The Recipe for Linux's Netbook Success
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One of the key market pillars for Google's new Chrome OS is fact that it is targeting the netbook market. It's a market that is growing rapidly with one forecast pegging 2009 growth of nearly 70 percent in 2009.
While Linux has been a player in the netbook market since the beginning, NPD Group recently reported that Microsoft Windows now represents 96 percent of the market. Amidst that backdrop, what will take for Chrome OS and other Linux vendors to capture share in the netbook market?
"Linux will naturally capture more share on netbooks as Microsoft economics prove unrealistic for this market," Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs at the Linux Foundation told InternetNews.com. "Microsoft as it existed for the past 20 years does not fit into a world of free carrier-backed netbooks and an Internet OS."
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) currently makes Window XP available to netbook vendors and is currently working on a version of Windows 7 for netbooks. Microsoft told InternetNews.com earlier this year that Windows on Notebook PCs in the U.S have gone from under 10 percent in unit sales during the first half of 2008 to 96 percent as of February 2009.
The current market share for Windows on netbooks does not deter Linux backers. McPherson noted that the industry is moving into a services-based PC model and that will put margin pressure on the OS side of netbook vendors. It's a margin pressure that in her view, does not favor Microsoft.
"But make no mistake: Microsoft obviously has a lot of resources and a huge monopoly advantage," McPherson said. "They can adjust to the new model but it will be painful for their margins. We feel Linux will continue to make strides against Windows during this shift to a new PC model."
Novell and its SUSE Linux distribution are among the Linux vendors currently actively engaged in the netbook market. The key for Linux netbook growth, according to Novell's openSUSE's Community Manager Joe Brockmeier, is community and corporate cooperation.
"What we need in large part to capture more share is marketing and partnerships with the OEMs that sell netbooks," Brockmeier told InternetNews.com. "This is something that vendors like Intel and Novell can help with, and something that the community at large isn't well-suited to handle."
Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is one of the lead backers of the Moblin mobile Linux operating system. Novell has partnerships with Lenovo for netbooks, while Ubuntu has initiatives in place with Dell. Google has already announced that they are working with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Acer and Lenovo for Chrome OS.
"On the community side, we need active development focused on netbooks and netbook-friendly applications," Brockmeier said. "Work that reduces boot times, and work that helps tailor existing applications for netbooks and also creates new applications that people want on netbooks for Linux."
Though Windows currently dominates the netbook space, Linux vendor Ubuntu is optimistic about their chances to gain significant share. Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth told InternetNews.com earlier this year that he sees Windows 7 as an opportunity for Linux growth.
It's a sentiment that is now being echoed by others on Shuttleworth's team. Gerry Carr, platform marketing manager at Canonical (Canonical is the lead commercial sponsor of Ubuntu) told InternetNews.com that the fact that Ubuntu is shipping good numbers and working well with key partners gives them confidence.
Carr did not elaborate on the numbers that are being shipped. Ubuntu does have a netbook specific edition of its Linux distribution called the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is freely available.
"Android, Chrome, Moblin, Ubuntu Netbook Remix all see the value in a Linux strategy," Carr said. "There is unprecedented excitement and investment in the market and netbook and notebook buyers are going to see choice and value on the software side they have not seen for some time. What do we need to do? Keep building better product, share learning and stay focused."