Microsoft strikes back at Linux netbook push

As expected, there's a flood of Linux netbook announcements at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan. What wasn't expected was for one of the top netbook companies, Asus, to turn its back on one of its own netbooks running Android Linux.

I'm sorry I'm not in Taipei for the show. It must have been quite the sight.

On Monday, Qualcomm showed an Asus Eee PC using its new ARM Snapdragon chips to run Google's Android Linux. From all reports, the skinny, little Android-powered netbook looked great.

So, this was a good day for Asus right? A new ARM-powered Asus netbook with Android, the Linux everyone has been talking about, and at a price-point that will given Intel's Moblin 2.0 some real competition. Wrong.

The very next day, Asus' chairman, Jonney Shih, after sharing a news conference stage with Microsoft corporate VP, OEM Division, Steven Guggenheimer, apologized for the Android Eee PC being shown.

Shih said, "Frankly speaking ... I would like to apologize that, if you look at Asus booth, we've decided not to display this product. I think you may have seen the devices on Qualcomm's booth but actually, I think this is a company decision so far we would not like to show this device. That's what I can tell you so far. I would like to apologize for that."

What the heck does he have to apology for? This wasn't some put-together at the last minute skunk-works project that never should have been seen by the public eye. This was a system that, from all reports, could have gone into production immediately.

The only thing I can think of is that Asus doesn't want to tick off Microsoft. Microsoft has been losing money by almost giving away Windows XP Home to netbook vendors. The Evil Empire wants to make that up this year by forcing netbook customers into buying over-priced, under-powered Windows 7. But, if customers get a chance to buy Linux-powered netbook for a good deal less than Windows 7 netbooks, Microsoft is scared that they'll lose the netbook market.

If this was an isolated incident, I might not make so much of it. But, it wasn't.

On the other side of the world, PC World, Britain's self-professed largest specialist chain of computing superstores, announced that, regardless of what was coming with Linux netbooks, it would only be selling Windows netbooks.

In a statement, Jeremy Fennell, Category Director at PC World, said, "Despite initial hype that netbooks would move more users onto the Linux platform, Microsoft has emerged as the preferred operating system because Windows makes it easier to share content, and provides customers with a simpler, more familiar computing experience on the move."

Therefore, "Based on this insight, all the netbooks in our stores will feature Microsoft Windows, larger screens and keyboards, and greater colour choices to satisfy customers demand for performance, design and familiarity."

Yeah. Right. Sure.

Microsoft, frightened by the sudden rise of new Linux netbooks, is doing it best to make sure that neither you, nor anyone else, get a chance to even see one, never mind buy one.

It's typical Microsoft strong arm tactics. Microsoft doesn't dare compete on quality, so it pressures OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and retailers to keep people from even realizing that there are other, never-mind better, choices.

So, if you want to see Linux netbooks, now is the time to let your vendors and retailers know that you want real choice. That, you want to see ARM netbooks with Android, and other Linux choices. That you want to see Intel Atom netbooks with Moblin and other Linuxes. Many PC makers, like Acer, are releasing Linux netbooks, we need to support them and let their sales partners know that we want their products.

If we don't… Well, don't blame me if in 2010, your only netbook choices are crippleware Windows 7 netbooks or $500+ netbook/laptops with Windows 7 Home Premium.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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