but I look on this as a win/win situation.....both devices are running on Linux.....and that really is the killer point: neither is using Microsoft. There is not the slightest doubt that both manufacturers will ensure that each becomes easy to use.......install software.....etc........and the rest is history.
  • RE: Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

    Only if it had some proper synchronization with an Android phone <b>directly</b> without having to pass the obstacle of Google ID while at home.
    This may still be acceptable if you're on the go, but simply stupid (and in many cases also expensive) while at home.
  • Would I be more likely to buy a Netbook with Android?


    I would NOT buy a Netbook with Android any more than I would buy a Netbook with Windows CE.

    • I believe...

      ...alot of people share this opinion if the UI looks the same. But I don't believe the current UI is going to be on the next cell phone.
  • RE: Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

    One area not mentioned is that Ubuntu software screen size is not tuned to automatically recognise and adapt to the smaller screens of the netbooks.

    Whilst Linux programmers may not see this as a problem, the users are disappointed.

    iPod touch users must be appreciating the fact that site and application screens have been adapted for the smaller screen and, where not, it is easy to navigate
  • RE: Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

    I agree.

    In fact ARCHOS also seem to be planning an Android based Internet Tablet (5" screen).

    If loading applications would be as slick as on the iPod touch, then of course Anroid based systems woudl be more popular for the mini tablets as well as the netbooks.

    One has to appreciate that the mini tablets and netbooks are more for content consumption rather than for content generation, where one would use a larger screen.

    Applications need to also designed for the smaller screens.

    HP seem to be planning to lauch a user interface on their 9" based on linux.
  • RE: Why an ASUS Android Netbook?

    EEebuntu copes nicely with the small screen of my EeePC. I even had EEbuntu some weeks on my Medion Akoya, but switched back to Windows XP, because under EEbuntu the Akoya did not activate the wireless connection automatically.
    Adriver problem like this one is one of the last hurdles Ubuntu has to overcome to become my favourate operating system. Automatic updates are very good under Ubuntu, troublesome under Microsoft and clumsy under Xandros.
  • I know what they have against Ubuntu

    It's too risky. Period. Who is behind
    Ubuntu? A millionaire with a hobby of
    supporting a distro which he himself
    admitted would make no money for him.
    Whenever he decide the hobby is not for
    him anymore, he will abandon it. True,
    the "community" can still maintain it,
    but I doubt they alone would be able to
    maintain any important effort like the
    one Canonical is putting now. Thus,
    it'll make Ubuntu no different than,
    say, Slackware or Debian. Both may be
    good distros but there is nobody behind
    them (apart from volunteers).

    Android at least has Google.