Thursday, March 19, 2009

Netbooks: Missing the bleeding obvious

I'm seeing quite a few articles about how Linux netbooks are losing more ground to Windows netbooks. Phrases are tossed around like, "not ready for prime time" and "users snub Linux netbooks".

This is starting to get to me. Not because I'm a "Linux nut" but because I think its misleading.

I live in Australia, and I've witnessed first hand how Linux has lost turf to Windows in this market. For me, it stems from two main issues.

Issue number 1: Microsoft woke up.

Yeah thats right. This isn't a conspiracy theory - its plain facts: Microsoft realised the threat and moved quickly to stem the flow.

I saw it go from being Linux netbooks on shelves to being PURELY Windows netbooks on shelves in the space of one week. Honestly, I suddenly couldn't even FIND the Linux netbooks anywhere in the stores that used to ship them. And I'm telling you, it wasn't because people weren't buying them - please realise that these same Linux netbooks actually caused the explosion of sales in the first place.

It comes down to this - Microsoft went into damage control. They pulled up their sleeves and started "offering incentives" for the stores to take the Linux netbooks off the shelves.

Really, I saw it happen - we went from choice to no choice in a matter of days. It wasn't because Linux wasn't offering a compelling solution - it was because Microsoft moved to kill it before it caught on. Think about it, if Microsoft thought that Linux on netbooks wouldn't sell well, then why did they extend the life of the now ancient XP just so they could get a place on them. Surely, if Microsoft didn't think Linux on netbooks was a threat then they would have just waited 'till they'd released a solid Windows 7.

But no, they knew it was a threat. And they killed it. The market didn't choose. Microsoft made their choice easy. Yeah, thats right - they removed the other choice.

Seriously, the average buyer doesn't think too much about it - they walk into the store, look at the product, ask if it can do XYZ (which all these Linux laptops can do) and then buy it. They don't even think that it says "Windows" - heck, the eePC even LOOKED like Windows.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that what I'm saying is a bit far fetched. I'd encourage you to visit the site and read a bit about how Microsoft has been behaving. Please note that they are official documents from court hearings in Microsoft anti-trust cases (ie. ITS REAL). Unless you've read about this, and I mean -properly-, then I would encourage you to NOT post your Microsoft Fanboy Shrill comments.

Issue number 2: Corporate branding killed the Linux star.

I'm sure you've noticed that there isn't just one netbook going around - the market is veritably flooded with them now. The next thing you'll notice is that almost every different netbook is running a different breed of Linux distro.

Now I'm not against choice, but what is happening here is that these companies are so consumed by their desire to "make something unique" and "stand out from the pack" that they've shot themselves in the foot.

Just look at the first generation eeePC's, perhaps even the new ones. They all run an ancient kernel and old software. I'm sure any one of you who has used Linux 5 years ago and who have also used Linux today would agree that we've come SO far that we can hardly recognise ourselves! And here these companies are pushing yesteryear onto us! I just consider that dumb.

One thing that they've failed to realise is that John Smith will want to plug his new camera into his eeePC or Aspire and have it download his photos. I'm telling you now, he'll have a better chance with that if he's using a NEW distro with the LATEST advances rather than his archaic 2.4.x kernel! That goes for all kinds of devices the average user will want to plug in. What were these companies thinking??

Anyway, I should wrap up my rant. I'd like to just stress that THE MAIN REASON for Linux not 'catching on' like we'd have hoped is not because of point 2, but rather, point 1.

It really does come down to how Microsoft has played this. Microsoft didn't allow the consumer to choose. Really, how could they? They knew Linux was a threat, they KNOW its "ready" (however you define that) and they are willing to bend over backwards to keep the average Joe from getting used to it.


  1. Facts are that Microsoft is using it's dominant market position (it does not have a monopoly!) as leveler to gain Windows XP as only sold OS for netbooks. It only means that you need to market and place the netbooks with Windows XP to tables and people will buy those. If they can not see Linux versions from them, they do not know they exist and statics people can build own "proofs" that Linux is not wanted.

    If you place Windows XP (or Windows 7) and Linux with KDE4 or GNOME with nice theme next to each other, people will like and want Linux machines as well.

    I can not find either any of Linux netbooks anymore in the shops. Only from online stores or by online delivery. That is not what normal people wants, they want to walk to store and buy the computer. The want to touch and tests those to choose best for them.

    And you are correct on the other point too.

    The companies what are there for profit (Novell, Canonical, Dell, Acer etc) has damaged the Linux fame.

    They should not offer anything personal kind desktop with Linux, if they can not update those software systems too. They would need to update all the softwares on those machines, including the Linux OS (kernel). You do not do anything with netbook if you can not connect devices for it, even it has limited connection possibilities by USB2.

    I was watching a Acer Aspire A110 what version it has from Firefox. A very old 2.0.x version what is not even the latest, far from it. Lots of security holes and older UI what you can see these days on normal personal computers.

    They should allow easy way to update these software system. Offers a new DVD-images what to use to upgrade whole software system at once, not just trought package manager.

    And what comes to corporations like Canonical, they are doing much greater damage for Linux than Microsoft. They are promoting Ubuntu as "non-linux". As Ubuntu would be somekind special OS what ain't that "Linux" what they say "people heard it is for nerds and dificult to use" etc.

    If Ubuntu would not have such great amount of users, it would never try to push Linux and GNU down and erase their part of the history. They would be demanding that they are called as "Ubuntu Linux" and not just "Ubuntu". They would promote them selfs as Linux operating system. But now Canonical (mostly because Ubuntu people) have gone to same way as Novell with Microsoft deal.

    Ubuntu is promoted as "Humanity for others" and still they are denying the truth that they are just different distribution of many, and all of them use one and the same operating system, Linux (kernel).

    We have (had, is more accurate) strong defence line. It is the Linux operating system and the freedom what GNU project has given to as. But when the publicity raises for one party, they start behaving as they are top of the others. They forget their roots and they start promoting their own work more than the work what was done together by the community.

    In country were I live, people have started to abandon the Ubuntu because what they are doing. It was good few years ago, but it has turned to be as bad as Novell. People will more likely go for OpenSUSE than Ubuntu. There is plenty of reasons to boycott Ubuntu same way is Novell. It is not the publicity what Ubuntu has, but what kind. There is too many Ubuntu users believing and saying that "we dont use Linux, we use Ubuntu".

    They have allowed the marketing lies to get over the truth and the free community with good will.

    I have always said that if something will destroy Linux, it is we. Only we can destroy Linux and it happens from inside. First steps for that is denying the truth that we are the Linux users. Second steps is that we promote own distribution over the others. And third step is that we only demand the software get packaged as binary-only packages for _our_ distribution, forgettin others.

    The competition is not helping anyone. It is just slowing things down and makes everything slower. Worst technologies etc wins because of competition and best ones loose. We should stick together, work together and this way be a competitors for each others that who developes best ideas what we all, together take in use. We give the credit for those who has it, but nothing more. If we want that humanity is stored, we should stop promoting one party from many, better as others.

    Real competition is pure and fair. It is not about who gets the markets or who gets most of money, it is who can invent the best idea and then we choose from these and we push then those to markets for in use. So customers will get best possible choise in use. If we compete on the markets with market share, prices etc, we are lost and we do not have freedom.

    This happens exactly like on netbook markets. Those who have the power, will use it to promote only to them selfs. Not the people, not the customers.

  2. It will be interesting to see what happens when those ARM powered netbooks come out. 8 hours battery life will be very compelling and Microsoft doesn't have an OS (besides Windows mobile which has the driver problem).

  3. Fri13 [And what comes to corporations like Canonical, they are doing much greater damage for Linux than Microsoft. They are promoting Ubuntu as "non-linux".]

    Rubbish! From first paragraph on

    "Ubuntu is a community developed, Linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers."

    From the official documentation on both Linux and GNU are not only mentioned but explained.

    Hardly the disassociation you accuse in your polemic.

  4. I think you missed one part of the jigzaw - and a piece that also works in Windows favor.

    It may not be that way everywhere, but in the stores where I've seen both Linux-based and Windows-based netbooks - the Linux ones are often less powerful. And the price-difference isn't all that big so I'm not surprised that it's tempting to add say $50 or so to get a more powerful one even if it's only more RAM or a larger disk.

  5. Hi Socceroos!

    I'm a plasma developer and from our side I can tell you that I'm starting to have some nice contributions to try to make plasma-mid actually become real. Let's see if I have news for you in the short/mid-term ;)


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  7. Stephen, so easily you fall for marketing? "Linux-based operating system" ain't truth, what would be "Linux operating system". The problem is that Ubuntu is much more than just an operating system, it is complete software system. The truth would be "Ubuntu is Linux-based software system".

    And do you know why they dropped away the Linux from their name?
    First Ubuntu was "Ubuntu Linux" but they believed that Linux is too nerd so they wanted to step up from the masses and they started to promote it only as "Ubuntu".

    And Canonical is not officially doing anything bad, but unofficially they do. Most of the bad things comes from Ubuntu users, who do not know the difference of Linux and Ubuntu. Or Operating System and Distribution or Operating System and Software System.

    Canonical could give just simple the truth, but they need to kneel before GNU and Debian because they are depending from Debian.

    If you look or sites, you easily can see that how those are saturated by Ubuntu-marketing by it's users. could be easily be joined to because so many is promoting only the Ubuntu and not GNOME, because they dont even understand the GNOME purpose on the Ubuntu.

    If you follow what Ubuntu users and developers who use Ubuntu does, you can easily find out the bad effect from their actions.

    For example, look the "I am Linux" video competition from Linux Foundation. So many have used Ubuntu logo and Ubuntu as it would be THE Linux. Forgettin totally that Linux operating system official logo is the Tux, not the "Ubuntu ring".

    Now some Ubuntu developers are talking that they should forget the Linux and GNU from Ubuntu marketing totally and start speaking only about the Ubuntu. Not even mentioning those two.

    And if you would check the documentation site what you gave, you find out that they just gives misinformation about operating system. If that text what there is, is following the GNU/Linux mentality and is totally against computer science, why is it gaved for normal users as explanation?

    That is just total rubbish there. The new users reads that, and they starts believing it and all the problems has started from there. Then when they start studying computer science and they takes lessons from operating systems, they get exactly opposite information what Canonical is giving.

    And this is not applying only for Canonical, but many other distribution too. Some are giving the simple truth what follows the science and everything is logical and can be used to actually understand the whole computer technology.

    It is just so sad to actually hear from new students who went to OS lessons when they explain the operating system basing their arguments for marketing. Totally flawed and when you ask them basic questions about operating systems, malware and other things, they get so easily lost and can not explain anything. First thing what professors need to do is to get them forget all that rubbish what they have readed from that kind sites. It is like you would need to teach mathematic student on university to calculate 5+5 kind calculations because they would believe 5+5=55.

    At least many of different distribution forums the Linux users have started to explore the computer science and get the facts about Linux. But problem is that too many people believe that sites like gives the truth and facts when it is written there.

    This was the goal of Microsoft's "Get the facts" campaign and it was someway a great success. And same thing is happening inside our "home lines", by Canonical (and many other distributors!).

    But if you totally believe that what Canonical has wrote to their webpage, I can not help you at all. First thing what you should do is start questioning them and try to be as objective as possible. Give a pass for all the marketing and political propaganda and actually just focus to computer science. It is not easy task at all, because it is very complex thing and it can not be explained easily. Actually it can be few books before you can actually find with the logic the truth and then really understand the computer science.

    After that you can start focusing for OS marketing and philosophy of GNU.

    It is just sad too that software can not be showed same way as physical objects. You can not touch it and see it how it works as it would be a mechanical device.

    Computer science is very logical and easy to understand as long as it is kept clear from other stuff.
    Canonical is company like Novell and Microsoft. They are making money.

    Everyone can say that they are helping people and giving the truth and getting money same time, even that they would just use their customers to support their own work. And when you hide your true actions behind nice slogan or nice actions, most people blindly wants to trust that you are what you say. They do not want to get be fooled. So you even denied the truth from yourself. That is the hardest part, to really start from the assumption that "I might be a wrong and I need to find the truth for my believes and understanding".

    Sadly, most Linux users really do not want to see, how they are fooled. :-(

    Same thing is for Windows users and even most of all the customers around the world.

  8. Spotted in London, UK - Went into Currys Digital in the high street, blank spaces where the Linux netbooks were (their price tags were still there, and cheaper than the XP alternatives), and Windows Netbooks taking up the majority of the isle. Paid to promote precisely.

  9. So much non-sense on the comments is scaring.

    I won't discuss with you, but:

    1.- User don't need/have/care to know about how the OS works, and about all the flavors and geekness you're asking for. People like you kills Linux for the masses.

    2.- Novell and Red Hat do more for the Linux community and future than your favorite "super-free-nerdy-windows-free" distro. Like Debian (the best 2 kernel and X contributors, they created and maintained more projects than anybody else, and list goes on and on).

    3.- I don't think that giving the user different Linux faces is wrong, as long as you can easily switch back to the "normal" mode (like on Dell Minis).

    4.- Old soft, is in fact, a problem, and they should install recent software, on the other hand, Dell does this right.

    5.- I agree that Linux is the "true" name of the OS (screw you GNU) but, it is too geeky, and I fully understand why distros better names, while still saying they're linux-based (they don't want the FSF fucking around).

  10. @Fri13

    While I agree with some of your points, I wouldn't single out Canonical for anything in particular.

    I don't think you say 'openSusue Linux' or 'Fedora Linux' either. I think you're being a bit biased there. There is no denying that Canonical and Ubuntu have propelled Linux to new heights. On top of that, their mantra is "Linux for Human Beings".


    You've aptly described what I mean in the article when I said that Microsoft has "offered incentives". Lowering the price so the difference in negligible is just one of their many suss moves.

  11. @MoRpHeUz

    Good to head that mate. I've seen you in the Plasma IRC channel. =)

    I'd love to know the developments of plasma in this area!

  12. GNU is the OS, Linux is part the kernel. Linux without GNU stack will do none. But, GNU without Linux will never reach its fame as it is now. Why try to separate them?

    Canonical don't forget about its root. It stated Linux in their website as a credit. But, it needs to market and penetrate to whole community so that even a grandma would use it. Heck, Ubuntu GNU/Linux would scare the cat.

    Ubuntu is the catchy name that make GNU/Linux sells. The rapid growth of user is the proof that now GNU/Linux is more "human" than "god's" play tool.

    Anyway, with the fallen of Vista, Microsoft only have the strength of corporate marketing, which sadly is its strongest power. Try defeat that.

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  14. Ah, my 1st comment is for Fri13, but here's what think about the article:

    Sadly, majority IT guy would choose Windows over GNU/Linux. Some of them even put bad label in GNU/Linux as hard, nerd-only, and feature-lack OS. Because of that, Microsoft can put black campaign and nobody want to oppose that.

    I think, if we penetrate GNU/Linux in IT universities, the dominating corporation would fall. The growth of GNU/Linux community is the reason of that and campus is an ideal place to grow good idealism and spread to society. Sorry for bad English.

  15. I think you touched on a particularly important point to be made about product lifecycles versus the rate of advancement in linux.

    If netbooks are going to be more like cellphones, then the pre-shipping qualification process on the operating system experience are going to always mean that the operating system that ships in these things will be behind the curve compared to latest available distribution offerings. 6 months from now even the Ubuntu LTS based netbooks are going to show a little age by the time the next LTS is qualified for use for netbooks.

    The fact of the matter is, the pace of linux development is not necessarily amenable to the sort of pre-install qualifications that device oems are accustomed to doing. Its a very real issue that needs to be talked through more openly.

    I think Google's approach to Android may bring an effective alternative solution to this problem compared to the porting of a traditional linux distribution into the new market. But in doing so, Android is going to suffer from problems associated with divergence away from mainline kernel efforts. Android its a completely different animal than a traditional linux distribution. It will be a very interesting to see if Google feels confident enough about it to push it into the netbook space as part of the introduction of ARM based devices.

    Another solution which may work for existing linux distributions could be to qualify a pre-built fallback image that oems can ship in a dedicated flash memory area in their devices..allowing users to upgrade components or the whole OS to a newer version without risk of bricking their device completely. If something goes horribly wrong, they fall back to the factory qualified version of OS. I'm not sure people are thinking along those lines yet.

    What's very clear to me is that the ARM OEMs are really going to shake things up. They have to if they want to compete with Wintel in the space. They are going to be forced to be very creative in how they position their devices, firmly breaking the concept that netbooks are cutdown laptops that do what laptops do.

    It will be interesting to see if the ARM OEMs converge on a common platform in order to have a consistent experience as a challenge to the intel vendors.


  16. [[The companies what are there for profit (Novell, Canonical, Dell, Acer etc) has damaged the Linux fame.

    There is too many Ubuntu users believing and saying that "we dont use Linux, we use Ubuntu".

    And what comes to corporations like Canonical, they are doing much greater damage for Linux than Microsoft. They are promoting Ubuntu as "non-linux". As Ubuntu would be somekind special OS what ain't that "Linux" what they say "people heard it is for nerds and dificult to use" etc.

    If Ubuntu would not have such great amount of users, it would never try to push Linux and GNU down and erase their part of the history. They would be demanding that they are called as "Ubuntu Linux" and not just "Ubuntu". They would promote them selfs as Linux operating system. But now Canonical (mostly because Ubuntu people) have gone to same way as Novell with Microsoft deal.


    No, it is bullcrap posts that yours that really are harming Linux, in fact this is the sort of attitude that is harming Linux the most, even much more than what Canonical or even Novell or Microsoft could even wish to harm Linux.

    It is this stupid Linux user mentality that it is bad for something to be popular, ubuntu has become quite popular and there are finally hopes of seeing Linux go mainstream. Not to mention the work done by these other companies you call as harming Linux as well as Canonical... But at the moment ubuntu started getting popular, the very Linux users that think of themselves as loyal OSS users began bashing it for no reason whatsoever - besides of it being popular.

    We have actual Linux users smearing Linux itself by making ungry posts about how ubuntu sucks and insulting ubuntu users, and thinking that everyone should move to another distro, call it openSUSE, PCLinuxOS or ArchLinux ... Of course, once everybody follows their orders and these distros become more popular, they will become bashing them as well...

    Your post inventing that Canonical is attempting to remove the Linux word (utter bullcrap, just check out the word Linux will come immediately, their very advertising says "Linux for human beings" or that users are claiming they use ubuntu and not Linux (Now THIS is bullcrap, all ubuntu users I met are proud to be Linux users)

    It is this anti-progress attitude that is hurting Linux the most, but know what? We will survive.

    MS can try and hide the problem from shelves, but one little store will still sell Linux netbooks. Websites will still sell them, and thing is in the future that's the way everyone will buy their computers anyway. For every 99 windows netbooks pushed, 1 will remain. It is too early to accept defeat here. We need action, against MS' attack on choice, what we need is to make sure to give users more choice. These 'evil' commercial companies can save us, by taking a counter-measurement and pushing Linux netbooks. They will always win in prize and production cost, remember. MS cannot keep subsiding their netbooks forever, specially not during this crisis.

    PS: What's up with freaking blogger forbidding <blockquote> ? are we not supposed to make our posts decently understandable?

  17. @no

    "What's up with freaking blogger forbidding < blockquote > ? are we not supposed to make our posts decently understandable?"

    Sorry, I've merely not configured it, not disallowed it. I hadn't even thought of it. I'll see if I can get that working.

  18. Why do people reply to hate by more hate. It is pointless to bash Canonical for what they are trying to do... bring Linux to the mass. Users being ignorant or mislead by Canonical's campaign is just an annoying side effect. The fact is there : Canonical has done something right and won market share + fans. Ubuntu is the popular GNU/Linux distribution that has to be promoted, I am not sure any other company is currently trying to bring Linux to the desktop.

    So that said let's talk about this article. No Microsoft is not winning, No they dont have 90% share on the netbook, the source is flawed...I checked (you guys should do the same). The retailers are the old way of buying stuff. New generations buy what they really want online. Dell made 30% sales of Ubuntu Linux on the netbook offers (they said it so), guess why ? Online Shopping ! Retailers can be controlled by Microsoft...who cares.. the future is online.

    I noticed that this article is from Australia, it seems that Microsoft has lots of power there compared to other countries, that is sad...

  19. @Alexandre

    I agree that the future of shopping is online, but at the present time, most of it is still done through stores.

    And yes, Microsoft does have a large and monopolistic influence here in Australia. They really do what they want with technology here. We're a testing ground for many of their strategies and products.

    My blood boild whenever I talk about it. I'm getting very tired of the unfair grip they have on our market.

  20. I completely agree with the 1st point in the post. Here's a situation how I witnessed it about ASUS netbooks in Czechia:

    In July 2008, ASUS started to sell EEE 901 with Windows XP here. Before that, they sold EEE 701 with Xandros (and they still sell them, I believe). I have been waiting for Linux EEE 901 till November (then I bought Windows version, because I couldn't wait any longer), and they haven't produced it yet. By that time, they started selling EEE 900 with Linux, but at the same price as newer EEE 904 with Windows.

    So, apparently, there was a large interest in Linux versions of EEE, but they decided to sell lower spec version with Linux only. Local ASUS reseller even had a poll on their site, and it was 50:50 Windows vs. Linux (but this may be skewed, because Linux people may tend to vote more). Some say it was a localization issue, but to localize EEE 900 and EEE 901 (or EEE 904) is the same problem, as there is no difference except battery life.

    There are also other indications that they are under unfair influence from MS. For example, when someone on the ASUS reseller forum, if they can return Windows XP from their netbook, or if they will have a warranty for Linux netbooks bought in UK, the answer was no to both. Even though ASUS allows both for their normal notebooks, and these things are borderline-illegal.

    From these facts, there is simply no other explanation than unfair competition.