back to article Concerted Linux-netbook effort needed to beat Microsoft

When it comes to Linux netbooks, PC manufacturers should act more like cell-phone makers and telcos by selling customized and subsidized machines with online services. That's according to Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin who believes the Linux netbook market is not realizing its full potential, because those …


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  1. Goat Jam

    A Certain Path to Epic Fail

    There is no way that you can sell subsidised hardware running linux unless you find a way to lock the hardware down so hard that the OS cannot be fiddled with or changed at all.

    The problem then is that you can't update the device to patch it for errors or new functionality.

    Give the average Linux hacker the slightest hole to poke through and suddenly you'll find that your subsidised devices are flying out the door based on their subsidised cheapness and uber hackworthiness and will never actually be used on the service that is providing the subsidy.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    You gotta wunder

    when the only positive selling point of a linux based netbook is that it is cheaper than a Windows XP version of the same kit.

    How many of those linux based ones will be returned to vendors as "ooo 'eck!" type purchases?

  3. aL


    didnt asus do this already?

    everyone just installed xp on 'em and where on their merry way..

  4. Timo

    hmm... FAIL

    So that should mean that Lindows/Linspire should do just great.

    Wasn't their trick that you bought the software for 100 bucks and then were able to go to their app cache/store and download whatever you wanted (as long as it ran on Linux). Pretty much like what Ubuntu does today for free? And they were selling low-spec, cheap machines at Walmart even?

    Maybe my memory is failing, it definitely seems that they haven't taken over the world by now or they would be more obvious. Is Lindows/Linspire still around?

  5. J
    Paris Hilton

    Might work...

    ...but I doubt it.

    Linux will not dominate in the netbooks because people are stupid and/or lazy. The fact that most netbooks now ship with XP proves that. I don't see how anyone *needs* XP on a netbook -- none of the excuses about not being able to run Photoshop or CAD or games or whatever apply here; for what netbooks are (or originally were?) supposed to do, anything works. Might be my lack of imagination. But people want XP anyway, so they are getting it. And will keep getting it, and the Linux netbooks will become as common as the models Dell sells with Ubuntu, for instance (every time I look there one less, or less options to customize). That's how it works, unfortunately.

    Not that I care much, but why not waste some time here?

  6. kain preacher

    Locking down the hard ware

    Seems like this would just piss off the people its targeted at .

  7. Tam Lin

    I hate Windows ...

    ... but I want it on all my Laptops and Notepads. An OS it isn't, yet Windows makes the best graphical OpenSSH terminal host. Excellent fonts. Access remote computers or visualize OpenBSD in 64MB of RAM for normal development and testing. Multi-year updates without application lock-in. Thumbdrive OpenBSD when you need a real OS. Test the browsers or other programs most of your users will be stuck with. Hassle-free resale or hand-me-down value. Did I mention the fonts?

  8. P. Lee


    Are sold too much on "cheap".

    Only Apple's Air is really doing it right. Attractive hardware with differentiating software, though it is too expensive, presumably to prevent it from cannibalising Apple's notebook sales. It is also the opposite of the OSS model and the majority of netbooks. They're all homogeneous cheap junky stuff.

    If I were a hardware manufacturer, I'd invest in (1) differentiated hardware and (2) linux-based proprietary software with a plug-in framework which allows OSS people to add their apps.

    I'd sell it to ISPs to pair with their contract-provided ADSL routers so it could be subsidised. It has to be different enough that people don't think of it as a PC. Otherwise they'll be disappointed and try to install XP on it. They'll probably be disappointed with that too, but then there will be no-where else to go.

    It needs webcam, good mic/speakers, email, skype/voip, facebook and ebay and good mobile telephone sync'ing (bluetooth) and also a high-power infra-red port so it can be a remote control. SMS via your mobile or built-in 3g/2g mobile phone or wifi to ISP system should be available. You need to be able to sync a calendar and addressbooks with other PCs but maintain a local cache if they are not available. Oh yes and it needs a non-pop3 mail service so it doesn't swipe your emails off the server. IMAP or something else (webmail?) please.

    I guess the main problem is that if you've done all this, the cost of changing the hardware to notebook spec is negligible.

  9. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    It could work, maybe...

    @Goat, this wouldn't have to be an issue. The cell cos here in the US sell a phone at a subsidized price (as low as "free" or even some cash back) in exchange for a 2-year contract. They don't care if you even use that phone or just sell it off (I think it has to be activated once, even if just for a minute, to formally indicate acceptance of contract extension and get the discounts.) In other words, they won't care how you use it, they get the early termination fee from the customer if they just buy it and don't keep the plan that goes with it. The tendency is for the cell cos to customize (i.e. lock down) phones pretty hard, while PDAs might just get a preinstalled app or two maybe. I expect netbooks to be treated more like PDAs than phones.

    @J, I've read recently how the Mini 9 is racking up 33% Linux sales (and, Dell also said the return rate was similar between Ubuntu and Windows Mini 9s.) I've read the unfortunate state of netbooks in UK, where almost all the models that are supposed to have Linux available don't for some reason. If Dell starts removing the Linux models in the US, they've lost my sale, I will no longer buy ANYTHING with a Microsoft license attached to it. If the Linux or clean systems drop back off the market I'll either 1) whitebox it (build a machine from scratch) or 2) Buy a system, return all licenses. I WILL play hardball and return the entire system if the license refunds are refused.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never found Linux viable

    Even though I've tried several versions of Linux, it never met my needs because:

    1. I don't have the time or interest in chasing all over to find the appropriate hardware drivers, patches, hacks, FUBAR deals

    2. Tech Support is basically non-existent or completely incompetent for non-server use

    3. It's impossible to find software that will allow you to accurate import exisitng Microsucks program data to a viable Linux alternative program

    4. Linux is a server distro converted for PC use and Linux geeks have little clue what PC users require of an O/S

    5. Re-training people to use an oddball Linux distro is expensive and time consuming

    So as defect ridden as every version of Microsucks Windoze and Vista is, many consumers are stuck using this crap because the Linux folks just can't get their act together.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I tend to avoid running Linux specifically to avoid being part of a community of people who assume that NOT running Linux makes you "stupid and lazy".

  12. vincent himpe


    netbook. like surf the internet ? sorry bub. you need internet explorer there ... or firefox on windows , or opera.. half of the 'popular' websites for joe average don;t work well on linux ... no activex , flash doesnt work and a ton of other plugins don't work either ....

    so that would be eh .. pretty uselees now wouldn't it ?

    I always wondered why the people that pump all this effort in linux don't write a windows clone that exposes the entire windows API so you could run any existing windows application but on a bulletproof core.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Lemmings all...

    Put a Windows theme on an X windows manager and they won't know the difference. There is a person I deal with now who simply MUST have Outlook on his PC... no good reason, he's just used to how it looks. If I put Evolution in front of him he's happy because it looks like Outlook.

    What's even weirder are the people who whine and complain that Open Office is "too different" from MS Office 2003, "It doesn't look the same!" is the common complaint, then they install MS Office 2007. Do they complain that it is different? Noooooo. Stupid people.

  14. Richard L


    "Linux will not dominate in the netbooks because people are stupid and/or lazy"

    Possibly, or because MS has woken up and allowed XP to be licenced.

    My wife has an Acer netbook that shipped with XP. She was delighted as she hates Vista with a vengance after seeing it slow down another laptop and forcing her to do things differently. She doesn't give a damn about Linux.

    She didn't *need* XP, arguably she didn't *need* a netbook, but it was she *wanted*.

    She only uses it for some office documents, web surfing, music, and some mild photo editing.

    All of this could be done under Linux, but really, why bother.

    If it had been me, I'd have gone for a Linux option as I'd have enjoyed playing with a new O/S, but it was her computer.

    Why is it stupid or lazy to pick the option that meets the users requirements?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Doesn't this imply lock in?

    Something that goes against software freedom principles? This really does have FAIL written all over it.

  16. faibistes


    Zonbu has been doing that for a while. It hasn't failed, but they have dropped the model in some way. They used to subsidize the machines (a minipc, quite like the mac mini - silent and all, for 100$ IIRC) but tie you to a service plan. And the service plan isn't quite pointless, as it includes seamless network storage and support.

    Anyway, they have changed their minds and charge less for the service and offer machines at a standard price.

    I guess you can't count on people keeping paying for the service. How do you enforce them to return the machine?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Aren't the mobile operators doing it already...

    ...with all the "free netbook with our 3G dongle" deals. The ones where the larger monthly subscription just happens to be the price of the netbook over too years so for now I'd rather buy the netbook outright.

    The real problem for Linux is that a lot of Netbook buyers aren't the most computer literate of people. My wife is not a Linux fan and so the Windows 7 beta has made it's way on to our HP 2133 to replace the pre-installed SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. And those who scoff at the idea of Windows 7 on a Via C-7, it's actually fast enough to do the kind of workload you expect to use a netbook for.

    Where's a dead Tux icon when you need one?

  18. LPF
    Paris Hilton

    The reason for XP

    Is that the companies needed to justify raising the the prices and earning soem money on these

    things. Sorry but I used the old asus eee with the linux op on it and it was fine, fast responsive, and people had no problem using it.

    The only reason I can see for XP being used so much now and companies refusing to install Linux

    is because certain people may have had words in peoples ears.

    Everyone says they kept getting return for linux netbooks, yet no one has ever released figures on

    this , and now it seems to have become accepted fact.

    The price of windows XP has seen the price of netbooks rise, once they get nearer laptop prices

    you will see it tail off,the sweet pot for me is £200 - £220 max

    I mean in the eand we are talking about a machine with a very small screen, what full blown fits

    and is useful on a netbook, that had no equiv in linux. Unless there are people with a burning

    need to use autocad on a net book, makes no sense, just my two pennies :D

  19. Paul

    Not lazy just want what they are used to

    I would counter the argument that people buy XP on netbooks because they are stupid and/or lazy. They buy it on netbooks because it is what they are used to on a computer and it it what they have learnt to use. To try and get someone to use a new interface to what they are used to you that theyt will have to take time to get used to you have to provide a compelling argument and I can't see what that is in this case. Being 20 quid cheaper is not a compelling argument.

  20. Anonymous Coward


    "Linux will not dominate in the netbooks because people are stupid and/or lazy."

    Or maybe they use a full blown PC at home and don't want to fuck around trying to work out how the hell to connect the two together /mount /umount, edit this file, alter this line?

    Or even simpler, maybe they don't like Linux...I know that is blasphemy to some, but maybe some people just don't like it, scary thing, choice.

  21. Richard
    Gates Horns

    Herein lies the problem

    "According to Zemlin, companies could soon make their money back during the lifetime of any contract sold along with a netbook."

    If we're comparing to the mobile market, the subsidy is to draw you into paying extortionate rates on phone calls or rather, extortionate rates per month on "free" minutes and the like that you're not going to use. So what kind of contracts could possibly be the basis for subsidising netbooks?

    A killer application that only runs on Linux? Chances are that someone will produce a rough and ready clone fairly quickly if said app is paid-for, and if it's not paid-for then it isn't going to produce any money with which to do subsidies.

    Some kind of service? Pretty much the only one that fits the bill with regards netbooks are ISPs, and they'd have to produce a spectacularly opaque contract that would get torn to shreds by the likes of this site before you can say "Muppet pays extra £50/Gb just to get a dinky computer".

    Can't see it happening...

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Won't happen until the EU step in

    This won't happen because Microsoft will use their muscle to threaten the OEMs with higher prices unless they drop the Linux version or offer the Windows version at a cheaper price. This is already happening and is why several OEMs have already dropped the Linux version, because of pressure from Microsoft.

    Until the EU starts investigating Microsoft for their illegal business practices and their abuse of their monopoly position with regards to installs of their crap software then you cannot expect Linux to take a dominant position, or even increase market share.

  23. Gerry
    Thumb Up

    Strange to see ...

    ... Dell Mini being advertised in a mass readership daily paper (London Lite, I believe) for £199.00 with Ubuntu installed. This is progress. Seen it advertised online without a mention of Windoze.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Stupid NOT to run Linux...

    The restricted energy, size, and price specifications of the netbook platform requires an operating system which is well-designed, efficient, secure, robust, low-cost, and customizable for restricted screen size and mobility. Windows operating systems can at most satisfy one or two of these requirements: constant security problems point to poor design and security, XP is quire efficient when new, but rapidly becomes less so; Vista won't work, Win 7 will be disabled to only run 3 programs (in other words, useless for most people who run antivirus). Another problem with Windows is that running antivirus scanners slows netbooks down (so many people do not install antivirus...). Linux, on the other hand, is free or nearly so, and fulfils all there requirements; it is a natural fit for netbooks.

    I considered the security of my identity, data, and banking transactions well worth the 15 minutes it took to familiarize myself with Ubuntu Linux. I think more people will begin to see the benefits of loading a user-friendly Linux (like Ubuntu) on their home systems the next time their Microsoft Windows systems crash or fall victim to another virus/trojan attack.

  25. Simon

    I could be wrong but....

    Calling people stupid just because they want XP instead of Linux on a computer is not the best way of winning converts.

    People will move over to Linux as, when and if there is a compelling reason to. The fact is that Windows work sufficiently well enough to keep people happy. When that changes, then people will look else where.

    This kind of rabid linux fandom really is dumb and counter productive.

  26. John Curry


    ...that it's not necessarily stupidity or laziness that means people stick with XP.

    I bought a second hand Advent 4211 (which I absolutely love), and had never really investigated Linux. I initially tried Mandriva. Didn't work. Wouldn't boot. Decided to try Ubuntu, and really liked the look and feel of it. Didn't work with wireless card though. I'm not massively technical but decided to take the plunge and install a new wireless card. Got it up an running, and absolutely loved it. For about 5 minutes.

    The bootup time is longer than XP, which was a bit of a bummer considering that I'd read everywhere that Linux is faster, speedier than "slow and cumbersome" XP. I found the network manager somehow just disconnected itself every 4-5 mins, so my mobile broadband connection died frequently, a problem I don't get with XP.

    The OS itself also wasn't amazingly stable, nor were the apps. Firefox regularly would t recognize my Internet connection, and the supplied media player was terrible. Skipped songs, slow to load, frequent crashes. I also can't easily connect my iPhone to it, or use any of my music production or web design software that I've paid several hundred pounds for.

    So, I stuck and extra gig of RAM in, and went back to XP (which was no easy task in itself as removing Ubuntu borked my boot MBR thing for several days, and Ubuntu had overwritten my harddrive recovery partition without my say so. )

    I'd absolutely love to move to Linux, but simply don't see the point at present. I'd really, ideally like to have a dual boot system with XP as my main OS, but with a pared down EEE style Linux that can boot in 20 secs or so and have me browsing with my mobile broadband or wireless connection.

    Until then, it'll be XP all the way, even though I'll happily check out new iterations of Ubuntu etc etc.

  27. Tim Roberts

    no need to spend lots of money on a "laptop"

    I bought an eePC for my daughter - last year of high school - two weeks ago. It runs linux .... open office etc...and had no HD, but is quite adequate for what she needs for day to day stuff. She tells me that her friends thought she had brought a toy to school until she showed them what it can do. And the best thing is that it was AU$315 not AU$1200+ which is what the laptops that her friends have. To my way of thinking she can "lose" 4 of these little beauties before I'm out of pocket to the same extent as the parents of her friends. There is no good reson that I can think of to have anything else in a school bag. At home, well that's a different matter as you need whatever is appropriate for the software that you want to run. In my daughters case she uses Sibelius for her music. So, she runs that at home and not on her "laptop'

    Tim R

  28. Cameron Colley


    I agree. Though I think Asus messed up by putting such a locked-down looking version of Linux on the Eee -- I know it contains all that people should need but it looks cheap and can't help the image of Linux. If they'd have used one of the 'buntus, for example, I think less people would have rushed to install XP.

  29. jeffrey


    Everyone I know who has bough Acer Aspire ones or EEEEEEEEEEEpc's has gone for the cheapest linux version that satisfies their needs, and then formated and installed XP. Subsidising linux is unlikely to stop this, so someone somewhere would be losing money. I'm not saying linux is a bad product, I use some heavily customised distros for certain things and for that job they are perfect, but a large % of the general public (and even quite a lot of IT knowledgable people) will want XP because they are used to it, it works well and the programs/toolchains they want to run are well developed on XP

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Won't work

    Linux is a dead duck for the desktop, it barely registers 1% penetration. On the server side things are better, but still not great (circa 33%).

    Users want an OS that is an appliance. That just works. They do not want to go to a terminal, compile their drivers, join their LUG, learn the TCP/IP protocol, IP tables, have to write custom scripts for simple tasks that really should have a UI (e.g. managing the order of application launch on start-up) or do any of the other bull-crap you need to do with Linux (and before the fanbois bitch can I just say "OH YES YOU BLOODY WELL DO"; even on the great brown hope that is Ubuntu).

    The Linux world just does not get it. They expect everyone to have the time (and interest!) to learn about the heart of the OS. Here's a clue people - no one gives a shit.

    The average user does not give two damns how it works, they just want it to work. This elitist ("STFU and RTFM, noob"), uber-geek attitude of the Linux world is its downfall. You can see it here "Linux will not dominate in the netbooks because people are stupid and/or lazy." etc. Can all the Lintards calling people stupid/lazy strip their car engine? Why not? Are you too stupid/lazy to do it? People are not stupid/lazy, they just have other priorities in their life, that is all. They view the computer the same way you view your car. A utilitarian device, nothing more.

    This is why Linux hardware does not ship (all the experiments have failed). This is why netbooks are returned for the "upgrade" to XP. This is why netbook manufacturers are all dropping Linux as an OS.

    If you want to be a geek and learn the guts of an OS, good for you. If you just want to get on with your life, then body swerve the whole Linux arena and stick with an OS that lets you get your job done.

    Paris, because she likes plug and play.

  31. GrantK

    Maybe - Maybe not

    If you have to resort to gimmics to sell it, it ain't good enough (that goes for MS too)

    Mines the one with a 13' Macbook in the one pocket and an iPhone in the other (after many years of them being full of junk)

  32. Steve
    Thumb Down

    Outdated business model

    Did he seriously just claim that 'selling things for a profit' is an outdated business model.

    Sure, there are alternatives, but selling stuff for a profit is the basis of nearly every viable business model, it's not outdated, it's the central paradigm of capitalism.

  33. Roger Jenkins

    A problem using Linux

    I am a XP user who has flirted with Linux on and off for many years. I have had many problems with Linux but the main one has been functionality. It's really a simple thing, I use MSN/Live to chat with relatives overseas. We like to use video chat. Yes, I have done it with Linux but boy the hoops I had to jump through.

    Windows? Download MSN and use it, easy.

    I can see netbook owners wanting such simple functions available on their machines.

    If netbooks could be preloaded with simple everyday applications and those functions are easily initiated with a one/two click icon found on the desktop, then and only then would Linux be a viable option, to me at least.

    My point is, if Linux netbooks were offered to users at a subsidised price then you need to ensure that there are sufficient, easily invoked functions available to the user that they don't feel the need to install XP etc. in its place.

    ps. It's pointless for Linux users to point out to me that it's really easy to use a cam on Linux and that all you need do is download XYZ and make a script change to config script and run gclop then dblag and it's all set ready to go. It isn't easy, downloading MSN from Microsoft, installing it and double clicking an icon on the desktop is easy.

    @J I am neither stupid nor lazy but after ploughing my way through the DOS/CPM era into early Windows etc. I really don't find researching all the LInux help a challenge anymore, I find it a totally needless chore and am not prepared to waste my time doing it just so that I don't have to use easy simple Windows.

  34. Toastan Buttar

    Breaking business models

    "The thing Google can do on a grand scale is customize software and break business models,"

    Yeah, like running a Web 2.0 video site where users upload videos featuring their favourite pop music tracks. I guess that's yet another 'broken business model'.

  35. Nick Roberts


    Sorry, you're wrong; I bought a netbook specifically to run Photoshop - well, Lightroom and/or Elements, actually. I wanted something very small that I can use in the field - literally - and can upload pics to a website from that same field. A number of other people I know do likewise. XP fits the bill perfectly, and Linux lives happily (in the guise of Android) on the device I have that does what I think you think a netbook is limited to.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Hello Mr Clueless...

    If this is the extent of Zemlin's thinking on this then he need to go back and do some more. Other than mobile broadband (which is already being done) exactly what services _are_ they going to use to reduce the costs of the hardware? Can't see many folks being impressed with enforced advertising etc.

    Nope, if Linux is going to be able to hold off Windows 7 (which is the real threat, not XP) then the Linux netbook 'experience' is going to have to get better. For example where's equivalent to the 'gee, wow!" factor that you get doing zooming/panning etc on an iPod Touch/iPhone on Linplus et al? The easiest win here (as far as I can tell) would be to make a device that booted and shutdown a good deal faster than is currently the case (that said I've not tried a tailored Ubuntu Netbook remix yet). People are naturally impatient, so this surely is a feature that all would appreciate?

    Personally, I can't see the netbook fashion lasting that much longer. Mainly because they've stopped being small, light and - above all - cheap devices and are morphing into 'Laptop Jr'. Maybe it's just my jaded perception, but in addition the Linux-based ones seem to have increased in price a heck of a lot more than their Windows-based bretheren. Back when I bought mine I could get a basic model for about US$250, now it's passed US$350 for the equivalent and the price is still going up.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    reminds me of the fail loop

  38. Tony Humphreys

    Why look like XP?

    One thing that I cant understand is why Asus bundled the distro that they do, its awful and looks so cheap and homemade. There is an alternitave - eeebuntu, much better, looks professional, much more intuitive and has a mac feel to it.

    It has more features, and 100 times better. I was ready to install XP on my asus until I found out about it, now, I have no need.

  39. The BigYin


    If the subsidy is based on the monthly contract charge then if the device is hacked to buggery, who cares? The telco/provider still gets their money. If the subsidy is based on projected network usage, and the device is hacked, then yes; problems are afoot.

    But so what - people can unlock their phones and use a different network. Same issue and it doesn't seem to have done anyone any harm. So it could be a goer - the only thing that will stop people is the prohibitive cost. £300 for a SCC, then £30 (or whatever - you going to do a round-up of deal El Reg?) for a data contract over 18 months means....paying at least £47 a month. Ouchie.

    I have been playing with Linux of late, and it is very capable (in some ways better than Windows, in other it still has catching up to do). I would like to see it succeed, not out of fandom but because it will force MS to raise their game. Competition is good etc.

    Unfortunately I think MS is going to crucify Linux on the netbook unless they find a way to remove MS's strangle hold over the OEMs for licensing etc. Maybe the EU can come to the rescue?

  40. The Dark Lord

    They can't even give it away!

    Seriously, this is whining of the first degree. How can you support a product which people won't take even if it's free? The argument about web APIs seems really unclear: are they saying that the device needs this mobile-phone-type trickery to be a viable user ownership prospect? Or is it simply that Linux is of lower value than Windows XP?

    Personally, I'm going to be buying a netbook in the next couple of months. I actually WANT it to run Linux, in spite of (or probably because of) the technical challenges that poses. It's depressing that the choice is limited, and I'll be forced to rebuild the device as soon as I get it.

    But whining for subsidy from the <strike>evil empire</strike> notable beneficiary Google is simply not going to cut it as a business/promotion model.

  41. N1AK


    "But people want XP anyway, so they are getting it."

    You are right, but they are getting it at a massively discounted price which at least to me seems like Linux is providing a big benefit by competing. Netbooks aside from being truely portable PCs also lowered bottom end of the laptop price range. In the UK I can pick up a functional netbook for £100 refurbished and a perfectly adequate machine for under £200, at this price range Microsoft has to price Windows and Office incredibly low to compete.

    Microsoft is a massive company, entrenched as the dominant player in a market that is adverse to change. There isn't going to be a sudden shift from Windows, but if Microsoft doesn't improve massively it will see its margins slashed over the next couple of years and without that steady income it will become harder for it to maintain its position by subsidizing.

  42. foo_bar_baz


    @Al: I'm installing Easy Peasy on my new Eepc, as Goat Jam postulates.

    Re. beating Microsoft:

    Obviously some companies are set to make out money from Linux adoption, but on a higher level I don't see why Linux should be pushed hard into the market place to compete with Microsoft. It doesn't matter whether netbook or navigator makers like TomTom adopt Linux or not.

    If regular netbook and PC users are more comfortable with Windows than they are with Linux, fair enough. That is no threat to those of us who like to use Linux. As development continues, there will be more like myself and maybe Linux usage will some day become more mainstream. That may take time, but it doesn't matter. Microsoft is no threat to Linux - you cannot kill OSS. The whole point of OSS software is that its value is in utility. An inferior OSS product deserves to die, but if it's useful it will get adopted and improved. You cannot kill it with market place shenanigans. Commercial vendors only have a game to lose and OSS only has a game to win.

    I still use both Windows and Linux, and would also use OSX if I had the spare cash. I found Linux on the desktop to be lacking when I first tried about 9 years ago, but continued to use it as a server. Now it has improved to the point where I've started using it on laptops and desktops. Did Linux suffer from me biding my time? No. Whereas a commercial company cannot last 10 years without paying customers, an OSS project can slowly mature without commercial pressures. Don't push, just wait and who knows where we'll be in another 10-20 years.

  43. John

    Or maybe...

    Use the unique way that Linux can be customised to build on the interfaces in the Ubuntu Netbook Remix and maybe the Acer Aspire One interface, these simple interfaces that don't look like a conventional desktop open the market to people who don't want or need a 'proper' laptop or netbook.

    I bought a couple Acer Aspires for the wife and I, and the Linpus interface is just perfect for her she didn't need the full capability of the machine, mine however was 'unlocked' in moments and openssh and other tools found there way on to it in minutes. Lets face it, 90% of users only want to IM, browse the web, email and maybe write up homework or letters, a attractive useable interface can sell it, and cheaply if the netbook makers will see sense and get the flipping price back down at least. These things were a success on price, some of them now are the price and 3/4 the size of a laptop.

    Use netbooks to target a different audience, I fully expect to get my lad one in a couple years as a 'homework' machine, something small he can get out when needed and nicely sized for kid. Techncal minded folks will get a full blown linux distro or even *spit* XP if they want. Mine now currently sports Ubuntu 8.10 which works fast as hell with XFCE desktop on, smashing :]

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    He has a point ....

    Take Asus.

    They invent the current netbook breed, have a 6 month (minimum) head start on the competition. But, critically, they didn't add much value to their original Linux customised offering.

    And where are they now? One of the also-rans, fighting it out on hardware features, with a confusing line up of models, whether they run XP or Linux. That strikes me as a big opportunity missed.

    Now, imagine if these machines had been branded and sold as Nokia-Google-Books; discounted in initial price, with the easy ability to add telco/streaming app/the whole monty. The public would have been seduced into buying into initial low price, and they would happily accept value added top-ups. It's something they are used to with mobiles. We would then be looking at a massive new branding phenomenon, and runaway success.

  45. Callum
    Paris Hilton

    window wiper

    @aL: I just got my "free" eee904HD from tmobile for signing up for another 24 months on my mobile broadband thingmie. I wiped Windows XP and put fedora linux on it - now it runs a lot faster and is now more like a little-laptop than a netbook. Of course, Fedora supports mobile broadband and the EEE with no configuration.

    It would have been a much better customer experience if tmobile had put their own skinned fedora (or whichever distro) that had full branding, documentation, extras for tmobile 3G users etc etc - just like the phones do. Sure, some will reinstall but many will just use the distro as is.

    I did click 'no' to the XP license - but it appears to do absolutely nothing - no information on where to revoke or claim back the XP license cost...

    Paris, cos she wouldn't say no.

  46. Doug Glass

    @ J

    Most people (read that as ill informed, rampant consumers) are sheep who are easily led to the desired purchasing point by slick marketing techniques. True needs and truth be damned, if it's "new and improved" chances are it gets bought. Witness the enormous amount of money spent on marketing alone. You can get numerous college degrees in the subject ... it's pretty much, now, a branch of behavioral science! What gets bought is not always the best product, it's what the marketing boys can convince people what they need to buy. Do you remember the 1984 Apple ad with the pretty young girl throwing the hammer? If not, here it is:

    This is modern marketing at its very best and it made an awesome impression on untold thousands of consumers. And, it was all about an "also ran" computer company striking out at the big boy. This approach was a stroke of pure business genius.

    Here's the point: the Linux world has no appropriate marketing scheme designed (and executed) to reach the masses which whatever truth needs to be told to sell the product. What "marketing" that is done is plain and truthful but that doesn't grab you ... marketing today has to be eye-catching. And therein sits the problem: Linux may be God's gift to the desktop computer world, but its the story is not getting out in any form that appeals to the everyday consumer. Linux will never be sold on it's technical merits out of the mouths of the nerdy techy boys who create and improve it.

    Apple knew that and they got an attractive running woman in a tight top and short shorts to strike the blow. And look where Apple is today? Maybe not as big as Microsoft, but look at the fans and the loyalty. And all that was achieved with prices much higher than you might think would sell products. Until such time as the Linux world "gets it" and understands the true nature of the sales challenge they face, Linux will always be a distant follower to those that do "get it".

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not long now...

    android for the netbook?

  48. J Thompson

    Sounds rubbish

    So the netbook market should resemble the mobile phone market more than it does the traditional laptop market? That seems like the last thing people would want to buy into. People want consistency across their devices, not a load of proprietry/one-off stuff that skins the cat differently just for the sake of it. Every mobile is different, and for me, that resembles the early days of computers. The days before there were defacto standards. The mobile market is yet to find it's defacto standards (no common platform for the masses).

    Why go back in time, and why this need to cripple PC hardware with overbranded naffness?

    Selling a cheap laptop with locked-down, joe-public-friendly, feature-limited Linux OS on it is surely just a false economy when that same laptop is capable of running XP.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I love (well, like a lot) my Acer Aspire One, on which I have Fedora 10. It took a week for a seasoned Windows/Unix person (me) to install and get everything going. I wasn't going to use linpus becauase it just wasn't a proper fully featured OS (and the name made me go 'urgh' every time I read its name!) A bunch of people at my place of work are getting them, also to run linux on. I wouldn't suggest for a minute that anyone who isn't a seasoned geek even try anything except the custom locked down kacky Linux or Win XP on them. I also wouldn't blame anyone for returning them based on the installed linux being crap.

    @J - Just because someone wants to use Windows doesn't mean that they are lazy or stupid, more than likely they want something that just works and is feature rich, that they have previously learned.

  50. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    It's an easy decision for me

    Will Linux give me what XP does without a steep learning curve, in a familiar way, without having to go to archaic command line prompts, a lot of buggering about, leaving me to still find it doesn't work quite how I'd like ?

    Why would I not just choose a system which works out the box, even pay a premium for that privilege and easy path?

    Sure, Linux is open-source so I could start tinkering with the apps and kernel. Alternatively I could have a life.

  51. John Savard


    It's true that with Microsoft making Windows 7 more efficient than Vista, and with low-power chips becoming more powerful, the rationale for using Linux on a netbook is weakening. But a netbook is still a laptop computer, just a smaller and lighter one, and what people want to run on personal computers, laptop or otherwise, are mainstream applications.

    Thus, treating this as a "what if?" scenario is misleading. The netbook is really a part of a market Microsoft has already won. What could have been prevented is Windows CE on handhelds becoming dominant, because Windows CE doesn't run Windows (3.1/98/XP) applications. But trying to stop Microsoft here, under the illusion that one has an isolated market segment to do battle in, is a recipe for failure.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo


    I am really, _really_ trying to like Linux. I've been running Vista on my gaming PC for ages (now replaced with a weak-ish laptop), and keeping it up to date as well as installing a decent (and free) av/firewall package is actually very simple. That is of course, very simple compared to getting Linux to recognise your damn wlan card, then persuading it that it really shouldn't be "eth1". Then having Fedora insist on downloading "998 updates", each of which happen to have missing dependencies that it can't resolve. Then having Ubuntu crap itself after installing a new graphics driver, simple, reconfigure your or something - actually, it isn't simple. Then installing Linux Mint, which so far is ok, although it has a way of installing software in Synaptic and then refusing to load it. I'm sure there's an error log secreted away somewhere that will tell me why it won't work, but does it have to be that way?

    And I actually consider myself a reasonably clued up PC owner, having built many from scratch and getting all the software just how i want it etc. Never thought I'd say this but I actually miss BSODs, I appreciate the courtesy Windows has to tell me why it's gone titsup without expecting me to dig around log files.

  53. Joe Burmeister

    I'm still waiting for "my" netbook.

    I want one with an ARM processor because battery life will be a very important thing for me about this thing. I don't care about x86 compatibility because A) free software is widely ported B) it's a netbook, I don't need legacy apps.

    If you can buy a cheap ARM netbook with a long long battery life, that could be a game changer. It will put ARM-Linux up against ARM-WinCE. WinCE runs next to nothing compared to ARM-Linux which relatively has a huge amount of software.

  54. Chris Elvidge

    @Anonymous Coward Posted Wednesday 11th March 2009 07:26 GMT

    Try gOS. I'm dual booting W7 with that.

  55. David Hicks


    "I could be wrong but....

    Calling people stupid just because they want XP instead of Linux on a computer is not the best way of winning converts."

    Who's trying to win converts on this board?

    People ARE stupid and lazy, and it seems the new trend for linux haters to jump on is "it doesn't work *exactly* like windows and therefore nobody will use it because they are stupid and lazy. Therefore linux sucks". What actually sucks is that people are stupid and lazy.


    "didnt asus do this already? everyone just installed xp on 'em and where on their merry way.."

    Quirte the opposite actually, the Linux eee901s had better specs but Asus seemed determined not to meet demand, so lots of people bought the XP version and put linux on it. Check out the eeeuser forums.

    Personally I reflashed my linux one anyway because Xandros was ****

    That's the main problem with linux netbooks if you ask me, the fact that people like Asus ship with their linux distro broken.

    Xandros on the 901 would bleat about software updates and then fail or flat-out refuse to installl them. It had a weird GUI that I could not for the life of me figure out how to add a new shortcut to, and for the 901 Asus removed the "advanced" (KDE) mode.

    Ubuntu and dell might actually produce something good together...

  56. Toastan Buttar

    I really hate to say this.

    I really hate to say this but "Windows Just Works" these days. Yes, it really does. Every USB stick, every Wi-Fi adapter, every graphics card, every sound card, every camera, every phone, every webcam. You stick it in (or load Windows onto an existing system), feed it the drivers (these are NOT hard to find, so don't even try to bring this up), maybe restart the system a couple of times and you're good to go.

    This has never been my experience with any flavour of Linux. Don't get me wrong - I've been INCREDIBLY impressed with what does work 'out-of-the-box' - kudos to the programmers on distros like Ubuntu ! Unfortunately, unless you're trying to get a fairly 'normal' desktop or laptop configured, you're pretty much guaranteed that some piece of hardware is going to jump up and bite you on the face. The situation that boggles my mind the most is when a manufacturer delivers a pre-configured distro which is still buggy, WITH THEIR SUPPLIED HARDWARE ! I've heard tales of EeePCs choking on the Asus-defined hardware - WTF's that about ?

    I would have loved to use a netbook as a portable editor so I could tweak my MIDI synths on stage. Even using Ubuntu (arguably the most hardware-friendly distro) and a USB MIDISport adapter (arguably the most widely supported device out there) and spending several nights reading through forums, I could only get as far as loading the firmware into the MIDISport on startup. Getting any application to actually talk to hardware over MIDI was just never going to happen - even editors written specifically for Linux.

    I'm afraid the Microsoft tax works out at a lower TCO than days of frustration followed by a still unsatisfactory experience.

  57. Dave Bell

    Linus may cost more to support

    I have an Asus Eee.

    I'm following the sometimes rocky road of switching to an alternative Linux because Asus manage to look incompetent.

    1: Very old versions of software still supplied (Open Office 2.0).

    2: Bizarre holes in functionality (UK keyboard, but no UK dictionary for Open Office, missing video codecs so that many available videos don't play).

    3: Upgrades that appear to break other software (Firefox 3.0 upgrade which breaks the VLC media player, and cannot be removed)..

    4: Poor or non-existent documentation of differences between Eee hardware versions and the Linux included.

    The least isn't helped by the attitudes of some providing the usual Linux-style support that is available.

    I don't think that Linux, generally, is any better in supporting the naive, but Windows seems better supplied with support structures for those people.

    I think netbook distributions need more informative websites, which let users easily find the basic config tweaks for their specific machine. Windows has a huge advantage here. It's not the GUI which matters.

    It's taken me a couple of weeks of fiddling to get over the initial hump, and I still see problems. But I am glad I switched from the Asus/Xandros version of Linux. It was good when I needed it, but it seels like a dead end.

  58. John White

    "Arm" still waiting for "my" netbook.

    Can I second the ARM powered Linux netBook - it would be a worthy succesor to the ARM Psion netBook (put a netBook Pro battery in the original and have 10 hrs up to 14). WinCE is/was a waste of space for the netBook - tried Jornada and netBook Pro - it's the apps - non existent if you're a non corporate type without a tame programmer

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Ello Tosh, got a Toshiba?

    Bought myself the Toshiba NB100 with their own re-jigged version of Ubuntu on it.

    Does everything I need a netbook to do - Interent and email, with a 3 hour battery life. 200 sheets from Comet. Yes, Comet were cheaper than CCL and Ebuyer et al.

  60. J
    Thumb Down

    Missing the point

    Ye guys are missing my point.

    ***You are treating a netbook as a laptop, and it should not be.***

    And that's what exactly what "they" (manufacturers) want. What I believe happened was: Asus came out with the EEE 701 and it was very cheap, and very successful, and did what it was made to do (access web, skype, etc.... NOT run freaking Photoshop and Office). Everything **pre-installed** (this invalidates a good proportion of the comments above), working as intended. Then all other manufacturers jumped in the bandwagon, of course no one wants to miss the party. But "they" were mightily scared by the monster Asus had created. Where are the nice, fat margins now!? Where is the MS protection racket "money" now? The money from all the "free" crapware loaded into every MS computer to protect it from itself (or not), where did it go? And look, all these people complaining that their dishwasher does not make coffee...

    So, as you can see, there are less and less netbooks out there now. "They" kept getting them more and more expensive and bigger and bigger. Laptops, basically. "They" say it's customer demand, and against your better judgment you believe it. Might be, but I doubt it. "They" are trying to go back to the good, not-yet-old days, before it's too late. I bet "they" will succeed, with your collaboration. And "they" will be back to selling only overpriced, over-spec'd machines to everyone (and not just those who actually need them) to check their email, surf the web, Skype, and mess around in some social network.

    Netbooks should be more comparable to an appliance, a smart phone -- that's more how it looked like with the original EEE, and I suspect that's why Asus had the different UI. Does any moron want their phone to run XP too, since the only thing known is the "Start" button? Run Photoshop in your sat nav, anyone? Apparently few people here can change their phone or buy a new appliance, since they can't spare the time to learn a little of a slightly different interface.

    Yes, stupid and/or lazy. Rationalize it any other way you want. Truth hurts only when it applies to ourselves, isn't it?

    P.S. As someone mentioned above, you wouldn't be getting XP nearly for free now if it wasn't for Linux. You wouldn't be getting XP AT ALL; you would get Vista or nothing -- and there would exist no netbook either, since Vista does not run on that. How does it feel, fanboys?

  61. A J Stiles

    @ Joe Burmeister, John White

    I don't think you'll have much longer to wait.

    The first-generation ARM chips are now completely patent-free; and while they were considered memory hogs by the standards of the time (every instruction requires a full 32 bit word), they are still positively frugal by 80x86 standards; people think nothing of flinging a few gigs about nowadays. The "26-bit" addressing space (it's actually 24-bit addressing space with a 32-bit word, but the prevailing 80x86-centric thinking is also necessarily byte-centric thinking) issue can be overcome, again using only techniques that are no longer covered by any still-valid patent. (The Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and later Sinclair machines all used bank-switching techniques. And so, of course, did the BBC, which begat the ARM in the first place. "ARM1" was never implemented in silicon, but existed only as an emulator running on a BBC Master, and the first chips were designated "ARM2".)

    Then there's that thing Maplin sell, which has only 128MB of RAM but is based on some sort of RISC architecture.

    As long as you have the Source Code for all the software you want to run, and a standards-compliant compiler (and as any fule kno, the Open Source GCC is the de facto reference implementation of a C / C++ compiler), it simply doesn't matter what processor is in the machine. And as the amount of pirate copies of Windows, Office, Photoshop &c. will testify, *not* having the Source Code certainly *doesn't* stop anyone making unauthorised copies. There's no good reason why even paid-for software shouldn't be supplied in Source Code form (in fact, once upon a time, it actually used to be).

  62. Toastan Buttar

    Little Linux Laptop

    A J Stiles wrote:

    "Then there's that thing Maplin sell, which has only 128MB of RAM but is based on some sort of RISC architecture."

    The Maplin machine (CnM Lifestyle) is one of a family of machines based on the Ingenic JZ-4730 SoC. Other machines with this architecture include the Elonex ONEt, Bestlink Alpha 400 and Trendtac 700 EPC. The Ingenic chip itself uses a MIPSEL instruction set.

    There is a thriving user and hacker community for these teensy machines. A good starting point is:

    which will lead you to other forums such as:

    where forum member Wicknix developed the frankly astounding new distro called '3MX':

    I'm having a lot of fun with my Elonex ONEt.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Toastan Butter

    Hardly an advert for Linux, is it?

    "Because these patches and programs are not easy to find, and often not documented very well, or ***very difficult to handle because of the linux nature of the laptop***"

    Difficult to install things on Linux is it? Gosh, don't tell the fanbois! And I note that another comment states that if you have the source you can compile on any hardware you want. Whoopdee-doo if you want a Phd in Geekery, but what if I just want to use the web?

    I also note to lack of any proper review of this "LittleLinuxLaptop", it must be truly dire, but I guess it has a price point that might tempt network provider into subsidising it. But personally, there is no way I'd pay £40 a month for 24 months to use such a low-powered unit.

  64. Anonymous Coward

    Talk about missing the point

    @J - sorry, but you simply can't dictate how people should use equipment. Even from the most extreme fanboy, I've seldom read such ridiculous and dictatorial tosh as you've come out with.

    "You are treating a netbook as a laptop, and it should not be."

    Why? Because you say so? Because it undermines your incredibly feeble arguments if anyone dares use a machine how they want or need to?

    WTF do I want a device as big as a netbook to run Skype on, check my emails or browse the internet? I can do that perfectly well on my phone, which is hugely smaller and more portable than any netbook, and like I said before, is perfectly happy with Linux. What I NEED a small-format laptop for is to run Photoshop. The fact that you don't think I should doesn't change that requirement, and doesn't mean that a Windows-powered netbook isn't (for now) the perfect tool for me. That's not lazy or stupid, it's surely precisely the opposite - in contrast to your opinion. Morons? People who know what they want and how to get it are morons? Well thank goodness I'm not as intelligent as you, or I would have to drag a great big laptop around to use Photoshop instead of a netbook, and a great big netbook around to use Skype instead of a phone.

    Heaven help us. People like you are why Linux will never make significant inroads in any consumer area - you simply haven't got a clue about real people and the real world, it appears.

  65. J
    Paris Hilton


    You still haven't understood, AC... Must be my bad English, not my native language. Or maybe you just can't read when angry.

    My opinion, as stated before, is that you do not have a netbook (as originally "defined") in your hands right now. You have a small laptop. Duh. Can't see how I can be any clearer than that, so I'll stop here.

    Go ahead, call your coffee maker a "dishwasher". You're free to, of course.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Oh, I see, it all comes down to you feeling the need to impose categories - then there's an article just for you:

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