Mobile Internet devices (MIDs) have been the focus of much work and talk from chip giant Intel, which says its Atom processor will fit nicely into these smaller devices. In a recent interview with the AP, Intel chief Paul Otellini says MIDs favor Linux. I’ve written previously about the opportunities for Linux in the growing device category ranging from these MIDs to ‘subnotebooks,’ ‘UMPCs’ ‘netbooks’ or whatever other name we analysts come up with next week. No one can be sure what form factor (or name) would best carry Linux to a significant portion of the mainstream PC market, but I agree whole-heartedly with Otellini’s view that the driver here is cost. Linux is serving not only as the OS for end users, but it is increasingly the choice and focus of OEMs and ISVs. Consider Linux player Wind River’s recent partnership with Intel to produce a Moblin-based Linux specifically for Intel’s Atom and MIDs.
Our ongoing research here at 451 continues to indicate that cost is the main driver for free and open source software in the enterprise. Otellini points out that much of the attraction of the MID and netbook categories is, similarly, cost. The Intel CEO describes a zest among consumers of these new devices that he has not seen in a long time. With devices such as the Asus EeePC, Everex CloudBook, new Acer Apire One available for $400-$500, it’s clear that cost is a big motivator for consumers, too. Some see this market limited to niche, pointing out these manufacturers and limited features will not win out over larger PC vendors and greater functionality. However, we see others getting into the game, including Dell, which already supports Linux on some notebook PCs, and HP, which recently rolled out a Linux-based 2133 Mini Note UMPC for education. The use of these netbooks in a thin-client desktop deployment — increasingly the case in educational and enterprise settings — also highlights how the limited functionality may be mitigated by new desktop paradigms, particularly considering virtualization.
Sure, mainstream cusomers will still have a choice of WindowsXP, and perhaps it will be offered to consumers at the same or lower cost to the more-established Linux. However, since manufacturers are able to spend more elsewhere, such as greater memory in the Linux version, it has a technical and economic edge in the development and end user aspects of these devices. The benefits of Linux apply not only to the end users, but also to manufacturers, as Intel’s Otellini attests. Given its continued momentum, you can see how the open source OS would play a prominent role in what Otellini describes as ‘the evolution of the handset,’ which he sees centered on Linux.