The Linux Window of Opportunity Has Closed, Maybe for Good

A few months ago Linux was flying high, powering one of the most popular notebooks on the planet in the Asus Eee PC. Then rumors starting circulating that a Windows XP version was on the way. And what did Best Buy wind up taking? The XP Edition, and at the same rock-bottom $399 price. The Penguin reaches for the noose…

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart pulled the mildly hyped gOS-powered gPC from its brick-and-mortar superstores and decided to go online-only for the half-baked CloudBook. And during HP’s recent media tour for the HP Mini-Note PC, the company glossed over the lower-cost SuSE Linux version. Why wouldn't they when the Vista Basic version costs only $100 more and comes with a much bigger hard drive? Don't worry, Linux fans, we're asking for a review unit anyway.

Oh, and whatever happened to Ubuntu’s momentum with Dell? Wasn’t that supposed to be parlayed into more wins from other top-tier vendors? Last time I checked, no one else has stepped up to the plate—although that could change once Acer and others enter the low-cost laptop ring, as has been rumored. But if anything I expect Linux to become even further marginalized in the coming months. Here’s why.

Let me first say that I’m not a Linux hater. In fact, I think in many ways the Eee PC (and machines like it) are tailor-made for a more lightweight operating system that gets out of the way and lets people get online fast. After all, the Web is truly the new OS of choice. That’s why more and more people are less hesitant about gravitating to Macs, not just because Vista sucks. But, just like a lineup of summer flicks stocked with crappy sequels, the warmth of familiarity will always trump innovation. People know XP. People like low prices. Put the two together and you have a hit—and many successful hits to come.

What’s that, Mr. Penguin? Just wait until the next wave of Linux-powered Mobile Internet Devices hit the market? Sorry, dude, Netbooks are where it’s at, and I just don’t see people carrying around Internet tablets to access the Web when smart phones will soon be able to bring you the real Web (including Flash). The next version of Mobile Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile will only do Flash Lite, but Skyfire tells you that the real deal isn’t far behind. Who the hell is going to carry a notebook, smart phone, and a separate MID? A smart phone is an MID!

Which brings us to Android. That’s Linux, even if most users won’t know or care once handsets starting hitting the market (hopefully) later this year. I see this OS as the last great hope of Linux going mainstream. As for the desktop, the ship has sailed, and it's not just the dizzying array of distributions and flavors that's to blame. It's the installed base of Windows users who are willing to put up with slower performance, worse security, and less battery life for a recognizable desktop background.

That’s it, Mr. Penguin! Just add some friendly, fluffy clouds and nice-looking grass--hey, gOS is already blatantly plagiarizing Leopard’s Stacks--and you can put that noose back down.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.