REDMOND, Wash., — Feb. 3, 2009 – Small, mobile and affordable PCs, often referred to as “netbooks” or “mini-notebooks,” were one of 2008’s hottest technology trends. Virtually unknown a year ago, these PCs pushed the design innovation envelope by enabling easy Web surfing, instant messaging, general-purpose computing (e.g., e-mail, social networking and photo sharing) and media playback in one small, ultra-portable device. This convenience, coupled with an affordable price tag, makes these PCs a great option for many consumers.
Brad Brooks, corporate vice president for Windows Consumer Product Marketing.
Brad Brooks, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Consumer Product Marketing, sat down with PressPass to discuss the company’s take on small-notebook PCs.
PressPass: Almost everyone seems to have an opinion on how netbook PCs will evolve in 2009. What is Microsoft’s view on small-notebook PC prospects in the coming year?
Brooks: The term “netbook” was coined by Intel to define notebook PCs that run on their Atom processor. They’re also sometimes referred to as “mini-notebooks” and “sub-notebooks.” But at the end of the day they are just small, portable PCs, and we’re committed to delivering the same exceptional Windows experience on these machines as any on other notebook or desktop PC.
At just 2.28 pounds and with 4 hours of battery life, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Laptop is light and compact for an on-the-go lifestyle.
Over the last 10 months we’ve seen pretty strong demand for these PCs and we expect that to continue in 2009. In fact, research firm IDC recently increased its initial mini-notebook sales forecast for 2008 to 11.4 million, and predicted that number would climb to 42.2 million by 2012.*
PressPass: Most small-notebook PCs today run Windows XP, and this has raised many questions about the impact strong sales of these machines have on Microsoft’s bottom line. What can you tell us about that?
Brooks: We’ve seen spectacular Windows growth on small-notebook PCs as folks opt for the familiarity, compatibility, and ease of use of Windows over Linux. We value every Windows customer, and we’re excited that the vast majority of small-notebook PC users want Windows.
To share some numbers: since February 2008, Windows OS share has gone from 10 percent to over 80 percent on these machines, and our research shows that these are overwhelmingly new PCs and/or PC users. To put it another way, we think most small-notebook PC buyers are either purchasing a secondary machine or buying a PC for the first time. And we think purchasers are drawn to these PCs by their small size and affordability, particularly given the current environment.
So, looking at trends, we’re incredibly optimistic about the coming year.
PressPass: Over the last 10-12 months, what has fueled the popularity of small-notebook PCs?
Brooks: In two words: hardware improvements. When these PCs first hit the shelves, they were designed for people who wanted an inexpensive, mobile computer to browse the Web, do e-mail, instant message and perform other general computing tasks. Computer-makers responded by designing PCs built with lower performing — but also very inexpensive — hardware.
But Moore’s Law, which states that performance at a given price point will double about every 18 months, has worked in the customers’ favor. Today, we see small-notebook PCs with enhanced capabilities and improved quality at the same price points — and sometimes even cheaper — than earlier models.
At the same time, our customers told us that they want mobile, small-notebook PCs to go beyond basic Internet activities and deliver premium capabilities such as increased graphics functionality, which lets people play games, view pictures and watch videos with richer, eye-popping quality.
With Windows, customers get these premium capabilities in a familiar OS that is compatible with the applications and devices they already own and use.
PressPass: How are these small-notebook PCs different from other notebooks and desktops?
Brooks: Small-notebook PCs run the same Windows that people know and love, but there are certain trade-offs customers make when they buy these devices.
The Asus Eee PC 1000 features a 10-inch display and up to 8 hours of battery life, making it an ideal traveling companion.
For example, they typically have much smaller keyboards and screen sizes and lack a DVD or CD drive, and the small size can make tasks like creating presentations, typing documents, or editing photos and video difficult. Typing over a long period of time can also be a little challenging. Finally, the screen size isn’t optimized for the Web, so plan on doing plenty of panning and scrolling.
It’s important to remember that these small-notebook PCs weren’t designed to replace a full-featured notebook or desktop.
PressPass: Customers who do decide to purchase one of these small-notebooks PCs are also often faced with another decision — Linux or Windows. What do buyers need to consider when comparing the two operating systems?
Brooks: Customers choose Windows because they want the best possible user experience. While many initial small-notebook PCs in the market were Linux-based, they didn’t live up to customers’ expectations. Customers expected a Linux-based PC to look and function like their Windows-based desktop PC and they were disappointed.
Windows provides a level of application and device compatibility you simply don’t get with Linux. Windows works with everyday programs like Microsoft Office and popular applications like Apple’s iTunes and Microsoft’s Zune, PC games like “World of Warcraft,” and a host of others. It also works with the largest set of printers, digital cameras and other devices. Linux doesn’t come close to doing any of these things.
That may be why return rates of Linux-based netbooks are so high. Partners MSI and Canonical have mentioned to press that return rates on their Linux-based small-notebook PCs are about four times those of Windows-based small-notebook PCs.
PressPass: Microsoft has invested heavily in its Windows Live suite. How does Microsoft see these cloud-based tools enhancing the small-notebook PC experience?
Brooks: We’re really excited about what we’re offering with Windows Live Essentials. This suite includes free downloads of Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Movie Maker beta and Windows Live Family Safety. All these applications help people connect with their family and friends, and they light up the Windows experience. In addition, Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live SkyDrive, which provides 25 GB of free online storage, deliver on-demand access to e-mail and online file storage.
And unlike an OS, which can take two to three years to develop, Windows Live is on a much shorter development cycle. And we’re always looking at new ways to deliver enhanced functionality and strong integration with additional Web services.
PressPass: How is Microsoft supporting small-notebook PCs with Windows 7?
Acer’s Aspire One provides mobile connectivity with a diminutive 8.9-inch form factor.
Brooks: Microsoft is offering a clear path for Windows 7 across the board, so as we demonstrated at PDC, WinHEC and CES, Windows 7 provides a great user experience on small-notebook PCs.
With Windows 7, we’ve matched hardware improvements with some investments of our own. With Windows 7 we are on track to have a smaller OS footprint; an improved user interface that should allow for faster boot-up and shut-down times; improved power management for enhanced battery life; enhanced media capabilities; and increased reliability, stability and security.
These engineering investments allow small notebook PCs to run any version of Windows 7, and allow customers complete flexibility to purchase a system which meets their needs. For OEMs that build lower-cost small notebook PCs, Windows 7 Starter will now be available in developed markets. For the most enhanced, full-functioning Windows experience on small notebook PCs, however, consumers will want to go with Windows 7 Home Premium, which lets you get the most out of your digital media and easily connect with other PCs.
You can find more information on all our Windows 7 SKUs here.
PressPass: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about buying one of these PCs?
Brooks: I tell people to spend some time thinking carefully about what types of activities they want to do with their computer. There are many full-size notebook options out there that are also very affordable and portable. Ask yourself what you want your computer to do, balancing those needs with how mobile you want it to be. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option.
* IDC, Worldwide Mininotebook PC 2008-2012 Forecast Update and 3Q08 Vendor Shares, Doc # 215072, November 2008