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Monday, 09 March 2009 09:09

The Linux killer 10 inch netbook

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The release of the very nice Asus Eee PC 1000HE signals a turning point in the sub-notebook market and it's one that Linux desktop advocates will not like. It looks like the 10 inch netbook has hit the sweet spot for consumers and that sweet spot includes Windows but not Linux.

As many have noticed, Asus has shipped the 1000HE only with Windows XP and there is no Linux version to date.

The Asustek PR representative in Australia has told iTWire that there is no word from Asus when or if a Linux version of 1000HE will be shipped. I haven't checked with Acer with what it intends to do but I reckon it's a fair bet that a Linux 10-inch netbook from that company is about likely as rain in the Sahara tomorrow.

In his excellent recent article UnderNetbook: A tale of two markets iTWire writer and reviewer Stephen Withers pointed out that "netbook" is a somewhat nebulous term.

A netbook 18 months ago was one of those original Eee PC 701 boxes that were little more than oversized mobile phone that couldn't make calls but could surf the net while travelling, could make skype calls and do some basic computing tasks. The 7 inch screen, tiny keyboard, limited storage and lack of computing power made them a very limited device.

In fact, the original Eee PC concept - Easy to Work, Easy to Learn, Easy to Play - seemed to be targeted at kids. However, because the early devices were only available on Linux they became a favourite of the Linux geeks who lauded the fact that at last the Linux desktop had arrived.

Then - shock, horror - Asus started shipping Windows XP versions of its new breakthrough product. The rate at which its netbook market multiplied when the Windows versions started shipping no doubt caused Asus, Acer and others to realise on which side the bread was buttered.

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Complaints about the tiny 7-inch screen, prompted the release of 9-inch screen versions. Complaints about the tiny keyboard, prompted the release of models from manufacturers of a 92% sized keyboard.

Then Asus came out with the 10-inch screen models with 1GB RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a Celeron processor and a new class of netbook was born - a cheap version of a sub-notebook which allowed business users to do real work on the road.

Then after complaints of poor battery life for these little compact netbooks became louder, the low power Atom chip versions appeared. The final product is the 1000HE with 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive and a purported battery life of 9.5 hours (yet to be tested by this reviewer under compute intensive and mobile web surfing conditions).

As Stephen Withers pointed out, the 1000HE, like other 10-inch screen netbook models, could really be classed as a cheap small notebook minus the optical drive. This may well be the case but it is interesting to note that the further up the food chain of netbooks we move the less inclined the vendors are to release Linux versions.

The thing is these 10-inch models are just the right size for consumers who want to take a device on the road. They're light, easy to handle at airports, the 1024 x 600 screen is readable, the keyboard is usable and above all they're capable of running all the Windows applications that consumers and business people use.

In other words, the 10-inch netbooks are a good alternative to a heavier, bulkier notebook, or an expensive full-featured sub-notebook, for travelling. If you really need to watch movies on them, you can buy a cheap USB optical drive.

The key here, though, is that these 10-inch netbooks run Windows - XP now and Windows 7 later. Users want to run Windows applications on them. Recognising that the market for Linux 10-inch netbooks is extremely limited, Asus, the champion of the Linux netbook, has yet to announce a Linux version of its latest netbook product.

Linux desktop advocates can bitch about it as much as they like but vendors like Asus are in business to make money. And the fact is that there's no money in higher end Linux netbooks with 10-inch screens.

That said, the early success of the Eee PC 701 and the Android phones points toward the space where Linux really has a chance to make a serious impact - small mobile Internet devices.

As far as the larger devices are concerned - the devices commonly known as personal computers (netbooks and notebooks included) - let's face it in the real world, there's really only two players and neither of them are Linux.


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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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