Joining the array of low cost Linux offerings such as the Asus Eee PC , the Everex Cloudbook , Elonux announced the Elonux One a sub 200 dollar Linux laptop targeted to go on sale in the UK starting in June. We saw similar announcements in the last couple weeks from Acer, who stated that “”Between the second and third quarters, we will have products that address ultra mobility and low-cost segments.” In addition Dell stated that it will “introduce more low-cost notebooks in Asia. ” which will augment its Vostro 1000 notebook for sale in China which runs Red Flag Linux.
This is a key direction for the industry as it fills out a market segment not previously addressed, particularly at this price point in the notebook computing world. Research analysts agree. When commenting on Acer’s announcement Calvin Huang of the Daiwa Institute stated “I believe it’s necessary for the company and they cannot let go of such an opportunity since it’s where the industry trend is going.” Clearly consumers want these low cost PC’s, but why is Linux the obvious choice to bring these products to market? The answer is along three main criteria that are essential for PC manufactures; speed, agility, and cost.
In terms of speed, time to market is everything for manufacturers of PC’s. This is a world where concept to marketplace cycles are constantly under pressure. Often a company has less than a year to bring new products to market in order to keep up with competition in the industry. With broad support for a dizzying array of chipsets and key hardware components that make up a PC, Linux is an obvious choice for a manufacturer as they piece together everything they need to build a product.
Agility is also critical for makers of low cost PC’s. During the product development process Linux is one of the few operating systems that can be customized by the manufacturer themselves to get to market quickly. Want to simplify the user interface to make it more kid friendly? The open source code makes that possible. Need to modify the power management system to get more battery life? The open source code makes it possible again. No communicating back to a third party to beg them for software changes. Linux is the only mainstream PC operating system that makes this possible - due to the open source code.
Finally, cost makes Linux the only option for PC’s that are priced below a few hundred dollars. Why? Because one of highest margin parts of a PC’s bill of materials is the operating system. And for a manufacture, that means giving up margin to someone else leaving you with low margins that you have to make up in volume. PC manufacturers have caught on to this and are keeping some of that margin for themselves by creating rich software experiences with Linux that are specifically targeted to this growing user base of affordable PC’s. The Asus Eee PC is a terrific example of this with its “Easy to learn, Easy to work, and Easy to Play” Linux based OS it developed with Xandros .
Next month the Linux Foundation is hosting a panel of manufacturers of these new low cost PC’s from the likes of Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Everex and HP at our Collaboration Summit  in Austin, Texas. We will be hearing directly from them about why they chose Linux and what they would like to see from the Linux community to help us all succeed. This will be an interesting exchange between companies that are offering Linux PC’s in the market and the key maintainers of the open source projects that their products are based on. By discussing how we can all work together I suspect we will see more Linux PC’s in the market which will means we will see more people joining the development party.
Update: In the last 24 hours IBM has announced it has teamed up with partners in Austria and Poland to offer Microsoft-free personal computers for the Eastern European market. Shuttle computing announced their $199 KPC  Linux product. Finally Asus announced their new Eee701  product at Cebit.
I believe the computing industry is waking up to the fact that lower costs to the consumer and higher margins to be had with a Linux OS in the razor thin margin PC manufacturing business is irresistible. My prediction is that using Linux isn’t going to be an experiment - it is going to be essential in order to compete.