Netbook name game

June 4, 2009

Netbook is a remarkably clear and memorable terrm as far as most computer industry jargon goes. Which is why, as with any hot product category, it’s hard for the computer industry to agree on exactly what it means.

Most people who started using the term over the last two years say it refers to a new class of tiny, low-cost, Web-connected computers.  That’s at least what Intel thought when it adopted netbook last year as a generic term.  

For this simple act of clarity, Intel must be punished. The ghost of Psion, the old handheld digital organizer maker, sued Intel for trademark infringement. It turned out Psion trademarked the term as far back as 1996 and sold a line of computers it called netBooks earlier this decade before discontinuing the line.

Microsoft Corp has never much liked the term, in part because the most succcessful early netbooks relied on Linux software rather than Microsoft’s own products. Microsoft is counting on its upcoming Windows 7 operating system to crush Linux-based models.

Just please don’t call them netbooks. This week, a Microsoft executive at the Computex trade show in Taiwan says it wants to abandon the term. Instead, we should all get used to calling netbooks “low cost small notebook PCs” — LCSNPC for short — when referring to computers capable of doing more than watching Web sites. So says Steven Guggenheimer, Microsoft’s vice president in charge of relations with PC makers, speaking to DigiTimes.

Meanwhile, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison doesn’t want to be left out of the netbook game. He says there’s no reason Sun Microsystems won’t move into the netbook market, once Oracle completes its planned acquisition of the hardware maker. Of course, to Larry, the netbook is nothing more than the revival of his 1995 vision of the stripped-down “network computer.” I’ll let the explain the theological differences with yesteryear

On a happier note, it turns out Psion Teklogix just wanted a little attention. It recently settled its suit against Intel and released its trademarks on netbook. 

Now the industry is free again to get back to arguing about what netbook means.

 (Photo credits: ASUS, Psion, Microsoft)

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