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Why Do All Netbooks Have The Same Specs? Microsoft and ULCPC

This post started as a comment over on jkontherun, where James posted a great hands on report of the new HP Mini Note 1000 netbook. It looks really, really nice – as soon as the 6-cell battery version becomes available, this will probably be the one I buy for my family (I have been a fan of and recommending the Eee PC 1000H, which is still a great netbook – a half dozen people I know have bought one on my recommendation, and they love them).

BTW, I’m posting this on my own blog, instead of on the Intel Software Network blog (where I’ve been writing an ongoing series of posts on “The World of Netbooks”) because it could be seen as a little controversial, and it represents my opinion, and my opinion only, with a healthy dash of speculation. I don’t have any inside knowledge of this topic – all I know is from what I’ve read on the web.

Have you ever wondered why pretty much all the netbooks on the market have essentially the same specifications? A 9 or 10 inch LCD screen at 1024×600, 1GB RAM, the Intel Atom processor, etc. I think I know. It has to do with Microsoft, and something called ULCPC – Ultra Low Cost PC.

Microsoft doesn’t want to keep selling Windows XP. They want to kill it, and sell Vista. Makes business sense. But, these little netbooks don’t meet the minimum specs for Vista.

So, MS grudgingly decided to keep selling an “ULCPC” or “ULPC” edition of XP, but only for systems that don’t exceed the specs they set: no larger than 10″ screen, no more than 1GB RAM, etc. If OEMs make netbooks with beefier specs, MS won’t let them sell them with XP.

I suspect that the 1024×600 screen resolution limit is part of those restrictions, but I can’t find anything documenting that as fact. And I’m seeing contradictions about the limits. For instance, the ULCPC specification states a CPU no faster than 1GHz, but exceptions are made for the 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU we see is almost all netbooks. Same for the 80GB hard drive limitation – many netbooks have 160GB drives. I imagine that the complete ULCPC specs are known only to Microsoft and netbook OEMs. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. I REALLY had hoped that HP would buck the trend, since the old Mini Note 2133 has a 1280×768 screen, but alas, no.

One could argue that Microsoft is doing something “evil” here, or that they’re only practicing good business. Personally, I think they were blindsided by demand for netbooks, and had to scramble to get some strategy in place that would keep them from being shut out of the game altogether. But it’s a frustrating, arbitrary limitation, and one of the big reasons fanboys like me hold out hope that Apple will make a netbook. I mean, I actually like using XP on my netbook, but I’d like better specs in a netbook than what we’re ever going to see as long as MS gets to dictate their terms. Sure, Linux is an alternative, and a good one, but all the programs I love to use run on either Windows XP or Mac OS X. And if Uncle Bill won’t give me what I want, I can only hope that Uncle Steve will. :-)

Oh, and raise your hand if you think Windows 7 is going to run better than XP on netbooks? That’s what I thought… 😉

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BitStories 2008-06-13: Josh and Brian Ride Again! iPhone 3G, Netbooks, and More

Hey, remember TinyPodcast? No? Well, Brian Jarvis and I (Josh Bancroft), two guys who happen to work at Intel, started doing a weekly podcast way back in 2004. Basically, the two of us geeked out about the latest mobile devices, cool software, and technology news and rumors, and recorded it. It was moderately popular, and some people actually complained when it tapered off…

Well, we’re back! And we’re under the Bit Stories banner now. I work for Intel Software Network, and I’ve had the idea and intention for a while now of doing a show there like Brian and I used to do. Now we’re actually doing it.

If you haven’t listened before, this isn’t some professionally produced, slick, marketing message controlled by our corporate overlords. We’re just a couple of geeks who love gadgets, phones, computers, the web, and software, talking about whatever’s new and cool. We try to make the audio sound good, but it’s always going to be a little rough around the edges, and we’re OK with that. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Come have a listen.

In this show, we talk about the following, in no particular order:

  • The iPhone 3G announcement – its features, whether Brian is finally going to cave in and get one, how AT&T is raising prices on the plans just because they can, how we can’t wait to see what comes out of the App Store, and everything else we can think of. We’re a little obsessed. :-)
  • Netbooks vs. regular laptops vs. Tablet PCs (with the tangent typing vs handwriting discussion).
  • Where we want to take the show – we don’t have grand plans – we pretty much have always played this by ear, but we’d love to hear any ideas or suggestions (or complaints!) you have, so we can keep it interesting.
  • And a whole lot more I can’t remember right now!

The show is about 38 minutes long (we try to stick to the magic 40 minute length), and weighs about 35MB (it’s a 128kbps MP3). You can download the file directly, listen using the streaming player in this post, or (BEST OPTION!!1!) subscribe to the Bit Stories podcast feed in your favorite podcast aggregator (like iTunes). If you subscribe to the feed, you’ll get each show delivered automatically as it becomes available – probably once a week or so, with the occasional bonus video or audio segment thrown in for fun. Plus, we’ll love you forever if you subscribe.

Are you thrilled that the show is back? Mad that we changed something? Think we suck for being gone so long? Just want to say hi? Post a comment, and let us know! Seriously. We crave the validation that your feedback brings. You have no idea how fragile our self esteem really is… 😉

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