Are netbooks a threat to Microsoft?
Netbooks running Linux may be returned more often than computers running Windows XP. But netbooks are the first class of consumer oriented computers where computer makers and retailers are regularly offering Linux as an alternative to Windows. It’s cheaper (as in, typically free), which helps keeps costs down. And it’s incredibly customizable, allowing companies like Dell or Acer to offer users a unique computing experience tailored for devices with small screens and relatively slow processors.
Bloomberg reports that about 30 percent of the netbooks sold by Acer and Asus, the current market leaders, run Linux. That’s huge, when you consider the fact that Windows controls about 90% of the personal computer market, and that netbooks currently represent the fastest growing segment of that market. According to Bloomberg, it’s one of the reasons that Microsoft’s revenue was below estimates last quarter.
Even if you don’t believe that Linux offers a viable alternative to Windows for many users, the fact that the earliest netbooks ran Linux pushed Microsoft into a corner where the company was forced to offer low cost Windows XP licenses to manufacturers as a way to keep Microsoft software competitive. So even now that there are more low cost ultraportables available with Windows than other operating systems, Microsoft is taking a hit by selling an operating system that’s close to a decade old at a discounted price instead of its newer Windows Vista operating system. Is it any wonder the company keeps talking about how well Windows 7 will run on netbooks?
The Bloomberg article also cites a number of industry observers who say that the netbook market will grow about 60% per year for the next few years, and that as many as 29 million units could be sold in 2010. Which sounds pretty good until you realize that these predictions are all based on a product class that didn’t even exist just a bit over a year ago. So I’m going to take this kind of analysis with a grain of salt for now.