Ovum's new report on netbooks* reaches two conclusions. First, the netbook/laptop context, the market is becoming increasingly complex, with market segments catered for by a growing variety of low-cost netbooks and laptops. Second, after a strong start, Linux netbooks have been overtaken by Windows, and Linux is lagging further and further behind in terms of sales - although Linux's performance in the netbook segment is still outstanding compared to its overall performance in the desktop market.
Netbooks/smartphones belong to the same mobile internet device (MID), a term coined by Intel, owing to the devices' internet browsing and multimedia processing capabilities. Besides netbooks (where the MID and laptop markets overlap) and smartphones (where the MID and telephony markets overlap), Linux could make it as an operating system (OS) for handheld internet appliances - for example, Apple's iPod Touch - by building on its strength as a phone OS and on its potential as sub-$200 netbook OS.
A new generation of lower priced, but less easy to use and less capable netbooks, will emerge later this year. At $200 or less, they will cost about half current netbooks. Both hardware platform manufacturers and device manufacturers (such as Freescale Semiconductor and Asus) are keen to develop them.
Linux vendors should focus on the netbook as an appliance and on specialised distributions, especially Android (which is currently focused on smartphones). These are more likely than generic distributions like Ubuntu to make it in the netbook appliance/MID space. Both Freescale Semiconductor and Asus unveiled Android netbook plans in February 2009, and more will follow.
Internet-connected applications (and related online stores) are key to the success of the netbook appliance/MID. From that perspective, Android benefits from increasing support from developers and independent software vendors. Google strengthened its position with the February 2009 announcement that it will now allow developers to charge for applications on Android Market. The success of Android could even lead Android's Java-based Dalvik runtime to be ported to other platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile.
"¢ Netbooks: a Linux appliance opportunity.
Laurent Lachal, open source research director, Ovum