HP snubs Moblin, rolls out Mi Linux-Atom netbook

Sub-$300 Mini 110 features desktop HP built on top of Ubuntu

HP's new consumer-oriented Mini 110 netbook costs US$279.

HP's new consumer-oriented Mini 110 netbook costs US$279.

In a pre-emptive strike against the expected onslaught of ARM-based netbooks running Google Inc.'s Android operating system, Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday announced a new Intel Atom netbook that will run HP's custom version of Linux and cost just US$279 upon its debut.

The HP Mini 110 will avoid the Moblin Linux operating system developed by Intel Corp. andbacked by Novell Inc., in favor of the Mobile internet (Mi) desktop environment HP built on top of a Ubuntu Linux core, said Jonathan Kaye, director of marketing for consumer notebooks at HP.

The Mi interface is a smartphone-like user interface that bundles some simple apps such as mail, and uses large customizable icons for easier navigation. It was first offered late last year in the HP Mini 1000.

"We do think we offer a very simple experience for users that enables them to have this 'Internet snacking,'" Kaye said.

Those are similar benefits as touted by supporters of the Android OS that is emerging on smartphones today and is expected to debut in a number of netbooks in the second half of this year.

One Chinese maker, Guangzhou Skytone, has already announced its intention to release a 1.5-pound, $250 Android netbook using the ARM processor that is dominant on smartphones today. More announcements are expected from the Computex conference in Taipei next week.

But HP's 2.3-pound Mini 110, expected to be available in the U.S. as early as June 10 via the HP Direct Web site, will cost just $29 more than that, while sporting a faster Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz CPU.

Kaye declined to comment on how quickly HP could cut prices on the Mini 110 in order to match Android netbooks, which many predict will quickly dip to under $200.

Independent analyst Jack Gold called HP's custom Mi Linux "interesting," though he doesn't expect it -- or any other Linux distro, including Moblin and Android -- to gain dominant market share in the near term.

Highlighting HP's emphasis on fashion with its netbooks (the Mini 1000 came in a $699 version linked with fashion designer Vivienne Tam), the Mini 110 will come in black, pink and white, all with "swirl" designs. The latter two colors will be available to U.S. consumers on July 8.

HP is also bringing out an XP-based version of the Mini 110 that will cost $50 more, or $329. A new business-oriented netbook, the Mini 1101, also starts at $329 and will be available June 1. Both models will come with 10-inch LCD screens and in variety of solid-state or hard-disk drive options.

The business model will include a Broadcom "crystal" HD video decoding chip to offer "smooth, skid-free HD playback" at either 720p or 1080p resolutions, said Kaye. It will compete with netbooks such as Lenovo's newly announced S12, which comes with the optional Nvidia Ion chipset for better multimedia.

HP's Mini 1101 will come with software to automate synchronizing data between itself and a primary notebook or desktop PC.

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Eric Lai

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