Gartner: $100 notebook is several years off

Several projects, commercial, governmental, and charitable, have aimed at getting the price of laptops down, with $100 being the magical figure, but a new report from Gartner argues this won't be achieved for a number of years and isn't the right focus for now. HangZhou Night Net

The OLPC's XO PC was originally touted as a $100 PC, at the kind of low price that could easily put millions upon millions of laptops in the hands of third-world children. This would, its supporters claimed, cause a global renaissance, as computer exposure in the third world propagated technical education and other desirable skills in a worldwide cascade of economic development. Intel's Classmate PC had similar ambitions, although at a slightly higher price point. Both units, however, ran into price problems which raised their cost significantly. The XO, in particular, now costs almost twice as much as it was originally projected to. Similar difficulties have plagued the Asus' Eee PC, which was originally supposed to cost $200 and now costs $300 in its cheapest configuration.

Gartner projects that this scenario will continue for some time, and that the $100 laptop goal will not materialize for several years at least. Citing scaling difficulties and component costs, Gartner projects cost cannot fall more than 15 percent or so over the next few years. Even if this happened, the XO would still be sitting over $150 at that time, far short of its goals.

Instead, Gartner implores, the logistical and other details of the educational mission of the XO and its competitors should be explored and solved. A myopic focus on getting piles of cheap hardware out the door ignores, they say, problems of distribution, precise targeting of hardware to the needs of third-world users, and financing. Infrastructure for maintenance and repair, internet access, and appropriate curriculum development are also important. Focus on these ends will allow subnotebook vendors to better hit education markets with devices which can better help students, even if they are slightly more expensive than they could be, Gartner argued.

Since the beginning of the OLPC project, subnotebooks have spread into the consumer market in a big way, but Gartner seems to be predicting a strong degree of market segmentation between education and consumer devices. This is consistent with the present market; of available devices, only the Eee even remotely bridges the gap between consumer devices like the HP 2133 and education models like the Classmate PC and XO. Some frustration has emerged that OLPC hasn't sold the XO commercially, though, so this segmentation might be artificial.

Gartner is optimistic about the ultimate future of the platform for all kinds of users all over the world. "We expect to see increased product innovation in the PC market during the next few years," said Gartner research director Annette Jump. "Mini-notebooks will create opportunities to reach many buyers across all regions, both in mature markets as additional devices, and in emerging markets as PCs."

Subnotebooks have a glorious future ahead of them, but buying into it will cost more than one Benjamin.

Microsoft misses Windows Mobile goal by 2 million licenses

In an interview with Andy Lees, senior vice president of the Redmond company's Mobile Communications Business, Todd Bishop managed to grab some interesting facts about recent Windows Mobile developments. HangZhou Night Net

First, Microsoft sold more than 18 million Windows Mobile software licenses in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2008. This was about 2 million short of Microsoft's widely publicized 20 million target. Lees explained that a few OEMs shipped their devices later than expected, and this was the reason for the shipment target being missed. He declined, however, to say which ones: "That would be unfair to the OEMs."

Secondly, Microsoft increased Windows Mobile's share of the worldwide mobile phone operating system market. According to IDC data, Windows Mobile unit sales have grown faster than the overall market, expanding from slightly more than 11 percent to just under 13 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. Two months ago, Microsoft announced it expected Windows Mobile sales to grow by at least 50 percent in the upcoming fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

Thirdly, Lees claimed the shortfall in Windows Mobile unit sales didn't have a material impact on revenue in the Entertainment & Devices Division. 2 million may seem like a large number, but the division has revenue coming in from various sources that don't depend on Windows Mobile software licenses.

After acquiring Danger in February, Microsoft has now announced that its subsidiary teamed up with T-Mobile USA to release the new T-Mobile Sidekick. The device features support for video capture, playback, and sharing; wireless stereo music and media sharing via Bluetooth; quick friend search and group chats in instant messaging; customizable Web browsing; universal search across all phone applications and data; and a customizable shell. Collaborations like this one are great for pushing Microsoft services onto new phones, but they won't help much in revenue or unit sales since the Sidekick doesn't run Windows Mobile.

Further readingTodd Bishop's Microsoft Blog: Windows Mobile misses annual shipment targetMicrosoft: Press Release

Microsoft calls out for more IE8 beta testers

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 will be aimed at the end-user (the first beta was aimed at the web developer) and, while all its features haven't been disclosed yet, we already know about some expected reliability and performance improvements. The next beta version is scheduled to arrive sometime next month and, while it will be a public beta release just like Beta 1 was in March, Microsoft is asking for more quality testers for its beta program. HangZhou Night Net

Anyone can currently discuss the betas on the IE8 newsgroup (monitored by Microsoft MVPs and IE team members), and can vote on IE8 bugs reported by testers via Microsoft Connect. However, the company feels this isn't enough, since the only direct way to file a bug report is to be an official tester. So the IE development team is looking for more users willing and dedicated to improving the next version of the world's most popular browser. Microsoft is asking anyone interested in filing bug reports to e-mail the team "a little about yourself including why you'd be a great beta tester."

Usually the company relies on surveys or beta invites, but it appears that the software giant is only looking for truly dedicated testers in this beta program. Microsoft doesn't have much time (about four months) after the release of Beta 2 in August if the company wants to get the final version of IE8 out the door by the end of the year. There has not yet been a mention of a Beta 3 but, given the timeframe Microsoft has and the fact that RCs still need to be released, even assuming that there will be no delays, the release of yet another beta is unlikely.

Further reading:IEBlog: Wanted: IE8 Beta Testers

New 3.2Gbps FireWire spec approved, not as fast as USB 3.0

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394 working group behind the development of FireWire in both its 400Mbps and 800Mbps configurations has formally approved the next-generation S1600 and S3200 standards. These two standards build on the already established FireWire ecosystem, and will offer speeds of 1.6Gbps and 3.2GBps, respectively. The final specification itself should be published in October, but there's no word on when we'll see shipping product, or what the adoption ratio between S1600 and S3200 will be. HangZhou Night Net

Backwards compatibility concerns, thankfully, should be kept to a minimum. The new S1600/S3200 cables will be fully compatible with both older FireWire 800 cables and FireWire 400/800 devices. S3200, meanwhile, isn't the end of the line for FireWire technology, as current plans call for the interface to scale up to at least 6.4Gb/s over time. That's not going to happen any time soon, but there's obviously still plenty of headroom in the interface itself.

The IEEE 1394 standard will face a new competitor in the form of USB 3.0. USB 3.0's specification is expected to be published by the end of the year, which may give S3200 a few months' head start. FireWire, however, has never enjoyed the widespread success of USB 3.0, and as a result, could find itself the first standard out the door, but the last standard on the shelf. Motherboard manufacturers will drop USB 3.0 on high-end boards as soon as chipsets are available (even if devices aren't), but FireWire ports are considerably harder to come by.

That's not to say they don't exist, but FireWire 400 is easier to find than FireWire 800 (except on Macs), and the number of available ports is typically limited to 1-2, even on a high-end motherboard. USB 2.0 ports, on the other hand, are plentiful, with most boards offering 8-12 in some combination of included ports and onboard headers. The peripheral interconnect field is also more crowded now, and S1600/S3200 will have to compete against eSATA, as well.

Daring to mention USB 2.0's dominance over FireWire inevitably brings the standard's defenders out of the woodwork, and to be fair, FireWire has always been the more technologically-advanced standard, with its faster transfer speeds, lower CPU utilization, and the ability to provide more power to attached devices (devices that can run off a single FireWire port could well require two USB ports). These advantages, however, have never managed to overcome USB 2.0's general popularity, and FireWire remains a niche interface outside certain peripheral markets (i.e., video cameras), where it has always done well, and Macintosh computers.

Broad market penetration notwithstanding, the appearance of a faster FireWire standard will be warmly greeted by anyone frustrated by FireWire 800 transfer speeds who doesn't want to deal with the potential hassles of USB 3.0.

Microsoft: number of 64-bit Vista PCs doubled in three months

Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not control the hardware that its software runs on. This means that Apple can more easily move all its users to an x64 operating system: all Macs currently have 64-bit CPUs, and Snow Leopard is rumored to be a 64-bit-only release. Windows 7, on the other hand, will still be released in x86 and x64. Microsoft would prefer not to make Windows 7 available on computers with 32-bit CPUs (indeed, Windows 7 Server will be x64-only), but the decision is driven by software compatibility demands. HangZhou Night Net

Many businesses still use 16-bit applications, which cannot run on a 64-bit operating system, or have 32-bit applications that for one reason or another don't run properly in an x64 environment. Few software developers offer x64 programs, and Microsoft doesn't want to hurry them up; the software giant wants the industry to make the move by itself. Apparently, this has already started. On the Windows Vista Team Blog, Microsoft has posted details of how the PC industry is moving from 32-bit to 64-bit PCs:

We've been tracking the change by looking at the percentage of 64bit PCs connecting to Windows Update, and have seen a dramatic increase in recent months. The installed base of 64bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the US in the last three months, while worldwide adoption has more than doubled during the same period. Another view shows that 20 percent of new Windows Vista PCs in the US connecting to Windows Update in June were 64bit PCs, up from just 3 percent in March. Put more simply, usage of 64bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32bit.

This rapid growth may appear to have come from nowhere, but on closer inspection, it hasn’t. The major advantages of running a 64-bit installation of Vista is the ability to use 4GB or more of RAM and to use 64-bit applications. Although 32-bit operating systems can use more than 4GB of memory, for compatibility reasons MS limits 32-bit desktop OSes to 4GB. Prices for RAM have fallen, however, and OEMs are offering PCs with 4GB of RAM and more, forcing the switch to 64-bit Windows. The realization that Vista x64 has significantly superior compatibility to XP x64 is also starting to sink in. In Vista, 64-bit drivers are required for WHQL certification, and so many hardware manufacturers that were previously ignoring x64 have finally started to release x64 drivers.

Microsoft is also playing its part in the move to 64-bit. In addition to its 64-bit ready webpage, the company recently launched the Windows Vista Compatibility Center into beta phase, which will tell users whether a given product is 64-bit-compatible or not. x64 is clearly the future. If Redmond does indeed follow through with its decision to offer x86 and x64 versions of Windows 7 (and there's no indication that it won't), the company should at least make the effort to get OEMs to offer x64 by default on systems that can run it.

Further readingWindows Vista Team Blog: Windows Vista 64-bit Today