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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5. Cost of the OS

Linux will eventually win out in enterprises for a simple reason -- cost, Johnston says. "With hardware cost trending rapidly toward zero, and sub-$100 devices being a possibility in the short-to-medium term, it is impossible to carry even a modest operating system cost," he reasons.

Orr of ABI agrees Microsoft will face a challenge on cost given that most Linux-based choices are or will be free to install and use. Its too soon to say, but whether corporate netbooks will adopt Windows 7 widely will depend on whether its a fully functional version and how much it costs, he says.

6. Hardware limitations

But Orr theorizes that in the enterprise the battle for the netbook OS of choice will not play out like it did for traditional notebooks and desktops.

In general, netbooks are purposely limited in processing speed and storage space, and smaller in size compared to most offerings falling under the notebook category, to keep costs low. Because of this, netbooks may never be capable enough to fully exploit all the features of the latest version of Windows, or another processor-heavy OS. A lightweight OS -- with its code base taking up minimal space on the netbook's storage medium, and starting up and performing tasks near instantly -- could be key for the netbook's acceptance in enterprises.

"The initial opportunity for netbooks will align with Windows and, specifically, Windows XP. But that choice will segment, as instant-on operating systems become more prevalent," Orr says.

Johnston says, "The winner will almost certainly be Linux running on ARM processors -- what I have been referring to as 'LinARM,'" a play on Wintel (Windows/Intel). ARM is a popular processor architecture for mobile devices.

Baker, reliably bullish for Windows, argues that the netbook's evolving form factor and technology will not make much difference in the Linux adoption decision: "One of the reasons why we have a lot of Windows in the market now is because that's what everybody is comfortable with. If you make great changes, there's a big learning curve. And from a CIO perspective, they have to think about what the cost is of training their people to use something different."

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