Intel on Tuesday took a step in bringing application stores to netbooks, announcing a program that will help developers build applications for mobile devices.
The chip maker's Atom Developer Program will help developers optimize and port existing programs for use on mobile devices based on the Atom processor, said Intel CEO Paul Otellini in a keynote speech at the Intel Developer Conference in San Francisco. The program will also provide tools and software development kits to write applications that could be sold through app stores, he said.
The developer program will initially offer tools to write programs for netbooks based on the Atom chip. Later on, the company will extend the program for application development around mobile devices with smaller screens, like smartphones and mobile Internet devices.
Intel is working with companies like Acer, Asustek Computer and Dell to create storefronts where developers can sell applications, Otellini said. The program is designed to promote application development for multiple operating systems.
Each PC maker will announce launch dates for their application storefronts, an Intel spokesman said on Tuesday.
Netbook usage has increased over the past two years. New applications, however, could help broaden the way the devices are used, Otellini said.
Otellini said Intel wanted to provide tools for developers to write programs that ran "seamlessly" across multiple devices. Programs would need to be written once, and the application would run on many devices.
The move is an effort by Intel to expand its software ecosystem around mobile devices. The company has a strong position in mainstream PCs and servers based on x86 chips, but needs to push more software in mobile devices to expand its presence in that market.
Intel also wants to provide a way for developers to monetize applications they write, Otellini said.
Apple popularized the concept of an application store, where iPhone users can shop for, buy and download applications directly from their phones. Developers are eager to build products for the platform since some have earned significant revenue after selling popular applications. Now, Nokia, Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Google's Android phones all have app stores.
The move toward building app stores for netbooks signifies a potentially fundamental shift in the economics of the PC market that could give Linux a leg up and threaten Windows, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.
"You can't run your own app store if you're dependent on Windows," he said.
He said that he can't imagine Microsoft opening an application store without asking developers for a share of their sales, similar to the app store model on mobile phones. It would be unlikely, however, that an application developer like Adobe, for example, would agree to hand over 30 percent of revenue to Microsoft for the opportunity to sell its software in a Windows store, Zemlin said. But that's the current model for app stores in the mobile market, as first defined by Apple. Most mobile app stores deliver 70 percent of the price of an application to the developer and the rest goes to the platform provider, like Apple.
Also, the app stores would most logically be designed and run by the netbook hardware vendors, further complicating any potential revenue split.
"So the only OS in netbooks and the mobile space that can succeed is one that allows them to create their own app store with their own branded experience ... and that's Linux," Zemlin said. Microsoft has designed an application store for Windows Mobile phones that will split revenue with developers in a similar cut as with the iPhone store, but its adoption has seen some resistance from mobile providers.
Intel has already put its weight behind the development of Moblin 2.0, a lightweight, Linux-based operating system for netbooks that is in beta. During Otellini's keynote, an Intel representative demonstrated Moblin 2.1, which is scheduled for release next year. The interface of the new OS had small icons connecting to Web-based applications, though further details about the OS were not provided. Further details of the OS are expected to be released during the show, an Intel spokesman said.
IDF goes on through Thursday.
(Nancy Gohring of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.)