Is the writing on the wall for Linux netbooks? While most mini-laptops are capable of running a number of Linux distributions quite well, it looks like an increasing number of netbooks are shipping with Windows preloaded. Some of the earliest netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 701 may have shipped with Linux, but in a recent blog post, Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc says that Windows went from having a 10% netbook market share during the first half of 2008 to a 96% market share in February, 2009.
That probably has at least as much to do with Microsoft extending the life of Windows XP and offering computer makers deeply discounted licenses as it does with consumer demand for Windows. But it’s certainly hard to find a computer maker who isn’t offering a Windows netbook today.
That could still change this year. A number of companies are preparing to launch miniature laptops with ARM-based processors. And Windows XP, Vista, and 7 won’t run on ARM chips. So those netbooks are going to have to run Linux, Google Android, or another operating system. My guess is Microsoft will push to get Windows CE onto as many of those devices as possible. I haven’t heard much about Microsoft developing updates for Windows CE for netbooks. The mobile team is primarily focused on Smartphones at the moment. But if those ARM powered machines become popular, and that’s a big if, since they provide excellent battery life, but less than stellar performance, I suspect we’ll see Microsoft either step up Windows CE development or porting Windows 7 to work with ARM processors.
Update: As Microsoft Watch points out, Microsoft’s numbers were based on US figures. Since the bulk of netbooks are being sold in Europe right now, it’s not clear how accurate this 96% figure is when talking about global netbook shipments.