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Netbooks forward or backward, Linux or WindowsJay Lyman, April 6, 2009 @ 4:13 pm ET
There was some netbook news to start off the week, including Microsoft’s claims of gains in this emerging market, continued buzz about Linux in the space and a bit of a Twitter discussion I kicked off on what is or is not a netbook.
First to address the market share claims from Microsoft and others. I would highlight that even though we typically have to read through an article or report a few paragraphs, we typically find out that Microsoft’s netbook boasting and market gains are limited to the U.S., where MS has arguably the most, if not too much, control. When considering the global market, Linux maintains its 30% market share by most accounts.
I believe we are not the only ones trying to define the netbook market. I wrote recently in a 451 Group report how Linux vendor Xandros says the netbook idea and form factor have been taken over by Microsoft and netbooks running Windows XP, which typically requires more memory and hard drive capacity or even a hard-disc drive. Xandros says netbooks were never intended to be simply smaller notebooks — instead they were intended to be a more mobile, faster-booting device to browse and do simple tasks on the Web. Microsoft Office on a netbook sounds like an oxymoron to me. In response, Xandros and other software and hardware vendors concur that manufacturers, particularly Asian manufacturers, resent that the netbook’s shape has been shifted by Microsoft and Windows XP. In response, they are readying a wave of faster, lighter, more energy-efficient netbooks that run Linux on ARM processors and cost even less money for consumers. Look for some of this to trickle out over the spring and summer, and come back-to-school and holiday shopping time, there will be some very cool innovations for consumers. My advice to them is to look forward with Linux, not backward with Windows.
Much of this does center on how the netbook is defined. As we consider the size, software and other requirements of a netbook definition, I would ask whether we are going to use that definition going forward, or looking backward?
Are we going to go forward, with flash drives that make netbooks truly more mobile devices, or will we go backward to more extended life for Windows XP and hard drives that, while delivering greater storage capacity, remain probably the largest single point of hardware failure in computers?
Will we go forward, with small devices capable of taking our keystrokes for writing and coding and playing our music and video, but which contain little of the software we need for our work and play, rather leaving that to the cloud computing infrastructures being built around us? Or will we go backward, with a limited number of applications that can run on board the smaller device?
Will we go forward, with new versions and updates to the netbook OS software we’re running for the latest desktop environments, integrated 3G wireless capabilities, faster boots, etc., or will we use an OS that has been declared dead by its maker, only to be brought back out to fill a market niche and need that was unforseen?
Sure Windows 7 may be coming and will likely be capable of running on netbooks. That’s true, but there is just as much likelihood, if not more, that another Linux version will be what truly catches on with netbooks. Maybe Ubuntu, Android, GoS or Xandros or maybe a derivative of these or another Linux that we don’t yet know about. The point is, there is just as much unknown potential in Linux as there is for Windows 7 when it comes to netbooks.
There’s one other key thing about Windows 7. Will it even be out and available by this fall? I’ll be interested to know when exactly we will see the first netbooks with Windows 7 and I’ll be anxious to try one out. However, there is no question we are going to see lots of Linux in the coming months, particularly outside of the U.S. For the time being, Linux looks like the way forward, while Windows takes us back to a computing experience we’ve already had.
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