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Netbook Apps Demand Dedicated Development Techniques

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Intel Software Network

Credit: Intel Corp.

In the short period since their appearance in 2007, netbooks have grown in size and features, with higher-end netbooks converging with new, smaller, lighter, power-saving notebooks. But netbooks aren't notebooks, and any developer who assumes there's no need to create applications differently when they enter the netbook space is dead wrong, experts say.

As a result of consumer demands, the typical netbook has evolved from a device with a 7-inch screen and a small, solid-state hard drive to a model which can sport a 10-inch screen, a 160-gigabyte hard drive, and 1 Gbyte of memory. However, the user experience is such that developers, like Gastón Hillar, strongly recommend spending time with a netbook before plunging into application development. Experience the hardware first, he insists.

Hillar, a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based indie developer who specializes in creating apps for netbooks, says that while netbooks may have adequate 1,024 x 600 screen resolutions, the smaller-sized screens demand different font sizes and icons more akin to those on iPhones and iPods than notebooks and PCs. Inappropriately designed apps — which might utilize an abundance of buttons and menus that work fine on a desktop or notebook — may run on a netbook but will display an annoying number of scrollbars.

Similarly, he says, the netbook keyboard — because of its smaller size — doesn't lend itself to apps that require a lot of user input.

"Somebody said that netbooks are notebooks optimized for consuming, not creating content," agrees Oleg Noskov, director of software development at New York City-based Xandros Inc., which builds netbook apps. "Netbooks are superb tools for anything related to social networking, recording video, chatting, or instant messaging. But you don't want to think about creating PowerPoints or Web pages on a netbook. The nature of the apps that people write for netbooks ought to be closer to that of an iPhone than a PC."

In addition, Noskov says, the netbook is unforgiving when it comes to sloppy code that might function fine on a desktop with its abundant resources. "But netbooks demand clean code, better code or the application will suffer," he says.

At Intel, which recently launched its Atom Development Program to help developers build and sell netbook apps, Bill Pearson says developers ought to steer clear of applications with financial or scientific calculations that require powerful processors.

"If your netbook utilizes an Atom processor, you don't want to create something that uses a lot of processor resources," says Pearson, manager of the Intel Software Network team. "You'll get much better results from lightweight apps, such as casual games or lifestyle or educational applications."

There is one thing on which experts agree — the netbook space is developing quickly and today's applications need to be scaleable to adapt to tomorrow's hardware.

"If you start your application today and finish it next year, you don't want to be stuck with a program that is outdated before it's on the market," advises Xandros' Noskov. "Things are changing so much faster in netbooks than in notebooks or PCs. The right design or technology choice today may help you as a developer to survive any rapid changes in the landscape."

Paul Hyman was editor-in-chief of several hi-tech publications at CMP Media, including Electronic Buyers’ News.


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