Warning. The following is pure conjecture on my part.
The massive Hoopla surrounding the release of Windows 7 (aka Vista with Lipstick) got me wondering about the netbook market. As I see it, the first netbooks came along shortly after the release of Windows Vista. Microsoft was doing their utmost to kill XP, by setting cutoff dates for sales of licenses and preloaded systems. The fact that Vista was an absolute pig on netbooks gave Linux an opening, and several of the first few netbooks came preloaded with Linux. Then Microsoft finally started to realize that customers and OEMs alike were onto them about what a pig Vista was (and not only on netbook hardware), and they began clawing their way back into the market with a combination of continuing to allow the sale of XP, putting massive pressure on netbook manufacturers, spreading FUD though the media about netbook return rates and the like.
Now Windows 7 is available, and it doesn't take Carnac the Magnificent to predict that Microsoft will once again start trying to kill XP. Several people whose opinions and ability I respect here on ZDNet UK have said that Windows 7 works considerably better on netbooks than Vista did. But I still suspect that "Vista with Lipstick" will not work as well as a good Linux distribution on typical netbook hardware. Even more importantly, while Microsoft has been busy the past couple of years trying to put the lipstick on Vista, various Linux groups have been improving netbook-specific versions. The result is things like Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, which I think is rather nice (and a huge improvement over UNR 9.04), Moblin, which I absolutely hate but apparently it is very good for other types of users, and the KDE netbook version, which is still in early development but the early versions of it on Mandriva and Kubuntu look very interesting.
So, maybe we are at a point where a couple of things start to work in favor of Linux, in particular on netbooks. Here's what we can do to help it along. When you know, or even just see, someone with a netbook, and they are struggling to get Windows to work, just casually mention that Linux works very well on such systems. Even better, do as I do (something I learned from Jake, by the way...), and keep a USB stick with a live image of your favorite Linux netbook distribution handy, and use it to give them an immediate demonstration of how well it works. It might help. It might not. But one thing is for sure, doing nothing won't help.