Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Google stops Android modder Cyanogen from making cool tweaks

When Google (NSDQ: GOOG) says “stop,” you stop (and desist). Just ask Cyanogen. The prolific Android hacker/modder/developer has apparently been issued the dreaded “cease and desist” notice from the almighty Google. From what we can gather, Google isn’t taking Cyanogen’s Android hacking lightly – especially the part where he distributes closed-source Android apps like Market, Talk, Gmail, and YouTube with his customized Android ROMs. The problem is that Cyanogen isn’t licensed to distribute those apps. For his part, Cyanogen is trying to arguing that he’s developing these customized Android ROMs for “Google Experience” handsets that are already licensed to use the controversial apps.

If Cyanogen were a lesser-known Android modder, this might not be a big deal. But, Cyanogen pushes out some of the most popular custom Android ROMs available today (One of my own Android smartphones is running a Cyanogen ROM). With over 30,000 users favoring a Cyanogen-flavored Android build to the more vanilla stock builds, a lot of people are going to be left out in the cold if Google refuses to work with Cyanogen.

The ball’s in Google’s court. Unfortunately, like a grouchy old neighbor hoarding your errant Frisbees, Google may not give it back.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ARM will overtake Intel in netbooks, smartbooks, says analyst

LONDON — Intel Corp. will claim 94 percent of the netbook/smartbook market in 2009 but ARM Holdings plc and its processor licensees with take the lead in 2012, according to Robert Castellano of market research company The Information Network (New Tripoli, Pennsylvania).

Indeed Castellano sees the market splitting between Intel-powered netbooks and ARM-powered smartbooks, and offering slightly different market offerings. Netbooks will cost more than $200 and offer just 3.5 hours of operation on battery while being Windows-compatible. In contrast ARM smartbooks will cost less than $200, run Linux or Chrome operating systems and last 8 hours between recharges.

As such Castellano asserts that ARM processors, not Intel's Atom, will benefit from the current technology-economic cycle. In 2009 netbooks (powered by Intel) will hit 22.1 million units while the market for smartbooks powered by ARM will number 1.4 million.

In 2010, Intel netbooks will move to 31.1 million units while ARM smartbooks climb to 7.8 million units. In 2012 Intel will ship in 43.2 million netbooks while ARM processors will control 52.9 million smartbooks giving ARM 55 percent of the market and Intel 45 percent. Castellano does not foresee any other processor architectures breaking into the fast-growing sector.

The growing trend to offer subsidized computer equipment as a part of a service contract for 3G is also like to favor smartbooks over netbooks, the company said. "Sales of netbooks bundled with 3G services in the Taiwan market reached 15,000 units in August, accounting for 50 percent of total retail sales. Smartbook numbers, because of their design and need for cloud connectivity, will grow even more strongly," the Information Network said in a statement.

Windows 7 May Equal Fewer Bargain Netbooks

Microsoft must perform a tricky balancing act as it tries to keep Windows on netbooks but not get stuck in a market that generates little revenue, say industry analysts.

The software giant has still not disclosed how much it plans to charge PC makers for Windows 7 on netbooks. But an increase over the current $15 price for Windows XP is inevitable, says Richard Shim, PC analyst at research firm IDC.

Prediction: Oracle announces definite plans to get into the netbook/mobile Internet device market?

Windows 7 Bible: Your Complete Guide to the Next Version of Windows

PC makers will face pressure to keep price points down, Shim says, even as Microsoft charges them more for Windows 7 on netbooks than for XP. Microsoft plans to make the limited Windows 7 Starter version and Windows 7 Home Premium available on netbooks, with Home Premium likely costing more.

To be clear, Microsoft has not announced how much it plans to charge PC makers for any versions of Windows 7. Microsoft executives are saying that the average price that PC makers pay for Windows (across all versions) is $50. It currently charges PC makers $15 per copy of Windows XP on netbooks.

Are More Powerful Netbooks Still Netbooks?

Netbooks are still about price and portability, but that could change if consumers and businesses demand more power from small form-factor machines, Shim says.

"Netbooks could soon evolve from being price-focused to more feature-focused if users demand it," says Shim.

If that feature infusion happens, vendors would certainly raise the price, at which point people will stop calling the devices netbooks, says veteran analyst Roger Kay, president of tech research firm Endpoint Technologies.

"This is what both Microsoft and hardware companies want," says Kay. "They want to sell ultrathin laptops for $500 rather than netbooks for $300. But users like netbooks."

Indeed they do. IDC predicts netbook sales will more than double this year, from 11.6 million units in 2008 to 26.5 million in 2009.

Keeping Windows XP Alive

To stay in the netbook game, Microsoft has agreed to continue licensing Windows XP Home Edition to netbook hardware makers for one year after Windows 7 ships on Oct. 22.

The catch: Microsoft doesn't actually want Windows 7 Starter to gain steam on netbooks, Kay believes.

"Microsoft will offer PC makers Windows 7 Starter on netbooks probably at a price close to what it now charges for XP, but what it really wants to do is upsell to Windows 7 Home Premium on ultrathins or standard-size notebooks to make more money," says Kay.

Ultrathins: The New Netbooks

Kay predicts the industry is heading toward ultrathin notebooks, lightweight machines that lie halfway between netbooks and standard-size notebooks on power, size and price.

Ultrathin laptops typically weigh less than five pounds and have standard-size keyboards and screen sizes between 12 and 14 inches, compared to the 9 or 10 inch netbook screens. Ultrathins also have chips that draw less power than standard-size notebook processors but more power than netbook processors, which mostly use Intel's low-power Atom chips.

Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Dell have all released ultrathin models, and other PC makers are expected to release ultrathins before the holidays. These units generally sell for between $500 and $700, compared to the $300 to $400 pricetags on netbooks.

Windows 7 on Netbooks: Is It Worth It?

Ultimately, Kay says, the Windows 7/netbook connection depends on whether netbook users will be willing to pay more for the Windows 7 experience. "There's no doubt Windows 7 will be better than XP on netbooks," says Kay. "But is it $100 better when all most people do on netbooks is surf the Web, check e-mail and IM?"

Many users will get by with XP on netbooks even after support stops, reportedly in Oct. 2010, Kay says, adding that an opportunity exists for Google's Linux-based Chrome OS if users keep clamoring for basic netbooks that cost less than $300.

"Microsoft and Intel want to get away from netbooks because they are simply not making money on them," he says.

Intel Ports Linux Netbook OS to Desktops

Intel has expanded the scope of Linux-based Moblin by porting the OS from netbooks to mobile devices and desktops, where it could compete with Microsoft's Windows OS.

The company introduced a beta version of Moblin 2.1 at the Intel Developer Forum being held in San Francisco. The new version of the OS now builds in capabilities like native touchscreen input and gesture support, new user interface features, and support for more hardware drivers. It also includes incremental upgrades that expand the usability of the OS.

Moblin was originally developed and pushed by Intel as an operating system for netbooks. An Intel representative said that with Moblin 2.1, the OS will now come in three versions: for handhelds, netbooks and nettops. A nettop is an inexpensive desktop about the size of a hardcover book to which keyboards, mice and monitors can be connected.

Intel had to rethink the user interface of Moblin to fit the different screen sizes of handheld devices and nettops, said Amit Bapat, technical marketing engineer at Intel's open-source technology center. Older versions of Moblin were capable of filling up netbook screen sizes which have typically ranged from 7 inches to 12 inches. Moblin 2.1 will now work from small screens found on handhelds to the larger screens used with desktops, Bapat said.

The development of Moblin is now being managed by the Linux Foundation, though it is heavily backed by Intel. Intel is trying to use Moblin to push the Linux OS in more devices based on its Atom microprocessor. The previous release of the OS was a beta of Moblin 2.0, which was released in May.

Moblin 2.1 adds many features to make the OS work on devices like nettops and has been upgraded to size up to larger screens, Bapat said.

"Moblin will be scalable to fill the screen and make use of the real estate available," Bapat said. Moblin and its open source partners are working with PC makers to bring hardware support for Moblin's desktop edition, which Intel calls the nettop edition. Bapat did not provide further details on what the user interface would look like.

The desktop version will push Moblin into an area which has traditionally been dominated by Microsoft's Windows OS. Many nettops today ship with Windows Vista, and may carry its successor, Windows 7, in the future. Windows 7 is due for release on Oct. 22.

Native touchscreen support in Moblin 2.1 also lends the OS to handheld devices like smartphones, Bapat said. Moblin 2.1 has a new interface to fit into small screens, and also includes features specific to handhelds, like the ability to make phone calls. During a demonstration, the OS had a single window from which users could check missed phone calls, the latest news and unread e-mail messages.

Release of the final version of Moblin 2.1 for handhelds will be aligned with the launch of smartphones and handheld devices based on Intel's Moorestown chip platform. Devices based on Moorestown will ship in the second half of 2010, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said during a keynote speech at IDF on Tuesday. Moorestown includes a processor based on the Atom core.

The netbook version of Moblin 2.1 is an incremental update from its predecessor, and includes support for the Pine Trail platform, which is Intel's upcoming platform for netbooks. Pine Trail integrates a graphics processor inside the Atom CPU. Netbooks based on Pine Trail could appear next year.

The beta of Moblin 2.1 will be available for download "very soon," Bapat said. "As soon as it comes to some stable state, it [will] get released on the moblin.org site," Bapat said.

Moblin will be one way for Intel to promote its Atom Developer Program, which encourages developers to write applications for netbooks. The program, launched on Tuesday, will help developers optimize and port existing programs for use on mobile devices based on the Atom processor. Intel will provide tools and software development kits to write applications that could be sold through app stores.

As the size of Atom chips scales down to fit smartphones, the program could provide one way for developers to monetize applications they develop for Atom, an Intel representative said on the IDF show floor on Wednesday. Intel is working with companies like Acer, Asustek and Dell to create storefronts where developers can sell applications. Such storefronts could appear in the first half of next year, the representative said.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Intel's Moblin 2.1 to compete with Windows

Could Intel's new Moblin 2.1 OS make a dent against Windows in the mobile and desktop markets?

At this week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the chipmaker debuted a beta version of its Moblin 2.1 open-source operating system targeted to run on a variety of devices, including smartphones, Netbooks, nettops, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), and in-car systems.

Moblin 2.1 will compete with other open-source operating systems like Google's Android and bump up against Microsoft in the burgeoning nettop arena.

Originally developed for Netbooks, Moblin 2.1 (short for mobile Linux) will come in three flavors--one for handhelds, another for Netbooks, and a third for nettops.

In the market for handheld gadgets such as smartphones and MIDs, Moblin 2.1 will run on Atom chip-based devices. The beta demoed by Intel at IDF showed off capabilities for touch-screen and gesture input. The new interface will also let users switch among different open applications and will provide shortcuts to social-networking apps.

The Moblin 2.1 Web browser will also support Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight 3 technology to run interactive Web-based apps.

In the Netbook area, Moblin is slowly starting to find its way. Dell recently began selling its $299 Mini 10v Notebook with an option for Ubuntu Moblin Remix. Other PC makers, such as Acer and Asus, are also said to be planning Moblin-based Netbooks.

For the desktop crowd, Intel is positioning Moblin 2.1 for nettops, all-in-one desktops similar to the Apple iMac and typically powered by Intel's Atom chip. Most of today's nettops, such as the Asus Eee Top and Dell's Studio One 19, currently run Windows XP.

But with XP on its way out, Microsoft has faced a challenge switching to a version of Windows 7 cheap enough for the low-cost Netbook and nettop market but pricey enough to still turn a profit.

Moblin's success will also depend on the availability of third-party software. Intel has set up its Atom Developer Program to encourage developers to design apps for the new platform. Intel has also said that different programs could be sold through app stores, similar to Google's Android Market.

Of course, Linux has been available in various flavors as a desktop operating system for years. But its complexity has kept it a niche player mostly for IT folks and technophiles. Even Dell is positioning its Moblin-enabled Mini 10v notebook as an option for the tech-savvy developer rather than the average consumer.

Intel also needs to walk a tightrope between competing and yet partnering with Microsoft, a form of "cooptition" to the famous Wintel alliance. Moblin puts Intel in competition with Microsoft on several fronts, opposing Windows Mobile on smartphones and Windows desktop on Netbooks and nettops. But the two still need to play together.

Intel and Microsoft are teaming up to incorporate the Silverlight 3 technology onto Moblin-powered Netbooks next year. Intel will also support Silverlight for developers through the Atom Developer Program.

Intel's ultimate challenge will be to position Moblin to attract people outside the limited tech world. With the right push, Moblin could be the version of Linux to take off on devices from smartphones to desktops.

Moblin 2.1 is scheduled to be released before the end of the year.

Intel to Ship New Pineview Netbook Chips in Q4

Intel will ship a new line of Atom processors for netbooks and nettops during the fourth quarter of this year, a company official said late on Wednesday.

Processors codenamed Pineview will succeed the Atom chips that currently go into most netbooks, said Jeff DeMuth, who works with Intel's platform marketing, at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The processor will ship to PC makers in the fourth quarter, DeMuth said.

DeMuth declined comment on when netbooks with Pineview chips would reach consumers. However, netbooks could ship a few months later, perhaps as early as the first quarter of 2010.

Netbooks are small and inexpensive laptops designed to run Web and basic productivity applications. Intel introduced the first Atom chips last year, and today most netbooks are based on the processor.

Earlier this year, Intel said it was going to update the original Atom chips with the Pineview chips, which would be faster and lead to thinner netbook designs with better battery life. Pineview is part of the Pine Trail platform, which has a number of improvements that makes the chip smaller while dropping power consumption.

Intel will also ship new chips as part of the Pine Trail platform for nettops, small form factor desktops the size of hard cover books.

The chip integrates graphics and memory controller inside the CPU, which has reduced the package size by as much as 70 percent compared to the previous generation of Atom chips, DeMuth said. Intel officials have said they wanted to make smaller chip packages so PC makers can design thinner netbooks. The integrated chips also reduce the power drawn by netbooks.

Integrating the memory controller will help the processor and memory communicate faster. An integrated graphics processor will process multimedia faster, while freeing up bandwidth for the processor to communicate with other components.

Intel's current netbook architecture puts the graphics and memory capabilities on a separate chipset. However, as netbook users demand better graphics, Intel's integrated graphics have been criticized for limited multimedia capabilities. DeMuth declined to comment on the level of video support offered by Pineview's integrated graphics chip.

The integration also helps reduce the CPU cost which could lead to cheaper devices, DeMuth said.