Hardware

Linux success on UMPCs nudges Microsoft's XP strategy

One area of real success for Linux has been its popularity on Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC), and Ubuntu is now planning to release a UPMC-only version of Hardy Heron called Ubuntu Netbook Remix. How did this success affect Microsoft's strategy regarding Windows XP?

Microsoft announced that it would allow computer manufacturers to preinstall Windows XP Home on low-cost desktops through June 30, 2010 at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan. Blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes convincingly that what really drove Microsoft's magnanimous gesture toward its XP users -- was the unlooked-for success of the popular, Linux-powered UMPC market.

It turned out people wanted inexpensive, hard-working Linux laptops rather than overpriced, underpowered Vista PCs.

If anyone thought this was a flash in the pan, that Asus just hit it lucky once, they haven't been paying attention. Intel is putting big bucks into its Atom family of processors, which have been designed for UMPCs, or as Intel would have it, MIDs. Intel has encouraged both the computer makers and the Linux companies in its Moblin initiative to run desktop Linux.

To that point, Ubuntu is releasing a UMPC-only version of Ubuntu 8.04 called Ubuntu Netbook Remix for Intel Atom-based netbooks and UMPCs. Because many current users of Linux-powered UMPCs may not even know they're using open source, the hope is that more obvious "branding" will result in more people willing to run Linux on their primary PCs.

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica has posted some screenshots and a lot more detail about the Remix strategy, which you might want to check out.

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

30 comments
dawgit
dawgit

Over here most of those buying the small gadgets are already die hard Linux users though, or at least open to things other than Windows. (think students, here they are tought, or trained on open sourse ideas) I believe most consumers haven got a clue what OS they're using, most just assume it's Windows, because... it's a computer isn't it? -d

dcolbert
dcolbert

I do think in countries outside of the United States, Europe in particular, there are a number of reasons why Linux can be far more competitive and successful than here in the States, especially dependent on your needs. Ubuntu's philosophy meshes well with this more global philosophy, as well. And these low-cost notebooks seem a step in that direction. But these are nations that are used to utilitarian solutions that get the job done but forego a lot of the fancy bells and whistles. I'm thinking smart-cars, scooters and public transit, here. Linux is certainly competitive - perhaps none moreso than the Ubuntus.

dawgit
dawgit

...has a more global, grass roots philosophy, with Microsoft being mor top down, and dictated upon the masses. The Ubantu and co. type certainly do help with that idea. What I see locally is the schools are really heavy in Ubantu. The cost is certainly a factor, but the atmosphere in a school is, as it should be, one of questioning authority. I see a great divide comming between the masses (using Microsoft) and the intelectuals (being able to use whatever they want). Junk Food in the IT world, I guess, it seems rather degressive to me. (I hope I'm wrong.) -d

dcolbert
dcolbert

Look at Apple's share of the overall market before Steve Jobs came back and reinvented themselves with lime green iMacs and the shift of Apple to a solidly consumer electronics company. You know, that period where it looked like Apple might just close up shop and go the way of Atari and Commodore.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

At one point the schools were really into Apple, for the same reason: it didn't cost them anything. Apple used to donate tons of equipment to schools for the same reason we're speculating on here: to get users while they're young in hopes they'll continue to use the products when they hit the 'real' world. You can look at Apple's share of the overall market and draw your own conclusions about how well that worked.

dcolbert
dcolbert

But ultimately, this comes down to personal political philosophy, and I think boils down to red and blue. Perhaps why this is usually such a charged and heated topic. Perhaps we all know that when we discuss Linux versus Microsoft, we're really talking about much more significant issues that impact our lives. I do tend to see the guy with the Che shirt as a slacker, socialist idealist with little to contribute to society other than sticking his hand out - and I see the average outspoken Linux advocate as usually existing at least on the same *branch* of this tree. My personal outlook is that that academia is full of elitist intellectuals who embrace unrealistic and idealistic philosophies that would be GREAT in an ideal world, but have little place in the reality in which we exist. It always seems to boil down to socialism versus democratic capitalism. Not hard to see the parallels between that and this argument at all, really.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Interesting suggestion, being that I have an old Celeron 333 Compaq Presario 305 notebook that I recently played around with on Ubuntu. Neither Ubuntu nor Kubuntu can install on this machine, and Xubuntu was a nightmare to get running on it as well. Had to use the alternate ISO and play around with it quite a bit to get it to run poorly. It takes Windows XP fine, though, and runs it fine for simple web and e-mail apps, and basic Office tasks. Ahh, and XP and Office has more breathing room once all is said and done on the meager 4gb of disk space on this machine. (Compared to a well rounded install of Ubuntu... SAMBA, Linux, Xfree, a Windows Manager, Open Office, a suite of GIMP applications, etc.) Now... what was that about Win32 being a grossly bloated, resource hogging nightmare compared to the lean, efficient paradise of Linux??? I'm sure I did something wrong and if I had just spent a couple of weeks RTFM I could have gotten Ubuntu just buzzing along on this old machine fine... OR, the other answer, "dump that ancient machine and get a decent one"... right? Weird how the arguments always change from the *nix camp depending on what seems to be their current advantage. But uh... WinXP, I just put in the disks and let it go, and um.. it runs fine for the needs of say, a younger child or elderly parent... on a machine I couldn't sell for $25. That seems GREEN to me, that seems to be a way to meaningfully extend the life of old technology and make it available to those who might otherwise be economically unable to participate. Oh! I remember... any PCMCIA 802.11b NIC (I tried 3) - causes this machine to kernel panic, under Ubuntu. Strangely free of BSODs on Win32, though... Hmnnn.... Hmnnnnnn.... Hmnnnnnnnnnnnnn..... I won't even mention that this machine has an ATI graphic chipset, and we all know how well Ubuntu loves to play with ATI... Microsoft responding to this doesn't necessarily imply some kind of strategic win for the *nix community. It may simply illustrate that MS sees an increased revenue and business opportunity that it can deliver better than the competition. Not something the Linux community should be "gloating" about, from that perspective.

TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827

Try knoppix, or puppy or Vector. I have had more success with Mandriva than Ubuntu installing on various hardware. Ubuntu has a great community, but at the rish of being flamed, it is not the best distro. In any case, 1999, when your computer came out, Linux can work (check Linux Laptops.org), but a lot of problems with the likely proprietary hardware, given it's age, were probably not all worked out. Kind of like why bother working on issues with various obsolete parallel port printers. That said, you found a 9 year old laptop that the *buntu's don't work on. That doesn't mean Linux won't work. I can find a ton of 2000 machines from the same time period that won't install XP. Anyway, try a lite distro, you could probably still make that machine fly. I have a question, if none of the *buntus would install, how did you manage to try 3 PCMCIA wireless cards to generate a kernel panic? TripleII

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've had Sarge and Potato on this machine, actually. And I managed to get Ubuntu onto the machine. It simply required more effort than the "It Just Works" motto would imply. (And, if 3 different NICs were causing the kernel panic, pulling out the NICs and putting in a wired NIC seemed like a logical way to avoid the panic, right. :) ) I had to use the alternative/lite distro of Xubuntu - but my guess is that I could get Kubuntu or Ubuntu on now that I discovered that the major issue with wireless NICs causing a kernel panic. Anyhow, again... all these alternatives... "try this, try that"... use Knoppix, use a lite distro, use a different windows manager, try DSL... By the time you get that all worked out, and put so much effort into learning the different quirks between different *nix varients... for the majority of people, it is just far easier to go out and pay $99 for a gray market XP license on eBay. Again, we're counting dimpled chads here. When we move to Debian, or FreeBSD (not Linux... I know)... or Knoppix, or SuSE or... we introduce a whole NEW set of compromises and issues. "Laptops are the achillies heel of *nix"... Yes, they are... and THAT is a problem. If I run a super old version of Slackware with no GUI, my Presario will probably run flawlessly and fly. But... it won't be of much use to me. It'll probably work super well with DOS 5.0, too... *shrug*. Let's have the discussion where the original thesis was. If I wanted to but the time and effort into Linux, it can be made to work. I agree. I concede this point. Most people want to do neither. They want to install an OS so that they can get productive with the apps that run on the OS, while the OS remains somewhat transparent to them. Linux does not do as good of a job at this, across the board, as the competition. Like or dislike this fact, it remains a fact.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Very true, it?s far too easy to sturr up most any kind of Us vs Them debate around here. It was actually the Zeal and Fandom of others that kept me from running off that same direction. I wanted to be sure I responded here also after my long post back in our other exchange because I think we do agree a great deal though maybe not in specific examples. I don?t see it as a one thing else the other debate either though I?m sure I give that impression at times; heck, it?s rare that I only have one OS running on my screen at a time. I?m also loving the new products hitting the market with preinstalled distributions. It?s interesting to see the different platforms on equal footing; in all cases, the retailer already made it ?just work? as part of the hardware package. It?s definitely the moment there is comparison between Linux distributions, osX and/or Windows that things heat up. Heck, a comparison between different Linux distributions, window managers or editors can stir the old fires. I?d go a step further and skip the credible threat discussion completely. For it, it?s not about killing the evil empire because I choose a different product. I think it?s like that for many but the few that are only concerned with ?the cause? are the ones that you?ll hear from first. That?s probably why the enevitable ?Will Linux destroy Microsoft? question so irritating; it doesn?t matter. If that is one?s only measure of an OS then they live a very sad little life. (I don?t get the feeling your in that camp) As for Microsoft; corporate law will insure that it always does what it must too maximise profits. (I kinda wish I?d read this reply before your other.. damn update order ;) )

dcolbert
dcolbert

These topics inevitably lead to conflict of philosophy and opinion, and people end up taking things very personally. It becomes something silly like Kings Versus Lakers. Some sort of artificial rivalry that is used as a proxy to wage conflict with some other stranger. Must be human nature. Ultimately, though, I think it is great that *nix is making inroads on these Ultra Mobile Notebook computers. I think it is cool that Microsoft says, "we'll stay and compete via WinXP in this segment". All healthy things for the market. It is cool that Linux offers real transparent embedded OSes for several commercial devices, too - and that these customized embedded OSes are way better in those specific roles than Windows Mobile/CE would likely be. But, I think when we start getting into the "When does Linux become a credible threat to Microsoft dominance" area, the discussion generally loses all semblance of reality. I guess we need to define a credible threat. Do you kill the son of an enemy because he may grow up to try and kill you? Kind of a classic philosophical question that applies really well to this discussion. Does Linux have the potential to one day upset Microsoft dominance? Certainly. Does it show a lot of indication of ever realizing that potential now? I don't think so, as things stand today. The reasons I've proposed are all just incidental support of that idea. Again, I think that believing anything other than "Microsoft is offering XP in this arena because it sees a market share that can generate profit", is wishful thinking. Nothing more or less.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

After years of mucking with my ATI (9600 is natorious I hear) I chose to leave the brand for hardware with better support. I couldn't afford to buy a new GPU just to run different software any more than I could afford it to play the latest games so I kept my win32 boot for games with ATI's crap win32 drivers and left my other boot without 3D bling so I could focus on real work. I found the same as you, my agrivations disapeared along with that crappy hardware. Software is easy to duplicate and improve but hardware; you get what you pay for. I couldn't get ATI's GPU working with ATI's provided binary blob module which was supposed to support all features at high framrate "just works" like based on what ATI's site said. In the end, I used the community X module because I could get high framerate 2D even though it couldn't support those "industry secret" black places in ATI's binary blob and chips. I personally wasn't willing to continue mucking around with my solid and working OS just to get some bling features out fo ATI's crappy product. (This is the first time I've not baugth ATI so this is a X-lifer talking here) I can't blame you for not wanting to in the least because I fully feal that the hardware manufacturer is responsible here (there are just too many ways to provide supprot, API interface specs or proper hardware specs without infringing patents). Is Ubuntu the only distro you've been mucking with? It is the public favourite right now but it's be worth throwing Mandriva One liveCD in that just to see if it boots clean; no install needed even if it does. I'm hearing that it's currently the leader in hardware and media support out of the box. If you are looking for solutions, there are a lot of us here who are willing to help. If it's just a "Linux is broken for everyone because it doesn't work for me" session then I got better things to do.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Well... Yeah, once I dumped ATI and installed an Nvidia GPU on my Ubuntu desktop, most of my aggravating issues disappeared. The idea that I needed to buy a new video card in order to get a free OS working right was kind of aggravating in itself, though. (Yeah, yeah... if I were willing to dick around for hours and do all sorts of research I could have gotten the ATI to work. Not really my point). But I guess there is the real undercurent of this argument. On several different older machines, Ubuntu has had one problem or another for me. It is like a HCL from hell - or maybe I've just been "extremely" unlucky.

TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827

It is a streamlined OS for modest hardware. I believe it comes with all the web bells and whistles too (flash, etc). Any kid ActiveX sites though, obviously, they won't work. TripleII

TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827

If that machine had been OEMed with Linux, then it obviously would have worked. The reverse is true, just given XP and a blank PC, a person could have had a lot of fun getting it working. Now, for us geeks, the fun is getting it working and working well. That's where pre-installed Linux on most UMPCs has equal footing, hiding all the hair pulling the company put into making it a turn key just works experience. Now, newer computers, and computers that can come pre-installed with Linux, it really is a put CD in, click next next next done kind of exercise. TripleII

dcolbert
dcolbert

The reason I took on this project is because my 7 year old daughter's old Celeron 1.7Ghz desktop "died" on her. We had the Presario lying around. She surfs kid web sites and sends e-mail to friends and relatives. I also have a TV tuner hooked up for her so she can watch some Spongebob on Nick. Pretty basic needs, with TV maybe pushing the limits. She wants a notebook. I have the old one lying around. I think, "Linux should work for her". But it doesn't. Not in any way. Once I get the wired network up, I get her into Firefox, and all the kids sites are just too IE friendly, and the difficulty in adding the right Firefox plugins for this site is a deal breaker. The fact that it runs DOG slow, taking minutes to bring up a web page that loads in seconds under XP and IE, is also unacceptable. It is a deal breaker. Now, I know I can transfer the XP license from her last machine to this one, and go from there, but with Core Duo notebooks with XP licensed going for $450 new, at some point, these alternatives cost more than just buying her a new machine. All of which leaves me going, "Where does Linux fit in the equation"? Certainly not as an attractive solution for ME, in this case. I have an Ubuntu box I use for my own purposes. I have a FreeBSD box as well. But isn't this about where *nix fits people who want an "It Just Works" desktop? Short answer, for most people, I don't think it does fit.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'm not sure of the release date but if you find out when the CF27 was new, you can use that as a date stamp. I have Mandriva installed and happy though a ram upgrade wouldn't hurt if I could justify the purchase (and find ram still).

dawgit
dawgit

Glad to see other people have that mind set. We could save the World a whole lot of greef if mor folks can see that for most users, and most uses an old PC given new life will do the job just fine, and at a less expense. Oh-well, I guess I'll just keep beating my head agains the wall of ignorance marketing. -d

rpwillingham
rpwillingham

Running a dual boot pc with XP Pro and Ubuntu 8.04, I agree. I like Ubuntu but trying to get hardware to work with it is problematic.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

made many non-standard parts that the linux community never bothered to support. Remember the power supplies wired backwards from atx standards? Win modems? Psudo Sound cards (these had no actual processing power but relied on your cpu... ummm wtf was the point to these again???). Lap tops have always been Linux's Achilles Heel. Also, keep in mind that linux is supporting the hardware completely with drivers in ints kernel, and in most cases, ZERO support from the hardware vendor. Based on these statistics, Linux actually does support a significantly larger amount of hardware then windows, BUT windows has a much, much larger after market pool of drivers to extend functionality. 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. I am sorry you all have had problems with Ubuntu. All I can say is that the only real problematic hardware I have encountered has all been non-standards compliant or proprietary. Even ATI cards give solid 3d performance in Linux now, and to be fair, for a good while, even their windows drivers were crap. My Dell laptop is 100% linux plug and play, my dell xps desktop is the same, both of my amd 64 machines (self built) run linux with no issues, including wireless PCI cards. But I admit to having chosen machines and parts I knew would work with Linux. but, you would not have bought an old Mac and complained that Windows would not install on it... Linux zelots will yell and scream about linux running on everything, but this is not true. My experiences have been very positive over all, but I have seen a few machines that just would not work for one or several reasons. They were never designed for Linux, and no drivers were ever produced. Is this the fault of the OS or the manufacturer? Doesn't matter either way, all that matters is that the machine does what you need it to do. Run the OS you like, on the machine you like, just be open to new possibilities. In terms of size of install etc, you are better off comapreing Ubuntu 6.06 (though to be fair time wais it would be 5.04) to XP. 7.1 and 8.04 are more Vista comparable.

dcolbert
dcolbert

This is symptomatic of my argument. "That is because you run a Compaq and... blah blah blah"... "This isn't an accurate comparisson, you should instead look at..." And a dozen other arguments... but what it boils down to is... Win32 (XP) runs BETTER than Linux on FAR more machines. In these type of discussions, Linux advocates start sounding like Clinton or Gore arguing over "what votes should be counted". "If we arrange the analysis in a way that takes away every semblance of the reality of the situation, Linux has a significant advantage over Win32". Great. But that doesn't make it work well on my Presario - which is exactly the kind of situation that you would WANT to run Linux in. And ATI problems are still notorious and well documented and the source of much complaining in the *nix community, probably none moreso than the Ubuntu one. I've been playing with Debian since Potato and Sarge, so, your Linux Mind tricks are not going to work on me.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've got a working Ubuntu box at home. It has an AMD 1100 Athalon, I think, with 1GB memory and a 10gb and 40gb drive. I ripped out the ATI card in it and got myself a Nvidia Geforce AGP for about $20 after rebate. And it is good for basic PC tasks. Email, web, viewing video. It integrates decent with my Win32 network. It'll do the job, and the OS was free... and, having cut my teeth on Debian, it certainly is a decisive step in the right direction. The eye candy doesn't suck, either, once you get the video drivers running. It is a lot more polished as Ubuntu than it ever was as Debian. But, partly because of idealism, and partly because of being Linux, there are some legacy issues that it will never shake, IMHO. And most of all, it isn't a "It Just Works", solution as "sold". I've played around with it quite a bit. It is actually installed via WUBI on the machine I am on right now, a Lenovo T61 notebook, as well. It has a place - but I think XP, priced reasonably, is a more compelling OS for a wider majority of people in this market segment. So why WOULDN'T Microsoft place that product there? Why just GIVE it to *nix when Microsoft can not only compete in this arena, but probably OUTcompete, and do it profitably? They didn't get so big by making dumb business decisions. Which really just makes me wonder about the point of this original article. To me, where Linux needs to excel, is in the ULTRA-total-completely CHEAP segment. That is... people who put systems together from parts they pick up at garage sales, flea markets and Goodwill. Real sharp techie guys who are usually ultra-geeks and are chronically underemployed for any variety of reasons. That is the Linux core segment to me. And those guys are going to end up with ATI video cards and lots of other parts and pieces that ironically, XP supports better than Linux. If I were looking at one of these real low end notebooks, and the price difference was $100 for a *nix versus a Win32 - I'd make the stretch for almost any user I might be recommending make a purchase like this. Why deal with Open Office issues when your college PPS will go off with a hitch if you just use Office? The user who would be better of with *nix, probably wouldn't be coming to me for a recommendation in the first place. And that is what Linux has to overcome. They're preaching to the choir, but they're not winning enough converts.

j-mart
j-mart

Linux and simpler hardware make a great combination. If you just want tools for those everyday tasks why waste money on hardware and OS that is mainly bells and whistles. Back in the day I am sure using only Dos, Wordperfect, Dbase III and Lotus 123 you could get a lot of work done. It will be only if there is a requirement for specialised resource hungry applications for particular users that will require anything better than this type of setup. Of couse using Linux on many a older laptop that is not a great performer on windows is another cost efective computing option.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The 20-plus-year-old tools for everyday tasks you mention are still the primary business tools today: operating system, word processor, spreadsheet, and database. I'd also be willing to bet that office productivity hasn't significantly increased since the introduction of the office PC. Yes, we can do it faster, but we're spending more time on-line at work performing personal tasks such as checking email, making travel reservations, etc.—up to 40% in some cases. http://tinyurl.com/55y6lu   On the other hand, it seems we need to do it, just not as much as we are. http://tinyurl.com/56hopb

TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827

MS gave huge (I think $3) price concession to get it as an option on the EEE. The bigger HD Linux version is selling much better though (many of those being people who will install Linux). For once though, the count of Linux sales is balanced against the millions who blow Windows away to install their version. More to the point though, Acer places the blame squarely in MS's shoulders as to why it is going to really start to push Linux across more and more products. http://www.itnews.com.au/News/77636,acer-bets-big-on-linux.aspx "We have shifted towards Linux because of Microsoft," It makes you wonder if the golden handcuffs are not that golden anymore. TripleII

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I think part of the success is because Linux is pre-installed on UMPC and similar machines. All the necessary drivers and configuration are in place when the system ships from the vendor. The user has an 'out of box' experience that has more in common with a vendor-installed Windows system than if he had installed Linux onto bare metal from media. I think this will also determine if those same users will want Linux on other systems. If they can get it pre-install, like they can Windows, they'll probably do so. If they have install it themselves they probably won't, especially if they have to buy the system with a version of Windows.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Do you think user comfort with Linux on smaller devices will have a positive spill-over affect on the desktop?

jlwallen
jlwallen

for two reasons: first and foremost: it is going to continue to push developers to continue making Linux more and more user friendly. second: it will put Linux at the fingertips of more and more users and, once the see how easy it is to use and how secure it is, they'll see Linux in a whole new light.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It will surely increase access but it is also far more visible. People already have OS based on the Linux kernel at there fingertips thanks to cell phones but the OS is so well embedded in the hardware that it's just "my phone's menu system". With a notebook, they will be more aware of the OS.

TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827

The #1 piece of, let's be nice, propaganda is simply that Windows "Just Works" "Is Easy" while Linux is "Only for UberGeeks". The Xandros version has dispelled the myth for millions now that Linux is hard and doesn't work. TripleII

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