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Why Palm's WebOS Could Shake up the Netbook World

Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Toshiba. Nearly every PC manufacturer is looking to cash in on the growth of smart phones by either bringing out their own devices or by potentially acquiring an established player like Palm or Research in Motion. This week the hot rumor is that a Dell-Palm marriage could be on the horizon, and I do think the idea has merit. Although the eagerly anticipated Pre device would certainly give street cred to any potential suitor, it’s the WebOS itself and its potential beyond smart phones that makes Palm an especially tempting target. Here are five reasons why its OS could shake up the netbook world.

  1. WebOS is the most attractive and intuitive Linux OS. Ever. Yes, distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint look nice, and I'm sure Android will make some waves in the netbook arena (Asus is rumored to be working on a system) but WebOS is far and away the most consumer-friendly mobile OS I've seen. It just looks polished and slick--and no offense--doesn't feel like you're using Linux. Given that Microsoft is considering selling crippled netbooks with a Starter edition of Windows 7 that can run only three apps simultaneously (presumably in the hopes of upselling to a premium version) Dell or another PC manufacturer would be wise to either inquire about licensing WebOS or acquire Palm outright.
  2. It's touch friendly. Rumors of a touch-enabled Apple netbook are rampant. And ASUS will be launching the Eee PC T91 this year, which will add a touch interface on top of Windows XP. I believe the WebOS would be a welcome alternative to those choices and the still unproven Windows 7 (at least when it comes to touch). The activity card paradigm, where you could shuffle or just whisk away apps, would be welcome on a 7- inch or larger screen. Plus, there will be a built-in app store for touch friendly apps, which as far as I know Windows 7 won't have at launch.
  3. It's integrated with the cloud. The ability to link contacts from multiple sources and have layered calendars all synced with the Web makes the WebOS a no-brainer for a netbook, especially one with integrated mobile broadband. I think carriers would be more willing to consider stocking a netbook that doesn't leave customers asking how they sync their information between their primary PC and netbook than one that does a lot (if not all) of the work for them.
  4. It plays nice with ARM processors. Last week one analyst claimed that ARM could capture over 50 percent of the netbook market with its low-powered processors. Ambitious start-up Always Innovating's Touch Book, which has ARM inside, claims that its netbook will offer up to 15 hours of battery life. As netbook buyers demand more endurance from these machines, WebOS and ARM could prove to be a winning combination.
  5. It supports Flash. When Palm said during Mobile World Congress that the WebOS would support Flash, it was careful not to make the jump to the Pre itself. We'll have to wait and see on the smart phone front, but full support for Flash is certainly good news for the platform. Being able to enjoy sites like Hulu and YouTube, without X86 architecture, is huge on a netbook, and it could make Palm's stable of apps that much richer than the competition's.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can sign up to receive this column by e-mail newsletter or follow Mark on twitter.

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.