Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Netbooks Become Ubiquitous and Linux Becomes Mainstream

Last Tuesday I took my ferret Chin Soon to her vet. While I was waiting I pulled my Sylvania g Netbook Meso out of its case to get some writing done. When the vet came in she commented on my "cute little netbook" and asked me if it was an Acer. Hers, it turns out, is an Acer and mine looks quite similar.

I read the reviews last year where people claimed that netbooks looked more like portable DVD players than computers. Well... nobody has mistaken mine for a DVD player. Lots of people recognize it as a netbook. I keep running into more and more people, both in the real world and online who have taken the plunge and bought themselves a little netbook. Many, like my ferrets' vet, are intelligent, professional people but are by no means technology professionals or even particularly technically inclined.

16 million netbooks have sold so far with growth estimated at 60% per year. I expect it could be higher that that. Netbooks are the least expensive new computers on the market in what is now a seriously troubled worldwide economy. Cool new technologies tend to snowball when they catch on. I've found I can do everything with my netbook that I could do with a conventional PC. Others will discover the same. Netbooks probably won't be as ubiquitous as cell phones but they will turn up in more and more places with more and more ordinary, non technical users.

Yes, the vet's Acer runs Windows. While the vast majority of new netbooks will be sold with either Windows XP or Windows 7, a substantial minority will continue to be preloaded with Linux. Millions of people have been introduced to Linux through netbooks and are satisfied with it. Educated consumers who learn that Linux, which requires fewer system resources, will run faster and comes with a wide variety of software preinstalled will choose Linux.

Despite the posts by various so-called tech journalists who always cheerlead for Microsoft claiming that Windows has "kicked Linux to the curb" or "crushed" Linux on netbooks, Microsoft's own estimate places Linux at 30% of current market share. Asustek's Samson Hu, quoted in the same Bloomberg article, places Linux on 30-40% of all EeePCs currently sold and expects Linux to maintain a 30% market share. Acer spokesman Henry Wang expects 20% of his Aspire One models to ship with Linux this year.

There were one million netbooks sold in 2007, all running Linux. There were 15 million sold last year. Assuming that Microsoft has no reason to deflate its own sales figures or inflate Linux numbers then the 30% figure becomes a good, conservative estimate of Linux netbook market share in 2008. That would make 4.2 million more Linux machines sold. Estimates for 2010 are as high as 29 million units. I've seen similar estimates for 2009. Let's assume the total market share for Linux across the industry will fall somewhere between the two leaders, around 25%. That would mean 14.5 million more new preloaded Linux boxes over the next two years, putting the total number since the summer of 2007 at 19.7 million.

I'm sure the Windows cheerleading section will be happy to point out that three times that number will run a Microsoft operating system and this will be touted as another great victory for Windows. Of course, these are the same folks who just a year ago were claiming Linux was insignificant in the consumer market with a less than one percent share of preloaded systems. Tell me again how going from less than 1% to 30% in the fastest growing segment of the consumer PC market is a crushing defeat for Linux and a great victory for Microsoft. Sorry, but I don't see it.

Consumers now are aware they have a choice and Linux has gone mainstream. Oh, and speaking of things snowballing, how many of those 19.7 million Linux netbook users will also choose Linux for a desktop or conventional notebook? How many will show Linux to their friends, family, or neighbors? How many of those friends, family, or neighbors may then make the same Linux choice? The results for an OS that's been "crushed" or "kicked to the curb" might be quite impressive indeed.


Phil said...

I'm skeptical about the Asus EEEPC numbers. The model that I bought from Best Buy had Linux on it, but it was all but unusable. The 4GB SSD was 97% full going out the door, and I've read some forum messages where attempts to use the included software update programs or procedures failed. So I suspect that either a large number of these devices are either being returned or switched to some other distribution or OS.

This all causes me to question the reported OS shipping statistics. I'm not saying that the Windows numbers are higher than reported, I'm saying that the numbers strike me as very unreliable.

Tigger said...

The "white on black" color scheme is difficult enough that I quit reading during the first paragraph. I'm sure you chose it for specific reasons, I just wanted you to know it doesn't work for me. Thanks.

Look-out Kid said...

Great stuff!

I just purchased a Dell Mini 12 with Ubuntu pre-loaded and I positively adore it - if adoration is an emotion you can have for a machine.

I would actually consider either dual booting my desktop, or going Linux only.

Caitlyn said...

Phil: First, most EeePC's aren't sold with a 4GB SSD anymore. Oh, those are still available but the 8GB, 16GB, and 20GB models are more common. Target, for example, is stocking the 8GB models.

I've actually heard more positive reports than negative for Xandros Desktop as installed on the EeePC. Jerry Shen, ASUS CEO, put the figure for Linux at 40% late last year and stated clearly that the return rate for Linux machines was not higher than for Windows. In addition, yes, many Linux users do replace Xandros Desktop with their favorite lightweight Linux distro, many of which fit in far less than 4GB.

Then there was this comment to this post on LinuxToday:

"I purchased a Dell Mini 9 at a retail store last week. The store had a better price than Dell's online price.

It came with Windows XP Home. 4 co-workers purchased netbooks--all with XP Home. All 4 now are running Linux. "

For every system that goes Linux --> Windows there are probably more that go the other way for just the reason described -- the Windows models are more accessible or often have better specs.

So yes, I quetsion the numbers too, but I believe that the Linux numbers are higher than reported.

@Tigger: In five years of blogging (old blog and new) you are the first complaint. Much of my home page is white on black as well and I haven't had a complaint in the last 10 years. I guess you just can't please all of the people all of the time.

Ralph said...

Phil, I just saw one of the Asus netbooks in the hands of a non-technical user in, of all places, Fort McMurray, Alberta, a Windows-favorable environment if I ever saw one. He said he didn't want Windows and was quite happy with it as it was. Another computer user left the coffee shop and for a time it was a Linux-only situation, if you didn't count my inactive Vista boot option. His model had a much larger SSD, so perhaps your problems stem from that limitation. I'm sure that some of those netbooks are being converted to some version of Ubuntu, as there is a variant specifically tailored for that.

julianne said...

In December, I fell in love with the hp2133, getting it with the Suse distro that was available. Being a power Linux user, it didn't take long to realize that the version on the machine wasn't very usable. With a bit of fiddling, I put several versions of Fedora on (7 & 10), making the machine much more like my working desktop. The hp works very nicely in a carry-on travel bag, making it invaluable for road or air trips. I haven't seen any other models that use the higher 1280x768 screen, and that is one of the features that is nice.


PoP said...

I am, unfortunately, one of the reasons the Linux<->Windows numbers are skewed, especially in the US. I wanted Linux but was not able to find it, off the shelf and I didn't want to wait. I bought 2 AAO with XP: One for me and one for the wife. My AAO kept XP on it for about as long as it took for me to download the Acer Recovery CD and install it. My wife is a died-in-wool (as "wool over the eyes") Windoze user.

Until the lock M$ has on US computer users, and manufacturers, is opened, M$ will continue to lead the pack in numbers.

BTW, I like the AAO very much. It runs what I need and does it well with a thoroughly hacked copy of Linpus.


Paul said...

Phil: Firstly the 30% or thereabouts figures were quotes from Microsoft and Asustek. If anyone knows what the true situation is then they probably should.

Secondly my Asus EEEPC 2G surf was about 75% full when I got it and very usable. Are you sure someone hadn't been playing with yours before you got it ;).

Admittedly the 2G didn't have everything installed that the higher capacity models did but it still had OpenOffice installed, which is well known for being bloated, along with a host of other preinstalled software.

I cringe when I imagine someone trying to install XP and then MSoffice into the same configuration and then actually finding the thing usable.

Hein said...

I bought an Asus EEEPC 4 GB this year. Xandros was on it and not a glimpse of an update ever, found out an old kernel version was used. My wireless did not support WPA so I had doubts because I was aware of the likes of debian, ubuntu, fedora and more.

I replaced xandros with ubuntu remix and all worked beyond my expectations.

I think it's obvious that an netbook initiative on linux thrives on the bleeding edge distros and not on an hardly supported firmware distro version.

So Dell with Ubuntu - considering shipped with actual releases - can really make a boost

Matt Kukowski said...

Very well written post! Bravo to you!

Yes, Linux IS mainstream. It is a matter of perspective, as u mentioned going from less than 1% to 30% (and 100% in 2007) is an ASTONISHING sales figure!

Maybe Linux can become 'viral' as u mentioned families telling families and so on, about Linux, will be a far cry from the windows 'viral' that infects our PCs and Windows Desktops with mal and spyware.

Linux is IMMUNE to such attacks, so why wouldn't you browser the web with a NetBook running Linux and Firefox.

Also note, that Firefox web browser is at a record high of 40%+ market browser share! And continues to rise, month after month.

While Internet Explorer, known for it's security risks is dropping like a rock.

Seeing how much influence and POWER Microsoft has on the OEM's and ISV's, I find it astonishing that Linux can make a dent at all.

Especially, when Microsoft is practicing extortion on Novell, Suse, Zandros and many more Linux Distributors.

Way to go Netbooks!

Now, the next big break for linux will be Smart phones... Cell phones ( smart phones ) use even LESS resources and Linux is dominate in the embedded industry and should do VERY well here as well.

Linux already OWNS the Super Computers and Internet Server markets. So, the final frontier will be the Desktop.

However, as more and more broadband wireless is springing up all over the place, maybe the era of the Desktop will shrink a bit to make way for a new Mobile computing world.

Great, article.

Phil said...

White on black works fine for me.

Just to make things clear, I'm quite happy with my EEE after switching the operating system over to FreeBSD (using windowmaker instead of Gnome or KDE). And I'm sure that I would have also been quite happy with some other Linux distro if I was more of a Linux user.

My biggest complaint is that the SSD is awfully slow. This was even more of an issue with the Windows XP that was installed on an older EEE PC model (the 900 MHz, 16GB model).

Caitlyn said...

@Matt: Sorry to tell you this, but... Linux is NOT immune to virii, worms, or trojans. There have been six that I know of and at least a couple got out in the wild. Of course if you had your system patched and up-to-date you were immune. Linux is more secure by nature than Windows, yes, but truly immune, no.

Where did you get your market share number for Firefox? It's been growing, yes, but I haven't seen any reputable sources quoting a number as high as you give. I'm not saying it isn't so. I'm just asking you to back up your number with sources.

Bottom line: Linux can stand on its own merits. Let's stick with facts and not depend on hype and hyperbole.

Simpleton said...

Caitlyn, Can you name (provide links) those Virii especially the ones that got "into the wild"? I'm skeptical because I've not heard of any successful ones.

suhaw said...

I brought my bro-in-law's ASUS netbook on an overseas trip in May last year and wondered why anybody would lug around heavy laptops when netbooks are available. Xandros was not perfect, but it served all my needs while travelling.

In November, I got for myself an Acer Aspire One. Call me biased but it is a most wonderful piece of hardware. After a few weeks, the Linpus OS it came with felt somewhat restrictive, so I removed the overlay and it now logs in straight into a "normal" desktop.

What I cannot understand is why anybody would want to use Windows with netbooks when the MS OS requires so much more resources that they inevitably have to ship with better (and consequently more expensive) hardware.

Last weekend, Acer launched their new Aspire One AOA 150 with only the Windows XP version here in Singapore. Earlier plans to jointly launch a Linpus OS version (which cost S$200 less) did not materialise. The brochures distributed at Funan were printed with the Linpus version crossed out.

Caitlyn said...

@Simpleton: It's a *LONG* time ago (Red Hat 6.x and 7.x era) so give me a little time to do some research and get back to you. The bottom line was that if you had a fully patched and updated Red Hat system you were safe, otherwise not. Those two were the only ones I am aware of but they did happen. Hopefully I can still find something online, at least through the Wayback Machine, and post it for you.

Caitlyn said...

OK, I found a reference to the Ramen worm, a piece of malware targeting RH 6.2 and 7.x. This is one of the two I remember:


Unfortunately the original SANS page has been taken down. I'll see if I can find more information and references to the second one, which was a virus and not a worm.

anon said...

Hey, you can add 1 machine to the 30% figure..I bought a Eee1000H and wiped the XP virus off...Ubuntu 8.10 runs just fine on it, thank you!! What a great little box, and fast too (withLinux that is)
Where is my freekin refund from Microsoft eh?
fyi, you can buy it with a HD and put a SSD in, but cant always put a HD in if you bought it with a SSD. (physical space issues depending on model)

Purple library guy said...

Actually, it's even more favourable for Linux than you're suggesting. Much of the buzz lately in netbooks is about the upcoming ones using Arm chips--even cheaper and with better battery life.

Thing is, Windows won't run on Arm chips. No loss leader tactics can help Microsoft when these come to market.

suhaw said...


Freescale Promises $200 Netbooks With New Chips

Next up: more competition for Intel's Atom chips and even more affordable netbooks.

Sola said...

Yes, the ARM based netbooks will be an even bigger success with their sub-$200 price. No desktop Windows is there currently (there was that Windows CE but I believe it is not developed anymore and Windows Mobile is oriented towards phones)

Microsoft is fighting an uphill battle (a very steep hill if you ask me). On the long run not extortion and not all of the monex in the world can win this. Windows will go back to 70-80% market share on the desktop in 5 years thanks to netbooks.

And that will change things completely. A lot of cross-platform applications will be developed (maybe even photoshop will be ported to Linux), and a lot of Windows users will become able to migrate to Linux.

Interesting times ahead indeed.

Phil said...

Are all of the multimedia plugins going to be available on the ARM machines? Realplayer, Flash, etc? The machines will not be useful to a lot of people without them.

Simpleton said...

@Phil. If the machines are running Linux, there is no reason why all the multimedia plugins would not be available. Here's some meat for you:
There's also Gnash