Mobile is the New Desktop

The perfect storm for Linux in the netbook market.

There’s not much good news coming out of the tech industry these days. Whether it’s Steve Job’s leave of absence from Apple, Intel closing plants and laying off employees due to a global slowdown in PC sales or the first layoffs in Microsoft’s history1, the tech industry is experiencing pain at nearly every level.

That said, it’s possible to find at least one segment of the industry that didn’t go completely in the tank last year. According to the New York Times:

The only bright spot in the PC industry is netbooks. Analysts at the Gartner research company said shipments rose to 4.4 million devices in the third quarter of 2008, from 500,000 units in the first quarter of last year. Analysts say sales could double this year despite a deep worldwide recession.

All of those devices have to run some kind of operating system and one would think that Linux would be an easy choice for netbook manufacturers.

If you’re selling a piece of hardware that tops out at around $200 then you’re not going to want to add another $200 in Microsoft licensing fees. MS knows this and, on the one hand, has cut way back on the amount it charges OEMs for the netbook-version of Windows, while, on the other, going so far as to attributing some of the falloff in the company’s business last quarter to portable devices.

As painful as the recent economic downturn has been, the situation is rapidly developing into a perfect storm for Linux in the ultra-portable and mobile device market. The fact that consumers are cutting back and are willing to sacrifice some power in hardware in exchange for portability (something of a 180 from a year or so ago) coupled with an environment where Windows isn’t completely entrenched makes for a huge opportunity for Linux the short term. And possibly the long term as well:

“Companies like Intel, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments that make chips for these devices are hiring Linux talent as quick as they can,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the nonprofit Linux Foundation. “They know the future is netbooks and mobile Internet devices.”

1 We recently speculated on the long term implications of MS’s software development model.

Comments on "Mobile is the New Desktop"


I guess you haven’t already heard of the Asus EeePC then. :)


Whoever thinks that MS will cede that territory without a life-or-death fight is in a deep -induced stupor. After all these years, MS’s cash cows are still Windows and Office, a testimony to its capacity to bungle most of its other ventures in spite of, or perhaps because of, its vast wealth.

Netbooks are and will continue to be an uphill battle for GNU/Linux. Consumers will always prefer to pay more if they have been convinced that the expensive choice is the coolest, the best, or if the cheap option is painted as very bad or as requiring the discharging of additional neurons to perform useful work.


god forbid we discharge neurons!


With the spurt in portable computing devices and cloud computing, customers are becoming more OS agnostic. That change is already happening. All that would matter is the User Interface. That could be the reason for companies like Intel and Google to come up with initiatives like Moblin / Android. I’d think of Netbooks as a logical extension of your Blackberry / Iphone. Netbooks and other portable multimedia cum computing devices are not for serious business applications. You’d not likely use Photoshop, CAD/CAM applications on your Netbook. It is more of a ‘consumer device’ just like your iPod. For an ‘internet experience’, OS takes a backseat as far as the consumer is concerned.

In the short period since their appearance, netbooks grew in size and features, and converged with smaller, lighter laptops and subnotebooks. By August 2009, when comparing a Dell netbook to a Dell notebook, CNET called netbooks “nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks,” noting,”"..

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