Skip to main content

Why the Linux netbook really crashed and burned

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (sjvn to his ardent fans) penned a little missive last Friday (24 June 2011) in which he attempted to blame the fall of the inexpensive (read cheap) Linux netbook on Microsoft (and to a lesser extent on Intel). I'd like to take a few hundred or so words and disabuse him of that fallacy.

A Very, Very, Very Brief History

The netbook was the response to One Laptop Per Child XO-1 and Intel's subsequent response, the Classmate PC. The XO-1 was initially targeted to cost no more than $100 for distribution in the developing world. The Classmate PC wound up costing around $250, a benchmark that was to establish the real low-end for the netbook. Both were announced in 2006 and released the following year.

Asus saw an opportunity and released the first official netbook, the Eee 701 in September 2007. It came with 512MiB of memory, a 900MHz Celeron M underclocked to 630MHz, 4GiB SSD, and Xandros Linux. In January 2008 Asus shipped a version of the Eee 701 with Windows XP. It wasn't until the 900 series that the Intel Atom was introduced.

It should be noted that until the release of the second generation Pineview Atom processors introduced in December 2009, the original Asus Eee 701 with its underclocked Celeron M was the best device as far as user experience is concerned. When Intel offered the Atom series battery life was traded for performance, and performance tanked considerably for the next two years. By the time an Atom processor was released that at least matched the old Celeron M, the netbook's performance reputation was already extensively damaged and never fully recovered.

While there are other netbook offerings from other manufacturers such as MSI and HP and Dell, Asus is the vendor that usually comes to mind when you think of netbooks. They offered Linux originally and continue to offer Linux. But the Windows version is what sells the most for them.

The Real Reason It All Failed

Every version of the Eee comes with either Windows or Linux as the OS. The problem is that most users want Windows, a fact that so enraged David M. Williams for iTWire that in December 2008 he called them "dumbasses" for making that choice. Yes, Microsoft made Windows available for use on the netbooks. At that time, from what I read, it was costing all of $3/netbook for the version of Windows XP for netbooks.

All of this was hashed out in 2008 when it became brutally obvious that Linux was failing as a netbook OS. I wrote about it in January 2009, and as noted Williams wrote about it in December 2008. Where was sjvn when all this was happening?

What I wrote about the failure of Linux on notebooks in January 2009 still applies today:
... I find it highly hypocritical that Linux apologists have for years cried out about lack of choice in the personal computer marketplace, referring ad nauseum to the Microsoft tax (and yes, as have I). It is indeed sad then when given an unfettered opportunity as the one afforded by the introduction of the netbook that the buying public chose Windows, but that's what choice is all about. And if you want it to be fair, then you have to respect it and live with those choices whether you personally like them or not. It's an important lesson one gets to learn when raising children to be adults.

Those millions of consumer's choices cast Linux in a harsh and unflattering light. It isn't Microsoft being evil that's the problem here, it's Linux behaving badly, specifically when you attempt to sell it as a viable Windows alternative to the general consumer. For them it isn't. And until such time as enough Linux hackers climb down out of their ivory towers and come to the startling revelation they need to write for someone else other than a clone of themselves, it never will be. So get over your bitching about being rejected and fix up Linux for them or else STFU. If you can't give consumers what they want then they'll find someone who will. It's ruthless and Darwinian, but that's the real power of choice in action.
sjvn's conclusion that Microsoft was evil in offering Windows for netbooks so that it could knock Linux out is fundamentally flawed. The market spoke, and Linux lost. Add to that the rise of the tablet with Apple's iOS and to a lesser extent Google's Android, and there is no real reason to purchase a netbook anymore. For the majority it's not a matter of price, it's a matter of quality and usability. Unfortunately both Linux (circa 2007/2008) and the netbook hardware it was running on were lacking in both.


Going back to the argument that Microsoft sold Windows XP at a loss to knock out Linux, there's just one small problem with that argument. If it's true then the conclusion is you can't give Linux away. It also fits with the observation from China and elsewhere that many would rather pay for a cheap (read: pirated) version of Windows than run a free version of Linux.


Popular posts from this blog

A Decade Long Religious Con Job

I rarely write inflammatory (what some might call trolling) titles to a post, but this building you see before you deserves it. I've been seeing this building next to I-4 just east of Altamonte/436 and Crane's Roost for nearly 12 years, and never knew who owned it. Today on a trip up to Lake Mary with my wife I saw it yet again. That's when I told her I wanted to stop by on the way back and poke around the property, and photograph any parts of it if I could.

What I discovered was this still unfinished eighteen story (I counted) white elephant, overgrown with weeds and yet still under slow-motion construction. It looks impressive with its exterior glass curtain walls, but that impression is quickly lost when you see the unfinished lower stories and look inside to the unfinished interior spaces.

A quick check via Google leads to an article written in 2010 by the Orlando Sentinel about the Majesty Tower. Based on what I read in the article it's owned by SuperChannel 55 WA…

Be Careful of Capital One Mailings

Capitol One ("What's in your wallet?") sent me a bit of deceptive snail mail today. I felt sure it was a credit card offer, and sure enough, it was. I open all credit card offers and shred them before putting them in the trash. Normally I just scan the front to make sure I don't miss anything; the Capital One offer made me stop for a moment and strike a bit of fear into my heart.

The letter's opening sentence read:
Our records as of December 30, 2009 indicate your Capital One Platinum MasterCard offer is currently valid and active.Not paying close attention during the first reading, I quickly developed this irrational worry that I was actually on the hook for something important, but I wasn't quite sure what. The letter listed "three ways to reply" at the bottom; via phone, the internet, and regular snail mail. I elected to call.

Once I reached the automated phone response system, the first entry offered was '1', to "activate my Capital …

cat-in-a-box channels greta garbo

So I'm sitting at my computer, when I start to notice a racket in back. I ignore it for a while until I hear a load "thump!", as if something had been dropped on the floor, followed by a lot of loud rattling. I turn around and see Lucy in the box just having a grand old time, rolling around and rattling that box a good one. I grab the GX1 and snap a few shots before she notices me and the camera, then leaps out and back into her chair (which used to be my chair before she decided it was her chair).

Just like caring for Katie my black Lab taught me about dogs, caring for Lucy is teaching me about cats. She finds me fascinating, as I do her. And she expresses great affection and love toward me without coaxing. I try to return the affection and love, but she is a cat, and she takes a bat at me on occasion, although I think that's just her being playful. She always has her claws in when she does that.

She sits next to me during the evening in her chair while I sit in mi…