HP Is 'Studying' Android for PC Use

Move over, Microsoft. Hewlett-Packard may give Google the entrÉe it needs to provide the go-to operating system for new lines of mass-market notebook computers.

No. 1 PC maker Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) is "studying" Google's (GOOG) Android operating system to determine whether the software might work well on HP's own computers, says HP spokeswoman Marlene Somsak. The company is evaluating Android's computing and communications functions, she says, though she declined to say whether HP would ship Android-powered products.

One possibility is that HP would load Android on the popular miniature laptops known as netbooks. Today the little machines mostly run Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows XP or the open-source Linux operating system. On Mar. 31, The Wall Street Journal reported that HP is considering using the Android software inside netbooks.

Vista: Viewed as an Obstacle

Android is primarily used in cell phones right now, but that's changing. Google has been working with PC makers to put Android in netbooks in order to let users more readily share data between netbooks and phones.

Putting Google's operating system inside mainstream notebooks makes sense. HP and other computer makers for the past year have been trying to make it simpler for users to perform many common tasks—such as viewing photos or watching video—on their machines, in some cases adding their own, more user-friendly features to Microsoft Windows. Last September, BusinessWeek reported that HP had quietly assembled a group of engineers to develop software to let users bypass certain features of Windows Vista, and that a separate team was interested in using an HP-assembled Linux operating system on certain PCs.

One result of those efforts is HP's Mini 1000 Mi Edition netbook, which runs an HP-designed Linux operating system that includes a "dashboard" to let users manage their music and photo collections. "It's their attempt at dipping their toe into the software world," says Richard Shim, a research manager at IDC (IDC). Preloading future netbooks with Android could plug HP and other computer makers into a vibrant community of software developers who are encouraged by Google to create novel applications for the operating system. "All of the major [PC makers] are looking at Android," says Shim.

Lightweight netbooks are one of the few bright spots in the stagnant PC market. Consumers snapped up nearly 5 million of the machines in the fourth quarter, accounting for about 7% of notebook sales, according to IDC. Netbook sales in 2009 are expected to reach 20 million units.

Far Broader Applications for Android?

Not surprisingly, Microsoft says Windows is optimal for all sizes of computers. Microsoft Senior Manager Ben Rudolph says in an e-mail that Windows is compatible with thousands of models of printers and hundreds of digital cameras, and points to return rates for Linux machines that are four times higher than returns of Windows PCs. "People have chosen Windows PCs because they work right out of the box with all the applications and devices they expect," he says.

Google is pushing Android for even broader applications, however. The software could also appear inside set-top boxes and in-car navigation systems, Android's creator, Google Senior Director Andy Rubin says. And it's written in a programming language that lets it run on a variety of chip platforms, including those for PCs, cell phones, navigation devices, and set-top boxes.

The result could be "Google-ready" devices equipped to expeditiously run the company's applications, says Rubin. So an Android-powered set-top box could deliver YouTube videos to a television without running the risk of being superseded by another application. "That's the Netscape analogy: Let's not become blocked by someone else," he says.

Google's reach across the Internet is broad. Now it's taking steps to link its Web software to more of the computers people interact with on a daily basis.