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Consumers might not be ready for Linux netbooks, but we are

Of course the Windows crowd has picked up on Linux netbook return rates. Fellow blogger Ed Bott writesthese days, Linux is a great choice for technically sophisticated users who don’t mind being far, far out of the mainstream.
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Of course the Windows crowd has picked up on Linux netbook return rates. Fellow blogger Ed Bott writes

these days, Linux is a great choice for technically sophisticated users who don’t mind being far, far out of the mainstream. But for people who don’t have the time or the inclination to make fundamental changes, it’s a nonstarter.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes also weighed in:

Put another way, what’s happening is that the wrong kind of users are being attracted to these machines based solely on price, but these folks aren’t willing to put in the effort to learn how to use Linux and find free alternatives to the software that they are used to paying for.

My biggest fear is that this sort of press will keep other netbook vendors from making Linux-based systems more widely available. I'm hoping that other vendors will come out with some figures that suggest the MSI return data relates more to their particular interface than a market rejection of Linux (even Ed notes that technical reviewers of the MSI Wind Linux OS had troubles with it; reviews of the Asus Eee, HP MiniNote, Classmate, and Mini Inspiron have not indicated such problems).

"But wait, Chris...You're a capitalist. If the market rejects Linux in netbooks, then it wasn't good enough in the first place, right?" you exclaim. Not so fast. Capitalist? Absolutely? Libertarian? As close as an educator can get. However, if market forces keep these little boxes from making their way into educational markets where not only is cost king, but we have the time, wherewithal, and responsibility to teach our students to use new tools effectively, then that's a problem.

We know that Linux generally works quite well on netbooks. When set up correctly and optimized, it's fast, secure, and, obviously, a bit more modern than Windows XP Home. While Windows remains quite entrenched in IT (including education), shaving $50-100 off the cost of netbooks by skipping Windows makes a large-scale deployment much more realistic for many of us. If the Windows tax on a $300 netbook is $50, then I can basically get one free for every 6 computers I purchase. For that, I'll gladly get my students and teachers using Linux and even set up a small terminal server for any isolated Windows applications we might still want to access.

With tax revenues decreasing, recession, and general economic badness upon us, the time for cheap, Linux-based netbooks is here, at least in education. Consumers can have Windows if they want it, but if I can have cheap, functionally equivalent, and easily taught to my students, count me in.

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