It seems obvious, in light of Google's ( GOOG) Chrome operating system initiative, that Palm's ( PALM) plans for its WebOS software are much bigger than the Pre phone.

Here are three reasons Palm will push into the netbook market:
  • Laptops are shrinking to the size of, well, Palm tops.
  • Palm has dipped a toe here before with the ill-fated Foleo.
  • Smartphones and mini-notebooks are almost the same and, it's where all the action is.
  • The market for software to run next-generation mobile computing devices is surprisingly wide open. Microsoft ( MSFT), Apple ( AAPL), now Google and eventually Palm are leading the race to this space. And while the opportunity is huge, developing the right system, one that's light enough to run for nine hours but muscular enough to hoist several programs at one time, is the big challenge.

    Tech giants are approaching the target from different angles. Microsoft and Apple have to scale down computer operating systems, while Google and Palm have to beef up smartphone software.

    Linux software seems to fit the specs. The cheap, open-source, developer-friendly system is at the core of Google's Chrome plan, and it is the code inside Palm's WebOS.

    Analysts like Trip Chowdhry with Global Equities Research have proposed that Palm will make netbooks. And numerous bloggers have speculated that Palm will take another stab at the Foleo, a failed early netbook effort designed puzzlingly as a smartphone accessory.

    Palm was early and wrong the first time. But now it has a former Apple engineer heading the company and a budding success with a new WebOS operating system.

    You can probably expect Palm to be a force in this emerging smartbook trend.

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