Linux On The Ropes? Analyst Weighs In

Roger KayAs someone who has been covering mobile technology for over a decade, I think I’m pretty qualified in speaking about what’s going on in the notebook marketplace and the challenges Linux faces in going mainstream. But it also never hurts to get a second opinion. Today I had a chance to pick the brains of two esteemed analysts: Roger Kay, founder and president of Endpoint Technologies, and Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. First, here’s what Roger had to say. Do you agree? What does Best Buy’s decision to carry the Windows XP version of the Eee PC over the Linux version say about the mainstream marketability of Linux? Roger Kay: Best Buy is a big distributor and they made the call that XP was a better platform. Some of the costs associated with Linux aren’t all that evident up front. You have to pay $50 bucks for an XP OS, versus nothing at all for a Linux. But typically Linux comes with some sort of cost maintenance and there is some way you have to pay for it. The cost comparison isn’t as simple as free versus paid. But I think Linux’s opportunity is growing right now. Let’s call it a setback now for them. Best Buy will reevaluate that decision next season. I don’t think it says anything about the future of Linux. Do you think Microsoft took a hit for the licensing fee in order to get on the Eee PC? RK: They have done that in the past. They have a history of doing aggressive pricing actions to get business they don’t want to lose. It’s fair to say Linux is in Microsoft’s crosshairs. They are very concerned about losing strategic business over time. If Linux got a consumer-level platform into retail, that would represent a big win for Linux and a big loss for Microsoft. [Microsoft] wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. Do you think Windows, whether it’s XP or Vista, is the right solution for Netbooks? RK: Vista is way too heavy and is not appropriate for these low-end consumer PCs. So Vista is really off the table. XP is an extremely stable platform and works pretty well and is very familiar to lots of different people, so it has the benefit there. I think the package that ASUS put together with Linux was pretty compelling. I wouldn’t make a call, one versus the other. Linux is very small, efficient, and stable. And as long as you provide a big button interface, there is no reason why not. I think there are a lot of people who are used to Windows who will say, “There are lots of things I can’t do on this [Linux] platform.” So I think there is that flexibility there. I think Best Buy may have seen a sticking point on that lack of flexibility. Linux is flexible for people that know how to work with Linux, but that isn’t necessarily the target audience of people who shop at Best Buy. Do you think Linux has a shot at gaining momentum? RK: I think in the mobile Internet device category, especially in what Intel calls low-cost Intel architecture (LCIA), which is the Diamondville version of the Atom chip, that they have made it clear that it should be running Linux platforms or potentially some form of embedded Windows. They are looking for a very tight operating environment for that platform. Speaking of Linux and all the different flavors, which one do you think will be the frontrunner? And does there need to be one? RK: I can’t really make that call. From a marketing perspective it’s always better to have a clear leader.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Ralph Says:

    I need to clear up a misconception about Linux. First off there seems to be a confusion that if some retailer decides that they no longer wants to sell, or elects not to sell Linux that Linux is some how “failed”. Far from the truth that since Linux (with the exception of a few distributions) is free.

    Being free has its advantages, but also has one disadvantage. That being it is difficult to gage sales and conversions to Linux. You could have one company with 50 computers and need only one Linux install disc to install Linux on those 50 computers. As it is, you can’t walk into Best Buy, Circuit City, Staples and Office Depot and buy a Linux operating system disc. There are no brick and mortar distributions, no ad campaigns , no “walk in” and buy a Linux install disc. And you will find no bombastic pitchmen telling the world how Linux will WOW them or change the world.

    The trend for obtaining a Linux distribution is going to a Linux site, downloading the OS and burn it into a ISO disc. One download of Linux OS can be installed on one computer or five thousand computers.

    Why hasn’t Linux been more widespread in the brick and mortar stores? People who either just bought computers with Windows or have had Windows computers for awhile have elected two main entries into Linux. They are either using the “Live feature” of the Linux disc, which all one needs to do is to just run off the Linux disc without installing anything. This feature is very popular with newbies using Linux for the first time. They get their feet wet and explore all the features.

    The next step is to install Linux on their Windows machines as a dual boot. This way instead of just having a Windows machine, they also have Linux operating system too. Best of both worlds. Going to Linux does not mean giving up Windows and thats a important distinction. In the Ubuntu forums, you will find many that run dual boot. Going to Linux as a dual boot does not mean giving up anything, except maybe giving up Viruses, expensive software licenses and in most cases your computer runs faster.

    So lets look at this this way. Why should someone go out and “buy” a new computer with Linux on it ? When all they have to do right now is just download the Linux OS for free and burn it to a disc as a ISO and then run it live, do a dual boot or a complete install on their existing computers.

    Dual boot is very popular and is a “natural migration” step to going to Linux full time. This is exactly what happened in Switzerland where 9,000 school computers are going all Ubuntu Linux after having been dual booting with Windows/Ubuntu Linux for some time.

    Is Windows preferable to Linux? One also needs to look at The Philippines where 23,000 school computers are all going to Linux. This is even after Microsoft offered to sell that government XP for $20 per computer.

    Linux in roads are huge as if a very quiet revolution going on to change the world’s landscape from a Windows only world. One thing that helped Linux is the recent government mandates to open source. This is happening all over the world and these mandates are falling right into Linux’ lap. Linux is poised to really take off. Their recent 61% gain probably is going to double or triple after all of Russia plans to go open source in 2010. Is the Penguin about to break some Windows? Yes he has, but …. this is a quiet revolution.

  2. Mike Cane Says:

    >>>And you will find no bombastic pitchmen telling the world how Linux will WOW them or change the world.

    Nor is there anyone who will answer n00b questions beyond a snide “RTFM!!!”

    And yeah, having had a taste of crap like “dependencies,” I want no part of Linux for years to come.

    As I said in another post, you Linux cultists need to exit the holodeck and see what the real world is like.

  3. UrbLege Says:

    hey Mike take a Chil pill . can plz explain wats ur prob in plan english

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