Microsoft makes for an unlikely David, and Linux an even unlikelier Goliath -- but here we are. A few years ago, Linux was positioned as the "Windows killer." Now, as Microsoft is ramping up its efforts in the netbook market, Windows 7 is being positioned as the Linux killer. Interesting that Microsoft is being cast as an underdog here, albeit one with about 70% of the netbook market.
This sounds to me like lowering expectations. Not that I'm knocking Linux on the netbook. Far from it -- I've been a big believer in the concept since Asus released the Eee PC back in 2007. However, Microsoft still has many advantages in the netbook market -- it's just that its advantages are in its market share, marketing muscle, and strong position with OEMs, rather than technical.
There are too many variables in the netbook market right now to make a good prediction which way it'll go. Too many players, for one. And the economy's downward spiral makes it an open question whether netbooks will gain from the poor economy, or if the sales will taper off along with other consumer PCs. Finally, there's Apple. While the folks at Infinite Loop haven't made a netbook play yet, everyone in the market has to be eyeing Apple with some discomfort and wondering if (or, probably more accurately, when) Apple will enter the netbook market with a Windows 7 killer.
But, even though it's an uncertain market, I'd put my money on Linux to come out ahead. Ultimately, the Linux community and vendors can iterate much more quickly and develop more compelling products than Microsoft, and unless Microsoft changes its pricing model, Linux will continue to be cheaper. (Not to mention more flexible.) Given the state of the economy, a $50 per-unit price advantage just might be a compelling difference.
I've already owned two netbooks, both running Linux. (An early Asus Eee PC, and an HP Mini.) Granted, I'm a bit biased in favor of Linux, but both machines had everything I'd need or want on a netbook -- and more than you'd get with a Windows 7 netbook. (For instance, full-blown office suites...) I'd be curious to know what ZDNet readers are looking for in a netbook -- or if netbooks are of interest at all. Is Linux going to dominate on the netbook, or is there a chance that Windows 7 will beat back the Linux threat?