Are netbooks making Linux more mainstream?
Ever since the netbooks (UMPCs, ultraportables and whatever else they call them) came into the market, Linux has had its share of exposures to the mainstream consumers. They’ve been received well, IMO, but the question remains — are the netbooks really making Linux more mainstream?
I can’t be sure but after some observations in the way the netbook manufacturers are behaving as well as how consumers are reacting to the variety of OSes, all I’m getting are mixed signals.
So okay, here are the positive signs:
- First time laptop buyers will find the OS of these netbooks more acceptable than those who are already own a laptop before. This is because expectations are lower and primary usage is mostly for internet surfing. The learning curve is low in that area (which can be primarily attributed to Firefox being more mainstream too).
- Netbooks, especially the first generation 7-inchers, are more perceived like a high-end PDA or cellphone rather than a portable PC (it also has to do with the pricing). Thus, the bundled OS becomes an integral component of the purchase. It’s like buying an internet rich capable phone — you either get a Symbian OS, a WinMo or a Linux OS — they all look and do the same things. As long as the primary features are there, the role of the OS becomes insignificant to the user.
- Linux OS runs faster, has a smaller footprint or disk usage and sometimes, more optimized to the configuration of the netbook (e.g. Acer Aspire One’s 8GB SSD or the Asus Eee PC 701 with 4GB of SSD). Because of these constraints, the array of OS options are reduced and more often it’s Microsoft Windows that’s always left out.
On the other hand, the leading OS in the PC market will not stand still and just watch.
- Microsoft pulled some strings and sacrificed its flagship OS, Windows Vista, and extended the life of Windows XP just to serve the netbook market. It’s a sacrifice that seemed to be paying off. Windows XP has become a staple option for newly released models.
- Intel Atom bumped the race for processing power and allowing some hope for Windows Vista to be a bearable option for newer model netbooks. Microsoft can then use its marketing prowess to gain leverage in sales and distribution.
- Developers are creating mods for the public to switch from Linux to Windows. This was actually the most surprising observation and I personally witnessed this. My Asus Eee PC 701 was switched from Xandros to Windows XP even if it meant I had to sacrifice more than 50% of my laptop’s storage capacity. Several other friends and people I know made the switch to XP. The “switch” is now the other way around! The “force” is really strong.
It has been reported that there’s an estimated 5 million netbooks shipped this year alone. As the netbooks gain more processing power, add more storage capacity and memory, they will slowly become the primary PC for most first-time buyers. And with that comes the idea that the preferred OS should be user-friendly (plug-and-play), familiar and above all, can run any popular software one can install. Windows XP will always to on top of mind and Linux a far second.