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.