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The Truth Behind the Death of Linux On the Netbook 406

eldavojohn writes "Groklaw brings us news of Microsoft holding the smoking gun in regards to the death of Linux on netbooks. You see, the question of Linux on netbooks in Taiwan was put forth to the Taiwan Trade Authority director, who replied, 'In our association we operate as a consortium, like the open source consortium. They want to promote open source and Linux. But if you begin from the PC you are afraid of Microsoft. They try to go to the smart phone or PDA to start again.' It's simple; fear will keep them in line. PJ points out, 'So next time you hear Microsoft bragging that people prefer their software to Linux on netbooks, you'll know better. If they really believed that, they'd let the market speak, on a level playing field. If I say my horse is faster than yours, and you says yours is faster, and we let our horses race around the track, that establishes the point. But if you shoot my horse, that leaves questions in the air. Is your horse really faster? If so, why shoot my horse?'"
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The Truth Behind the Death of Linux On the Netbook

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  • Cunning Plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by turgid ( 580780 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @09:45AM (#28401385) Journal

    What these companies need to to is to club together to form a new "independent" company that makes netbooks. This company would only sell non-Microsoft netbooks (whether that was Linux or some other new-fangled OS) and thus be immune to Microsoft's mafia tactics.

    No turnips required.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @09:47AM (#28401393)

    I can't say I agree with you or disagree.

    In past, when the "netbook" thing started, Linux was used more like an teaser for M$. Initially M$ refused manufacturers Windows support for the netbooks: "market doesn't exist, show us the market and we might get interested". It went along the lines. So OEMs had no better option than simply try to create a new market themselves. And Linux is probably only the option for companies starting new markets. They tried Linux, there was a demand, new market opened and M$ "jumped" on it.

    What I'm trying to convey here, is that netbook manufacturers never planned to keep Linux for a long time. They were, they are and they will be always in bed with M$ - because they are part of larger PC market and no PC business would go against M$. And as long M$ is capable sweetening the lock-in pill, Linux will not appear on the mainstream OEM desktops.

    H/W manufacturers simply do not have any interest in software. And as long as there is a company (M$) which can take care of software, OEMs will outsource it.

  • by mattcasters ( 67972 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:14AM (#28401577) Homepage

    I badly want a netbook with Linux on it and I know quite a number of people that would love one too.

    The truth is that in the country where I live (Belgium) I simply can't buy one anywhere.
    There used to be a web shop that had two (2) high end models, but no more.
    I just saw they are started selling one (1) ultra-cheap model for â149 at the local Carefour supermarket.
    That's *it*.

    Note that exactly the same goes for laptops and PCs. I simply can't buy any brand with Linux on it or even without a Microsoft/Apple operating system on it.

    After I bought my Dell Precision M60 laptop, I never even booted it into Windows XP pro, I just booted from a Kubuntu DVD. I simply erased all the crapware from the hard disk.
    Now, 3 years later, I haven't looked back, but it *still* annoys me terribly that I had to pay Microsoft for something I didn't even want.
    That's at least â100 that I didn't want to spend over at Microsoft although I would have no problem spending it at Canonical.
    The same sort of laptops get sold with Linux pre-installed in other countries. Not in Belgium, not in many other countries.

    It's not very hard to claim that Linux sales is negligible in that sort of situation. Heck, I'm amazed Linux reached the 1% barrier at all.


  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert&slashdot,firenzee,com> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:24AM (#28401643) Homepage

    Linux apps are perfectly familiar, the differences are not so huge especially when compared to differences between different versions of the same app (eg msoffice 2003->2007, xp->vista)...

    And users are perfectly used to minor differences between things, no two brands of TV have exactly the same controls, tho all have a very similar basic set there are many differences for more advanced controls. Same with any other appliances people use, or even vehicles. Even the most non technical of users are willing to accept that different brands produce different products for performing the same tasks.

    The difference is that people don't realize linux exists, don't realize that anything other than ms exists... Users need to be educated (via advertising/promotions) that linux exists, what advantages it has over windows and where it's most suitable.

    The existing linux netbooks were poorly advertised and poorly implemented, they had stripped down installs which made it difficult to install apps (package management is one of the biggest advantages of linux, neutering it is very bad)... They were also very badly advertised, they were touted as being cheaper than the windows based ones but were also made out to be inferior because of this... With better promotion and better implementation, linux netbooks would sell a lot better... Something like an eee running ubuntu netbook remix and with good advertising would do very well.

  • The great mystery of computing is not that Linux is not in the consumer space, but that Windows is so entrenched in the enterprise space.

    Windows is inherently a consumer operating system. It has a developer mythology that the dream Windows development is to make that one product that you can sell and make millions with. It's got a rich set of services developers can use to build consumer products, and it treats a product like a product, a property that can be bought, traded, and rented. You've got a well documented set of graphics and sound APIs, a halfway decent networking stack, and a bunch of tools that are frankly geared towards producing consumer products and these things support a healthy consumer market. Consumers, to some degree, actually like to spend money, so that Windows is non-free actually enhances its perceived value in the consumer space. If you receive something or buy something that doesn't work in Windows, its not something that you try and sort out and fix, its time to move on to another product. Everything is a black box good that you pay for, it either works or it doesn't, and that's what people on the consumer level want.

    On the other hand, Linux is a total corporate and government system. It has a developer mythology that "welcome to the basement of megacorp, I've got a jar skittles.. we're both cogs.. here's your cube." Thus, the economic prospect that in the Linux world, your work product is worthless in the market sense, but, your boss gets to use the economic benefit of it over and over again, and, if you can get to keep working on it for a bit, that's pretty interesting and you get a paycheck for it. If you want to get rich with Linux, it won't be by making an application. You'd have to make a consumer black box out of it by hosting a web site using it. But all the development and other tools of Linux have a certain corporate basement feel. Nothing is really a consumer level product, but, everything has all sorts of rich nooks and crannies to do a bunch of different corporate tasks. Consumers don't need to replace social security numbers in a giant database with some new form of proprietary identifier, but Linux developers do, and that's where the strength of Linux tools lie.

    Do you really want Linux to be a consumer system anyway? To some extent, that means getting rid of an awful lot that is lovable about Linux. It means polishing out (getting rid of), that barely documented switch to a command where an author left a note saying "uh, this piece of code I put in and got to work for this one thing that I was doing but I'm not really maintaining it", or, to not have that feature at all, or, even worse, have the feature, but not the warning. In any case, there's nothing about Windows that reminds me of the guy in the basement offering some skittles in the basement of the power company, but Linux has that in spades, and I like skittles.

    For Linux to be a consumer system, we have to have a world where we take art seriously. That means no copying of images, or songs, worrying about who owns what, and, in a corporate world, all of that is a pain in the rear. If we made Linux into a consumer system and had a consumer culture with it, there's no way you could, from your basement, tell the next bit of bits in your desk to get in line, just like all the other bits. We're all just corporate cogs, hey, here's some skittles.

    Me thinks that rather than charging to get consumers to adopt Linux, it should be to drive Windows out of the corporation.

  • by Norsefire ( 1494323 ) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:45AM (#28401811) Journal
    Ubuntu: My wireless card works right out of the box, nothing else needed.
    Vista: My wireless card works, after I install the drivers, open the device manager, remove it and re-enable it (a trick which I discovered after Googling around for a while) and it still spits out a warning about being unable to initialise a library on startup (works okay though so I haven't bothered to try and fix that).

    Which one of those methods is too complicated for the average user?
  • Re:OEM laziness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hitmark ( 640295 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:50AM (#28401843) Journal

    MSI was the one with the driver issues (and also the one that first complained about return rates on their linux model).

    Asus and Acer are the ones that use odd offshots of debian (xandros, asus) and fedora (linpus, acer). and the versions they based those of are not even close to the latest...

    Still, as one think about it, asus probably got its inspiration from OLPC and intel classmate, and envisioned linux as just some "featurephone firmware" that would not be messed around with much ones installed. They also clearly aimed the eeepc at children, not the geek adults that ended up embracing it for price and that it ran linux out of the box...

    Something tells me that a ARM based netbook will be truer to those roots then the current gen "netbook" is...

  • by OmegaBlac ( 752432 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:54AM (#28401881)

    The first netbooks; the ones so successful they started the entire trend; were based on Linux.

    I remember. Funny how it wasn't really that long ago. Asus EEE was running Linux and then many other OEMs started pushing out Linux based netbooks until Microsoft panicked. Then we start hearing reports that OEMs were making half-assed attempts with Linux on netbooks by shipping netbooks with driver issues, not optimizing the OS for netbooks, or just completely "fumbling the ball" in other ways. Then articles began spreading regarding the number of returns of Linux netbooks. In a short period of time there are almost no Linux netbooks that can be purchased while Microsoft Windows has quickly went from a market share of 0% to just about completely dominating the netbook market. Now any OEM that shows off their new Android based netbook at these trade shows, and receive positive reviews, suddenly pull the plug on their projects a short-time after? Of course the U.S. DoJ doesn't appear to be in any rush to investigate Microsoft in regards to this situation, even with a new administration at the helm. Guess those "campaign contributions" from Microsoft are reaping dividends as I type this. This whole situation is just disgusting.

  • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:55AM (#28401883) Homepage

    The first netbooks were largely adopted by geeks, who like Linux. Then some people who were born and raised on Windows looked at the machines and thought they were pretty cool; too bad they didn't run Windows. The manufacturers looked at which OS had the biggest market. It's not a hard decision, and doesn't require any goofy back-alley coercion.

    Or, this was the manufacturers' plan all along. They wanted Windows, MS priced it too high. So they brought out the first generation with Linux, knowing Microsoft would freak and drop the price to almost nothing.

    Either one works for me. Yeah, I'm sure MS was there pushing the manufacturers, but overall I'm pretty sure it's a case of you can't rape the willing.

  • by ihatewinXP ( 638000 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @11:08AM (#28401973)

    Picked up an HP Mini 1000 series 10" about a month ago when my original Macbook Pro drank a glass of water as a stop gap measure. I have run this thing through 4 operating systems and (goddammit) it has been my primary computer with about 8-10 hourse use daily in that time.

    First was winXP - as you can infer from my screen name I have never been its biggest fan.

    Second was OSX using iDeneb - such a pain in the ass to get everything working right that it completely undermines the entire idea of having a mac. Clones will never kill Apples marketshare.

    Third round Ubuntu Netbook Remix... Ok, the install was a breeze, the price cant be beat, and it picked up 90% of the hardware without a hiccup. Not bad. Until you start using it - graphical glitches everywhere. There is some single window dashboard on the netbook version that is sluggish and confusing garbage - turn it off first to even attempt to have a decent time. It still fails on so many common tasks without tweaking / dl'ing that it failed "The Wife Test" and that was it.

    I cant see some hardware manufacturer sitting down and saying "Yes, this is the best way to show off and sell my hardware" after using it for a week.

    Fourth and finally: Windows 7. Mac zealot since '99 here - first gen iPod and iPhone fanboy - and I have to say Windows 7 is by far the best thing Microsoft has put out since Windows 2000. THIS is what is going to kill Linux on netbook - the fact that Microsoft realized that they couldnt hand this segment to the Open Source community on a platter and designed an OS to run GREAT on a 1.6 Core Solo with 2GB of ram.

    XP is garbage. Linux had a great chance to lead this market. But now Win7 is here and there is no way in hell the user experiences can be compared. [That said I am still just biding MY time for another macbook ;]

  • by chris7crows ( 1522761 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @11:19AM (#28402057)

    When netbooks were initially released, they were perceived to be a niche/hobbyist market, so putting Linux on a netbook made sense from both a fiscal and a market standpoint.

    Microsoft realized that they were on the verge of losing out on a potentially lucrative market, so they quickly reversed course on sunsetting Windows XP, and under some very netbook-specific licensing conditions, made it available to manufacturers for cheap.

    When the average user was presented with the choice of Linux -- a "new" OS to many people -- versus familiar XP which works exactly like their sons/daughters/job had trained them to use, and which runs all of their favorite apps, then it became pretty obvious which way the wind was going to blow.

    I'm not saying that Linux shouldn't be an option -- I'm all for more choices in the market -- but there's really no conspiracy here, and no smoking gun.

    (And yes, I know that you taught your great-great-grandmother to use Ubuntu in five minutes with no manual, and Wine sort-of runs most Windows apps with only some slowdown or glitches, and monkeying with your printer drivers for an hour is something everyone enjoys, etc.)

  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @12:43PM (#28402559) Homepage

    The situation on netbooks has very little to do with Linux being good or bad. It has to do with the economics of the retail market space. Here's the story:

    * MS had announced EOA (end of availability) for XP prior to the netbook explosion. Early netbooks did ship with Linux because Vista um, sucked on lightweight hardware. MS suddenly dusted off XP and offered it to netbook OEMs for extra super dirt cheap compared to Vista.

    * MS did offer a netbook version of Vista that capped the number of applications running at four. This was terrible and went away in a hurry. XP worked better, and MS caved to the market as the alternative was to miss out on selling licenses with netbooks.

    * Retailers did experience high return rates on Linux based Netbooks, but not enough to give up on them.

    * Consumers purchased more XP based netbooks than Linux. Add to that that Linux users will buy and reimage machines anyway, and there is little reason to stock anything other than XP based systems.

    * Consumers chose hard drives over SSDs for one and only one reason: at the time hard drives stored more and cost less than SSDs. SSD also has a reputation of having a limited lifespan.

    * Because prices on netbooks have inflated to near notebook levels (some of this is MS tax), many manufacturers are building new designs on non IA32 architecture. So Linux will be back.

    * An additional change in landscape that is coming on netbooks: application distribution. Google Android based netbooks will sell applications via an online marketplace and pay the carrier 15%. This puts the incentive on the retailer (cell phone company) to carry Android based devices (netbooks and pdas).

    As always with MS, it's not about good or bad product, it's about good or bad business. MS does business in a way many feel is too good.

  • Distros, flash... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by temojen ( 678985 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:50PM (#28403043) Journal

    I bought a (Windows) Acer Aspire One 8+8 because that's the flash version that was available at all locally. I have to say, they screwed up big time with the default software. So much was loaded by default that the thing crawled. As it is, I never planned on running it with windows anyways; I need it as a technician's tool and I find Linux more productive for this use (may be based on having many years more experience with Linux than WinNT).

    My experience with it has brought up some interesting thoughts...

    Most of the netbooks seem to be set up and marketed on the assumption that they're being bought by unsophisticated users for web (facebook, twitter, etc.) and email access on the go. While this may be true for some, it's certainly not true of me and a sizeable (but low percentage) part of the market. There must exist a sizeable but diffuse niche of technicians and contractors who need a light-weight and robust technician's tool, not an adolescent's toy.

    So here's my idea for a product that some manufacturer could probably market successfully via direct marketing: A netbook roughly the same specs and form factor as the Aspire One 8+8 but with a mainstream KDE based distro plus a few extra tools:

    • Minicom (for router maintenence), firefox (works better for me on the small screen), KOffice (.doc and .xls reading with less footprint than OOo),
    • A secondary SD slot where the card does not protrude,
    • an eSATA port,
    • internal 3G card,
    • Bluetooth support and included bluetooth headset,
    • 3G card, CF Card hd0 (not proprietary hard to source SSD), and memory expansion slot all accessible via a door on the bottom
    • A hard-sided, watertight carry case, with included tools such as USB-Serial adapter, DB9-RJ45 console cable, USB-IDE adapter
  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:14PM (#28403205)

    Web browser - The FOSS solutions are clearly way superior here. I doubt there's any argument about this.

    Yah, but IE has been advancing in leaps and bounds-- IE8 might still be inferior to, say, Firefox, but it's much less obviously-so.

    Office - On 99% of the cases you're covered by OpenOffice. Some might say it's not as pretty/lacks features/etc. I have yet to see someone complain that they're not able to do their job with it.

    Yah right. OpenOffice can't even do Normal View. And it doesn't have a useful Outline mode.

    Yes, geeks who don't use office applications don't know the difference between Office and OpenOffice. For people who use office applications, it's obvious.

    Mail client - Most people have already switched to web clients. For corporate users some might still use Outlook, but in my professional experience most don't use its enterprise features, so they might as well use Thunderbird or any other client.

    See above. All the points about Office apply to Outlook as well.

    Music player - Considering most users take the default the OS offers, I'd say even the worst media player on Linux is better to WMP.

    We were talking about business software. WTF does WMP have anything to do with anything?

    If you use SQL Server of Visual Studio for your daily work you're smart enough and knowledgeable to make the appropiate choice for a system (supposedly). But SQL Server is on the same class as Postgres and DB2 for most tasks.

    And...? Is comparing it to DB2 supposed to be a point?

    Besider, there's no way in hell you're running Visual Studio, Outlook, or SQL Server or a netbook unless you're into masochism.

    Assuming you mean "besides" and "on a netbook", then I run Outlook and Visual Studio on my MSI Wind. It runs fine. Even when you're using the mini-SQL server they include with the web development package.

    In fact, what makes you think *Outlook* wouldn't run on a netbook?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:15PM (#28403215)

    Intel is every bit as bad in the Netbook space as Microsoft. Don't forget all of their marketing BS about how Netbooks can't do this and Netbooks can't do that. NVIDIA comes along solves big chunks of the performance and multimedia problems with the Ion chipset but I suspect due to Intel licensing restrictions bundling the Atom processor with the chipset (ala Centrino + chipset bundling) you'll probably never see one in the sub-12" space, and only very few in the 12"+ space. Haven't you noticed that the only real "hardware" difference in these things is the case they come in? All of the hardware specs in them are all but identical which should make creating a Linux distro a breeze if that's what consumers actually wanted.

    I suspect this is also the reason why Apple has stated they would build one if they could make one that didn't suck. I suspect the suck part is largely due to Intel's bundling considering they don't use sucky Intel chipsets in their notebook or iMac product lineups. If Apple can't even break the Wintel dominance in this space, what chance do you honestly think Linux has?

  • by gbarules2999 ( 1440265 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:50PM (#28403477)

    I am sure the Compiz guys are already mimicking some of the windows 7 stuff.

    Hell, KDE 4 had the Windows 7 GUI before Windows 7 was announced.

  • OEMs get to choose what hardware they use. They shouldn't have to hack into Linux because they could have chosen components that just worked. They didn't. Why? That's the $20K question.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:29PM (#28406913)

    Well I'm sure that MS have been looking at compiz for inspiration again.

    I mean, who got there first? It sure as hell wasn't MS.

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