HP to put Android on Netbooks?

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HP has confirmed that it is looking at Google’s Android as a possible operating system. Could it make for cheaper netbooks?

Hewlett-Packard is considering using Google’s open source Android operating system on future netbooks, according to an official statement .

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The company is “assessing” Android’s benefits, according to a Wall Street Journal report, which quoted Satjiv Chahil, a vice president of HP’s PC division, and was later confirmed to Reuters by an HP spokeswoman.

“We want to assess the capabilities that Android might present for the computer and communications industries,” she told Reuters, adding that HP is studying Android to “understand all of the OS choices in the marketplace that might be used by our competitors, or that might possibly be of value to our customers too.” She declined to discuss when or how HP might produce Android-based products.

Any move to Android would signal a shift towards open source software and present a threat to Microsoft’s dominant Windows operating system. It would also offer a way for netbook makers to avoid using Vista, the current incarnation of Windows, which is too large to run on the cut-down notebook PC.

Microsoft has continued to offer the older Windows XP for netbooks, but Reuters reports Microsoft plans to push the sector on towards a special netbook version of the forthcoming Windows 7 operating system.

HP has been quietly exploring alternative software options since at least September, when the company acknowledged it had assembled a group of engineers to develop software that will let customers bypass certain features of Vista. HP has also dabbled in Linux, with the HP’s Mini 1000 Mi Edition netbook. By using free software like Linux, (which Android is based on) HP can avoid paying the considerable licensing fees to Microsoft, which in turn allows the company to drive down the cost of its netbooks.

Netbooks are widely considered to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise contracting PC market, due to their low price and ease of portability. In 2008, research firm IDC reported sales of 11 million notebooks, up from just 182,000 the year before. As the economy has worsened, consumers have looked to affordable (most start from around £280) netbooks as a favourable alternative to notebooks. Some analysts predict that by switching to free, open source operating systems like Android, netbook prices could fall below £150.

Google’s Android platform last made headlines at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, where mobile network operator Vodafone announced it would be releasing the second “Google Phone,” the HTC Magic, a smartphone powered by Android. The exclusive contract between handset maker HTC and Vodafone marks the second occasion an Android phone has been announced, the first being the G1, launched in September 2008 by HTC and offered exclusively by operator T-Mobile.

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