Netbook OSes: Which will rule the enterprise?

Windows may have the early lead, but don't rule out Linux just yet

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Says Baker, who is extremely skeptical of Google's chances of breaking into the netbook OS field, whether it be for enterprise or the average end user: "Come back to me in 18 months when there's something actually out. What the market looks like when they come out with something is not going to look anything like what today's market looks like for netbooks."

Google "believes there's an opportunity. All the decisions [by enterprise buyers] have not been made," says Jeff Orr, an analyst with ABI Research. "There's an opportunity to enter that space and to create platforms that provide a more fine-tuned or refined experience for the Web and Internet."

In announcing Chrome, Orr said, Google may have spurred Microsoft to alter or speed up its strategy for Windows 7 on netbooks, leading up to the recent news about the technical limitations and other rules Microsoft wants imposed on OEMs that want to sell netbooks with the next version of Windows installed. Orr theorized that Google's announcement of Chrome may have helped to motivate Microsoft to hurry up with a specialized netbook edition of Windows 7 instead of just leaning on Windows XP for the netbook market.

3. Too many Linux choices for netbooks?

Besides Chrome, other Linux choices for netbooks include Intel's Moblin, Ubuntu and even Android, Google's mobile device OS. The Linux camp, "while offering choice to the market, is in danger of fragmenting itself with multiple, highly differentiated choices," says RedMonk's O'Grady.

NPD's Baker takes a different position. He says the Linux-based netbook variants aren't causing a problem. "There has to be some market presence for there to be 'confusion.' CIOs aren't particularly confused, because they're not likely to use any of those products right now," he says.

4. Cloud computing services and applications

The question of which netbook OS will dominate in the enterprise could be irrelevant if cloud computing becomes prevalent in the enterprise.

Windows compatibility doesn't matter when accessing cloud services via netbooks, says Sam Johnston, a consultant who specializes in cloud computing and netbooks. A netbook can access a virtualized version of any OS hosted on a remote server, including a traditional Windows desktop, he says.

While O'Grady says he feels that enterprises will be loath to change from Windows in the foreseeable future, he agrees that the cloud model makes the OS choice less relevant. "To the extent that workloads increasingly shift toward software as a service, the question of what operating system a user is running becomes less important, which gives the challengers cause for hope."

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