the great netbook bonanza

Don Marti wrote a rambling (for him) post about impact netbooks and linux, and musing about the great netbook windfall. Here’s some stuff I wanted to throw into the pot.

There’s still a lot of network value in a copy of Microsoft Windows because of all the compatible products out there. But, thanks to hard-working Linux driver writers, “driverless” USB class-compliant devices, and the rise of web-based applications to take the place of shrink-wrapped Win32 applications, the difference in network value is less and less at the low end of the market.

When ever you create a Linux based devices, whether it’s a phone, MID, netbook, laptop, there’s more to getting it consumer ready than trying out a LiveCD and knowing your ACPI tables. (I know that’s not what Don, or Harald, where implying – just trying a LiveCD would be a start for many). Even after the LiveCD runs there’s a not insignificant chunk of NRE that needs to be done to make sure that everything works together properly according to spec – in fact this is true of every hardware & OS combo.

So one of the hidden forms of Windows network value is that Acer, Asus, HP, IBM/Lenovo, Dell, etc have 10+ years of institutional understanding of what needs to be done to get hardware + Win{95,98,XP,Vista} ready, and (for some) 5+ years of server hardware + “Enterprise Linux” (but creating server room ready hardware and consumer ready devices is different kettle of fish). And now they’re learning, often the hard way, all the obvious stuff about building Linux consumer devices; while you can fork and customise and do your own thing you’re then left maintaining patches while projects move on, so it’s better to get stuff upstream; binary drivers are even more painful than on servers, fun with GTK+ and Qt theming, and yes ACPI tables, and on and on. There are more bonghits to come but hopefully less frequent and not as high.

OSV’s like Canonical, Xandros, Linpus, Novell etc can’t make the per device profit that Microsoft can but they can make a living (I would hope). Many of the netbook guys, Asus in particular, seem to feel that it’s a crime to let a few weeks go by without bringing out a new SKU, which is more NRE, and ongoing security and feature updates. So I would expect that being involved in desktop (or mobile) will be more than just a signaling strategy in the future – that increasing institutional understanding of how to get devices ready will mean that OEMs want to deal with OSVs that are directly involved in UI and Application projects, as to provide direct feedback and a greater likelihood of important changes & bug fixes going back upstream. That’s my theory, let’s see what happens.

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