Is Linux a Lonely Word?

amcpherson's picture

Yesterday as I was sitting in a cafe having a drink, I caught up on my New York Times business section. In a review of the new class of Mini-Notebooks, I wasn’t surprised to see Linux mentioned. After all Linux is the dominant OS in these new class of computers, described by the Times as bigger than a smart phone but smaller than a laptop. While I wasn’t surprised to see Linux mentioned, I was surprised by my reaction.

Just last year I would have leaped out of my chair (spilling my drink) and shouted to uninterested cafe neighbors, “Hey, look! The New York Times is writing about Linux on the desktop!” I’m used to reading about Linux in server applications. The New York Stock Exchange for instance. But until recently, Linux on the desktop was relegated to the technologist’s ghetto. If you didn’t love the command line and compiling your own code, you would never have even tried it. Lucky for them, it’s becoming so common that I just nodded, pleased with the advancement of Linux in this new realm and went forward with my evening. (I should point out however that most of those uninterested neighbors sat rapt behind Apple notebooks. Still a long way to go.)

Today, more news on the Linux mini-top front. PC World writes that “Acer sees Linux as key to Low-cost laptops.”

“We really need to continue our journey on Linux,” said Jim Wong, senior corporate vice president at Acer, in an interview. “We can develop it more and we will try to develop alliances with more partners. Linux is a lonely word. We need to try to create a community,” he added.

Linux is a lonely word? Didn’t we just publish a paper that showed that over 1,000 different developers contributed to the last kernel release? Hardly a lonely place. (If you really want lots of room there are a few other open source OS projects you could try.)

All kidding aside, I think Mr. Wong is correct. He means for vendors shipping Linux on their desktop it is a lonely place. There isn’t the Microsoft ecosystem. There isn’t the partner programs. It’s a different model. Luckily for everyone, that desktop vendor community is getting more crowded and more mature. We are trying our small part by enabling a meeting of the key desktop vendors and architects at our Linux Foundation Collaboration Summits. I’d like us to do more.

Why is Linux on these new classes of PCs seeing some success? Microsoft has created a whole new class of “Vista Orphans:” vendors who want to sell lower cost PCs and can’t afford the component costs required by Vista. Microsoft has responded by keeping “Coke Classic” around (Windows XP) as they see their market presence slipping in these new machines. And that’s really the key. As Glyn Moody says: “The price difference has been slight and there has always been the problem of learning new ways of working. The Asus Eee PC changes all that. Because the form factor is so different, people don’t seem to make direct comparisons with the desktop PC and so don’t expect the user experience to be the same.”

While those neighbors in the cafe sit behind Apple notebooks with all of those attendant expectations, a new form factor breaks the hold of those prejudices and preconceptions. It’s not really all about price of OS, since Microsoft can certainly — if pressured — drop the price on XP, New Coke or their next OS. As a community let’s focus on experience and making Linux on the desktop less lonely:

Acer is banking on Linux for a lot of its Aspire one sales. The mini-laptop only carries Linux right now, but a Windows XP version will be available by the time the laptop launches in early July, Wong said.

“But in our marketing, our main message to users is about Linux because the experience is more real, it is more vivid,” he said.