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Biggest Enemy Of Linux Netbooks Isn't Windows - It's Expectations

Linux netbooks face an uphill road, according to makers of one such machine, MSI. Their director of U.S. Sales, Andy Tung, noted that returns of Linux netbooks in general have been "higher than regular notebooks...the main cause of that is Linux." Wired carried the story, along with DesktopLinux and a number of other ou

Linux netbooks face an uphill road, according to makers of one such machine, MSI. Their director of U.S. Sales, Andy Tung, noted that returns of Linux netbooks in general have been "higher than regular notebooks...the main cause of that is Linux." Wired carried the story, along with DesktopLinux and a number of other outlets. Still, I wouldn't throw in the (penguin-monogrammed) towel just yet.

To me, this isn't a condemnation of Linux on netbooks per se as much as it is a comment on people's expectations. Most people, especially those who only think of the PC as a way to get things done and aren't interested in the politics of OSes or software, may not even realize they're buying a Linux-based machine. They pick one up (you'd be amazed at the number of people who make a big-ticket purchase and yet don't read the sales draft), take it home, and then discover to their dismay they can't run Photoshop.

If, as Mr. Tung stated, "People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don't know what they get until they open the box," that's in my eyes more of an indictment of people's expectations than Linux itself.

I don't doubt for a minute that Linux isn't yet a drop-in replacement for Windows -- not just because of the software itself, although that's certainly part of it, but because of people's expectations. Most people are still married to the idea of turning on a PC and getting Windows, or buying a Mac and getting Mac OS. And because "Linux" isn't any one thing but a whole plethora of possibilities, there's even less of a sense of what they'll get when they open a box and take out a computer running Linux. The closest we get to that right now is Ubuntu, about the most broadly recognized version of Linux there is right now.

There also is the question of how Linux itself is implemented on those machines, and in this case the consumer is definitely not to blame. If it's implemented badly -- if the distro in question has been thrown together in a hurry and many things simply don't work as they should -- then not even a Linux sophisticate is going to have the patience to figure it out. And frankly, they shouldn't have to -- no more so than a Windows expert should have to debug a machine that comes fresh from the factory, even though I find myself doing that a lot more than I really should.

Linux on netbooks is far from being a dead end or a bad idea. You just can't spring Linux on people where and when they expect Windows -- and you have to make it work without excuses.

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