Asustek Computer Inc (華碩), which pioneered the market for sub-US$500 laptops, may install Google Inc’s free Android operating system on its low-cost notebooks, challenging the dominance of Microsoft Corp’s Windows software.
Asustek has allocated engineers to develop an Android-based netbook by as early as the end of the year, Samson Hu (胡書賓), head of the Taipei-based company’s Eee PC business, said in an interview on Thursday.
Asustek hasn’t decided whether to proceed with a final product because the project is still under development, he said.
An Android-powered notebook would extend Google’s rivalry with Microsoft into the market for software that runs personal computers, of which Windows controls more than 90 percent.
Netbooks, scaled-down laptops that offer basic e-mail and Internet functions, are the fastest-growing segment of the PC industry, with shipments projected to almost double this year as the overall market slows.
“With the strength of Google behind it, Android could really challenge Microsoft and steal some market share,” said Calvin Huang (黃文堯), a computer-industry analyst at Daiwa Securities Group Inc (大和證券) in Taipei. “The benefit is the free license and you can use a lower-power, cheaper processor.”
Google introduced Android in 2007 as a software system for phones. Android is based on Linux, an “open-source” operating system that’s free and developed by hundreds of engineers worldwide. Microsoft offers an operating system for handsets called Windows Mobile.
HTC Corp (宏達電) is the first company to produce Android-based phones, selling two models through operators such as T-Mobile USA Inc and Vodafone Group PLC. Samsung Electronics Co and LG Electronics Inc are also planning to introduce Android-based handsets this year.
Freescale Semiconductor Inc, the Texas-based computer-chip maker taken private in 2006, said this week it began discussions with Taiwan’s Pegatron Corp (和碩) to create a netbook design that can use Android. Freescale expects to be producing chips for the device in large quantities by the second quarter.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, designed the Android platform to be used in phones, with the capability for the software to be adapted for netbook-style products, company spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said in an e-mail.
Netbooks have smaller screens, lower storage and less processing power than standard laptops, making them cheaper while less suitable for high-end tasks such as watching movies or playing games.
Asustek introduced the Eee PC in October 2007, initially only offering netbooks running on Linux. Microsoft’s Windows had 85 percent of the mini-notebook market during the fourth quarter, while Linux accounted for the rest, estimates at research firm Gartner Inc showed.
“We remain confident that people will keep on buying Windows, as we’ve seen strong growth in Windows on these small notebook PCs,” Ben Rudolph, senior manager for Windows, said in an e-mail.
If Google’s office applications replace Windows-based programs, Android-based netbooks will have a better chance of succeeding, said Leslie Fiering, a Gartner analyst in San Jose, California.
An Android computer may also operate faster than a Windows machine. Because of higher hardware requirements, Windows-equipped computers can take twice as long to boot up as a Linux netbooks, Acer’s Web site says.
“Android is a very lean and open platform,” Hu said.