As 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.