Microsoft launches tech jargon at Computex, snark ensues

Why get a netbook when you can have a 'low-cost small notebook PC'?
  • Eric Lai (Computerworld)
  • 04 June, 2009 07:40

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday launched the latest version of its Windows operating system for computing gadgets while quashing speculation that it will port Windows 7 over to ARM-based netbooks.

For Microsoft watchers and haters, however, that news was overshadowed by smoe of the company's trademark clumsy marketing-speak.

Instead of the Intel-invented term netbook, Microsoft wants to introduce the term "low-cost small notebook PC," said Microsoft OEM division corporate vice president Steve Guggenheimer during a speech Tuesday at the Computex trade show in Taiwan.

Guggenheimer said "low-cost small notebook PC" is more accurate because these computers do more than just browse the Web, as the term 'netbook' implies.

Although perhaps more precise, the clunky literalness of the term allowed bloggers to have a field day.

  • Boing Boing Gadgets' headline: Microsoft wants to rename netbooks with absurd five-word phrase.
  • High Cost Large Notebook PC coming next? asked GottaBeMobile.
  • Another example of Microsoft's branding magic, concluded Daring Fireball.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has tried to foist an unwieldy term upon the netbook market. Last year when it began allowing PC makers to install Windows XP on netbooks, it referred to them as 'ultra low-cost PCs,' or ULCPCs. That failed to catch on beyond Microsoft's technical literature.

Analysts quoted by Taiwanese publication Digitimes, theorized Microsoft created the new name so that it can divide the netbook market into two segments with makers of 'low-cost small notebook PCs required to license and install a higher-end -- and pricier -- version of Windows 7, such as Windows 7 Home Premium, rather than Windows 7 Starter. The Starter edition would be reserved for lower-end netbooks with 7-in. to 9-in. screens and no DVD drives, for instance.

Untrue, said a Microsoft spokeswoman, who confirmed that all netbooks or low-cost notebook PCs can still come installed with Windows 7 Starter, though all versions should work.

During his speech, Guggenheimer also introduced the term "Consumer Internet Device" (CID) to describe the class of Web-enabled gadgets formerly known as 'Smart Appliances.' CIDs encompass a diverse family of devices from pocket-sized to immoveable, including digital photo frames, GPS systems, high-definition TVs, media players -- even Web-enabled washing machines.

Hyped as early as a decade ago, smart appliances failed to take off as a category, due to the primitiveness of the chips and spotty Internet access at the time. In the past several years, however, such devices have become ubiquitous in the form of Tivos, digital picture frames and portable GPS systems.

Microsoft appears to want to rebuild the category's visibility, but under its own nomenclature. It is pushing the latest version of its popular Windows Embedded CE platform for CIDs, many of which use low-powered CPUs designed by ARM Holdings plc.

More than 10 billion ARM chips have been shipped in the last 23 years, compared to the one to two billion Intel CPUs that have shipped.

Guggenheimer confirmed that Microsoft won't port Windows 7 to ARM-based devices such as netbooks, or what proponents are starting to call "smartbooks."

Microsoft is not the only vendor in netbook arena guilty of recent abuse of the English language. Last week, ARM chip makers Freescale Semiconductor Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. began touting 'smartbook' to differentiate upcoming netbooks using the ARM chip and running Linux from Atom/Windows XP ones.

An Intel spokesman said introducing 'smartbook' would only "confuse consumers," while an IDC analyst called the term "not very intuitive."

Meanwhile, Intel is following up on its hit Atom chip for netbooks with another low-powered chip family featuring 'Consumer Low-Power Processors,' 9-syllable term saved only by its one-syllable acronym, CULV.