Friday, October 23, 2009

An Amazing Coincidence or Something More Sinister?

Yesterday, as anyone involved in computing knows, Windows 7 was released by Microsoft with much marketing hype and fanfare. Apple responded with some new clever commercials basically saying that Windows 7 comes with all the security problems and other issues that previous Windows versions have had. Maybe so.

Canonical chose the day to announce the release candidate of their upcoming Ubuntu Linux 9.10 (Karmic Koala), scheduled for final release next week. I'm running Karmic on the HP Mini 110 in a dual boot configuration with HP Mi, a customized Ubuntu 8.04 LTS for netbooks. So far this release is extremely promising and may be their best since Edgy Eft. I certainly haven't found any show stopping bugs.

Hewlett-Packard also did something yesterday, albeit very quietly. HP removed Linux entirely from the part of their website where they sell netbooks. The day Windows 7 became available the HP Mi interface appears to have died a quiet death. A visit to the HP Mini pages reveals that HP is only offering "genuine" Windows 7 and "genuine" Windows XP. I also noticed that the HP Mini 110 also sports a new, higher starting price, a full US $25 more than when I ordered mine earlier this month. I have to assume the Windows license is part of the higher price.

The timing of the apparent death of Mi may be an amazing coincidence. I have no inside knowledge of the decision making process at HP. However, there is substantial history of Microsoft playing hardball with hardware vendors. There is also significant evidence of increased interest and demand for Linux, with Acer unveiling a new Linux (Android) netbook offering after having previously dropped from the Open Source operating system.

The Asus story is particularly striking example of how Microsoft is widely believed to have forced a hardware vendor out of the Linux market. The company which started the netbook revolution with their EeePC running Linux in 2007 launched an "It's better with Windows" campaign early this year which drew the ire of many in the Linux community. Then in June at Computex in Taiwan Asus proudly displayed an EeePC with a Qualcomm Snapdragon (ARM) processor running Android. The following day Asus' chairman Jonney Shih found himself sharing a stage with Microsoft corporate VP, OEM Division, Steven Guggenheimer. Shih apologized for showing the Android EeePC, a move which resulted in many angry columns about Microsoft strong-arm tactics.

Around the same time Asus executives were doing all they could to throw Linux under the proverbial bus. Asus Australia consumer market product manager Gordon Kerr stated in late May that Linux was likely to be completely phased out by Asus on netbooks. At the time he said:
"People bought the original seven- and eight-inch Eee PCs for a computer to give to the kids. If you want the full functionality of a notebook you are going to go with Windows.”
Never mind that the relatively poor performance of Windows on netbooks when compared to Linux didn't exactly help create satisfied customers as I reported back in June. The response from many previously satisfied Asus EeePC owners was typified by blogger James Sparenberg in a post titled "We don't need you either Asus."

As I reported in my survery of Linux netbooks currently on the market published just yesterday it turns out Asus never did fully leave the Linux market. Toys 'R' Us still sells Linux based EeePC, albeit older models, both online and in its stores. Asus also continues to offer Linux on their Eee Box nettop PCs. However, when Betanews questioned Josh Norem, a senior technical marketing specialist at Asus, about the possibility of a new Linux offering last month he replied "Not at this time." This from a company that had touted its Linux offerings and high Linux sales early this year.

Some may also remember testimony by Garry Norris of IBM when the U.S. Department of Justice went after Microsoft a decade ago. He detailed how Microsoft effectively killed OS/2, IBM's technically superior operating system, and how Microsoft effectively controlled IBM's PC business at the time.

There is little doubt that Hewlett-Packard devoted considerable development effort to the Mi interface. I'm not one who believes much in conspiracy theories but in light of Microsoft's historical dealings with it's vendors it sure would be one amazing coincidence if HP decided to kill Mi on precisely the day Windows 7 launched without any undue influence from Redmond.


Anonymous said...

Fairly obvious that Microsoft "incentivized" HP to kill their Mi Linux. If they hadn't, the Windows 7 licenses would have increased the price of the HP Mini by far more than $25. Typical gangster tactics: "Nice netbook business you've got here. It would be a shame if something "happened" to it."

I'm glad I bought my Mini before they ditched their Linux option. Although I must admit I did erase Mi and put Ubuntu Netbook Remix on.

Andrew said...

Personally I found their Linux interface fairly horrible. I have a 2GB netbook I bought a few months ago - within 24 hours I had replaced the HP Linux install with Fedora.

(Do you ever attend TriLUG?)

Unknown said...

I am out of luck. I was planning on buying a HP Mini 110 Mi for my daughter (12 years old) for Christmas. HP improved the hardware on the Mini 110 compared to the HP 1000. The software was innovative and based on a system both me and my daughter are familiar.

I certainly was disappointed to see the HP Mini 110 Mi Edition go away. However, I am glad I didn't purchase the product as I am not enthused about a vendor who is not committed to supporting our platform of choice.

I will turn to a competitor of HP (such as Dell, System76 or ZaReason) to meet our computing requirement (Netbook, 2 Gb RAM, Ubuntu-based OS).

My kids have been brought up on a Gnu/Linux/Ubuntu world. Their friends are increasingly becoming familiar with opensource applications. Is it just a matter of time?

Zona de Slumbergod said...

Nice article. I agree with all the main points. In fact, the main reason I ditched m$ and switched to Linux was that I lost faith in the m$ model - I grew tired of constantly having to fork out money for everything and with the way they muscled out competition.

Actually, I have grown tired of the RIAA and the entire US legal system too.

Unknown said...

if enough people ask for a refund (dont accept the eula) then hp will have to release blank hardware or linux or they will lose more than $25 for each refund.

Brent R Brian said...

I just bought an Acer Aspire One with Vista, it never made it to the activation screen ... I installed Fedora 11.

As always, I love every bit of it.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@David: I don't believe you are correct. Most OEMs still refuse to refund Windows license costs, at least here in the U.S.


ALL: It turns out HP only dropped Linux from their consumer line and killed Mi. You can still get a "business" HP Mini 5101 (older model) with SLED for a whopping $500. See: here. Thanks but no thanks. I still find the loss of HP's consumer netbooks and the death of HP Mi to be suspicious at best.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@Andrew: I attended TriLUG in 1998. At the time it was hostile (at best) towards women and certainly to newbies. One woman I worked with, a TriLUG member, at the time, referred to the membership as "a bunch of big swinging dicks". Her words, not mine, I wouldn't have been that crude.

Anyway, we started a local LinuxChix chapter that lasted maybe 18 months. TriLUG was positively hostile towards me then even though they had a female President. How dare I compete with them!

I've had nothing to do with TriLUG for a decade now. I don't see myself ever going back.

Unknown said...

So why didnt you just call HP to find out what is going on?

Andrew said...


re Trilug, that's very sad. I have been to a couple of meetings because I'm talking to them next month about Postgres, and there is certainly a testosterone overload, but I suspect the personnel running it has changed a lot - some look like they were barely old enough for High School in 1998.

re HP. They have long been at best luke warm about Linux, especially on non-server machines. I'm not at all surprised by this. They probably supported Linux in the first place to screw a better deal out of Microsoft.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@alex: Whom at HP would you suggest I call? Since both Microsoft and their vendors always say such discussions are confidential do you really expect I'd get an honest answer?

Byte Corrupto said...

Hi, a guy at school told me you could help me.

I'm trying to use Linux Ubuntu. I heard it's a good program, and I was given a copy and told to try it.

I put it in and double click and can't get it to start. I also tried to go to start, control panel, add new programs, and it won't start.

Sorry, but I'm not very advanced with computers yet. I was going to buy a Mac but this guy told me Linux Ubuntu is just like a Mac.

If anyone could help me that'd be great.



Caitlyn Martin said...

@Sam: Ubuntu is not like a Mac. It is not a program you run under Windows. It replaces Windows and is an entirely different operating system.

If you were going to buy a Mac you could buy a PC with Ubuntu instead if you like. That would be the best way for you to use Ubuntu. It doesn't sound like you're up to installing an operating system on your own. Companies like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, System 76, and ZaReason all sell computers with Ubuntu already installed.

The other option would be to have your friend, the one who gave you the disc, install it for you.

Anonymous said...

Linux systems are virtually unusable for average users, because they cannot troubleshoot it themselves: scarce documentation in English language definetely doesn't help here, and so-called user help sites are full of immature, aggressive people. So what should people do when they want do their working tasks with Linux system? Clearly, no reasonable OEM will take this burden of supporting layman users...

Caitlyn Martin said...

@urmas: No operating system troubleshooting can be done by average users. That's equally true of Windows, Linux, or MacOS. Linux is significantly easier to troubleshoot than Windows issues in my experience.

Lack of documentation? Since when? All the major Linux distros have excellent help from manuals, to knowledge bases, to FAQs. The Linux Doucmentation Project also has excellent documentation that tends to be more generic, as in not distribution specific.

You're clearly going to the wrong help sites. I can name a dozen or more that are friendly or helpful. For newcomers to Linux I generally recommend the techtalk list at It is not gender-specific and it is extremely friendly and welcoming. I've recently started using Pardus Linux and I have been extremely impressed with the help on their WorldForum in English. Very quick, very friendly. I've long felt the same about Vector Linux and their forum.

Finally, many OEMs do support Linux and do an excellent job of it. I have no clue where you care coming from with your comments but in my considerable experience they are just plain wrong.

Byte Corrupto said...

Sorry Caitlyn, but I don't think that Ubuntu (or Linux) have good documentation.

While Linux have a lot of man pages, wikis, faqs and other oscure docs, it lacks of user-friendly documentation like Wizards and user-guides.

The users that buy netbooks with Linux aren't geeks. They have other things to waste his time more than search in forums and reading developer's documentation.

Even if they have the motivation and time, how they will know exactly how to describe their problems? There are people that even don't know the difference betwen a OS, a Desktop, a WebBrowser, a Internet conection and Google.

Caitlyn Martin said...

I thought *YOU* didn't know the difference between an OS and an app. Trolling much, are we? No need to answer since any future comments will be rejected.

Again, I don't know if your post is argumentative or just ignorant. I can provide links to more beginner's user manuals and wizards than you can imagine. There is no lack of beginner friendly documentation and it is way easier to get beginner friendly help with Linux than any other OS.

Anonymous said...

I wanted one! Oh well, Dell still supports, right? If they don't, I can't just build my own. I guess any computer would work, if preloaded with XP, as long as it doesn't have Foxxconn inside. I may download the Mi interface, as it seems quite awesome. As for documentation, although the documentation is good, it makes no sense to a Windows user. The blue E is the internet, and why is there only one Administrator? It took me a whole month to figure the second one out, reading many many pages of text. Yes, I was annoyed with Microsoft. Also, it took me a week to figure out how to install flash. It took me two weeks to understand "mounting", and an hour to understand the single heirarchy filesystem.
I use fedora too! I purchased a Vista laptop because it looked nice, and was cheap for its specs. I use it to VNC into my Linux, or use a liveusb if there is no internet.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@www: Dell sells netbooks, laptops, and desktops with Linux preinstalled. HP still does as well, but only as part of their business line, which is expensive.

If you are having trouble learning Linux I'd suggest asking questions in the forum for your distribution of choice.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I can use linux now, but a couple of years ago, I had many questions that were never directly answered, as I couldn't find a comprehensive guide to help windows users switch to linux.

Anonymous said...

Oh and I just noticed:
The two people named Byte Corrupto seem to have different profile pages. Is it possible that Blogger allows multiple users under the same name?