The top four Linux netbook trends

I can barely keep track of all the Linux netbook-related announcements from this week's Computex trade show, and I follow this stuff for a living. So, I sat down and put together a list so I could a grip on what's coming up with the Linux netbook for the rest of the year. This is what I came up with.

1) Moblin 2.0, Intel's, and now the Linux Foundation's, entry in the netbook Linux operating system race seems to be the early winner. Canonical, with Ubuntu Netbook Remix; Linpus, Novell; Red Flag; and Xandros all announced they will deliver Moblin versions of their distributions for Intel's Atom architecture.

Of these Linux distributors while Ubuntu has the most buzz, it looks like Novell has the lead in actually getting contracts signed with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). The giant white-box PC vendor, Acer, which seems to be getting into Moblin in a big way, appears to have a deal with Novell. MSI, a smaller PC vendor, will certainly be shipping SUSE Moblin. Xandros also has a Moblin partnership going with Asus.

You can expect to see the Moblin netbooks going up for sale by the start of the fourth quarter. By my count, there will be at least eight Moblin netbooks shipping by year's end. I won't be in the least bit surprised though if it turns out that there will be more than a dozen of them.

2) Google continues to play coy with Android Linux on the desktop, but the netbooks are already on their way. Acer in the lead again here. The company plans to ship its Aspire One with Android by the third quarter. Asus, probably under pressure from Microsoft, has backed away from Android even though a partner showed an almost ready-to-go Asus Android netbook.

There were also several smaller vendors showing Android-powered netbooks. I expect we're going to have to wait until Google formally announces that they're supporting Android on the desktop to see the real rush to begin.

3) The ARM processors seem to be lagging behind the Intel Atom family. That said, Asus, Compal, Foxconn, HTC (High Tech Computer), Inventec, Toshiba, and Wistron all showed off Snapdragon-powered devices at the show. What I see as the ARM/Snapdragon problem is that it's largely waiting on Android.

Once Google Android arrives, I see this end of the netbook market exploding. The sub-$200, 6-hour+ battery life netbook with Google's name on it is sure to sell like hot-dogs at a baseball game

4) Proprietary media playback on Linux desktops will stop being a problem for most users. RealNetworks is really serious about being the media-player for Linux desktops. The company, which has long provided a proprietary and open-source media player, Helix, for Linux announced a host of partnerships.

RealNetworks will be bundling its new proprietary media player, RealPlayer for Mobile Devices, with Linux distributions from Canonical, Xandros, Phoenix Technologies and DeviceVM. Canonical is, of course, Ubuntu's parent company and Xandros is the father to the Linux distribution of the same name and the newer Presto instant-on Linux. Phoenix and DeviceVM are the companies behind the embedded, instant-on Linux distributions, HyperSpace, and Splashtop.

RealPlayer for Mobile works on both ARM-based and Intel Atom-powered netbooks. With SplashTop already pre-installed on newer Lenovo, Asus, HP, and LG notebooks and netbooks, this new player will quickly become available to users everywhere. This version of RealPlayer will be able to play all open media formats and such popular proprietary formats as Windows Media and Apple QuickTime. It will not, however, be able to play Adobe Flash. For that, you'll still need the Adobe Flash Player for Linux. Of course, if you want a desktop Linux without proprietary bits in it, you're still out of luck with either the Adobe Flash Player or RealPlayer for Mobile.

Taken all-in-all, I see Linux netbooks reclaiming the low-end of the PC market by year's end. Windows 7 SE (Starter Edition), the de facto Windows netbook version, is crippleware even with the ability to run with more than three applications.

After all, Win 7 SE doesn't come with Aero Glass; a remote desktop; network domain or AD (Active Directory) support; the ability to play DVDs, run XP mode, or support BitLocker/BitLocker to Go encryption. Oh, and you can only get it on a system with a processor that's no faster than 2GHz, doesn't have more than 250GBs of storage, can have no more than a Gig of memory, and it can't have a screen bigger than 10.2".

Since any netbook Linux should be cheaper than Windows 7 SE and it can do everything the full version of Windows 7 can do-even including running XP in a virtual machine which is what XP Mode amounts to-there's every reason for Linux to take a real bite out of the desktop market.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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