Don't Count Linux Netbooks Out
The announcement last week of a Linux-based smartbook from Lenovo was just one of several signs I'm seeing that Linux will maintain a foothold in emerging portable computing categories, including netbooks and smartbooks. Many people predicted that, with the arrival of Windows 7, which is squarely aimed at netbooks, Linux would fade on low-cost portable computing platforms. Here are several reasons why that is probably not going to happen.
Preston Gralla recently made the good points that Windows 7 Starter edition is going on many new netbooks, and it's both a stripped-down version of the operating system, and carries an $80 upgrade fee if a user wants to go to the full version of Windows 7. He also notes:
"Computerworld just published the results of a survey from the shopping site Retrevo.com, which found that 61% of people don't know that there's a difference between Windows 7 and the Windows 7 Starter Edition — and that 56% of those who then found out the differences between the two said they would not be happy with Starter Edition."
There is also research from ABI predicting that 32 percent of netbook users worldwide will choose lower-cost Linux netbooks, many of them running ARM processors, over Windows systems. I find a third of the market for netbooks to be a bit of a tough goal for Linux, but I have to agree that low-cost netbooks are emerging as what One Laptop Per Child systems were meant to be: affordable choices for many people around the world. Linux and open source applications are the right choices for many of those folks.
One other thing to note is that it looks like Google's Chrome OS is just around the corner. It has a Linux core, and netbooks are the primary target for the OS. Linux has never had a huge stronghold on desktops, but on emerging portable platforms, there are still strong signs that it can do well. Let's hope it does.