Linux and the channel

By handing the design job off to variations on a Linux distro -- LiMo, QT, Android -- carriers get flexibility with no loss of control. It's still true that nothing gets on their network without approval, but in their world Microsoft becomes just another OEM, like Apple for AT&T.

Linux Pundit Bill Weinberg has produced two posts this weekend asking why we don't have Linux laptops, what I would call Netbooks running Linux.

His answers are conventional. Microsoft price cuts. Ubuntu looked less than impressive. Maybe it will go from the phone up rather than the desk down, he concludes.

The answer, I've found, comes down to one of the first terms I learned when I joined the computer press, over 25 years ago.

The channel.

We think of stores as being the home of demand. They are not. They are where demand is satisfied.

The home of demand lies on the other end of the telescope. It lies in the marketing collateral, the co-op dollars, and the mass advertising strategies of manufacturers.

In PC manufacturing there is only one name that counts. Microsoft. Everyone else is an OEM.

Everyone suffers from this.

I tried out some Linux laptops last year and, while there were some glitches they held promise. But when it came time for me to lay down cash, there was no Linux kit on the shelves.

What I learned from a month owning a Microsoft Netbook is that I wish I had a choice. Despite a lack of moving parts, my HP Netbook is a battery hog. I could get 10 hours with a Linux laptop. The same box running Microsoft runs for fewer than three.

There's more. My Linux laptop booted almost instantly. This Microsoft monster takes two minutes to get there.

Want to talk cost of ownership? You have no choice with Windows but to load the thing up with anti-virals and registry cleaners. They all have to load before you can do any work.

And then there's the cost of time. They all have to check things out for you. Any nasties out there -- any updates? Come back when we're done, junior -- get a cup of coffee or something.

When I get back from China, I'm erasing the 8 GByte stick memory "hard drive" on my HP Netbook and starting over.

All this changes when you move from the phone down. There you find there is a different manufacturer. Your mobile phone carrier. And everyone else is an OEM.

Who do you hate more, Microsoft or the phone company? Because those are your choices. Even Apple must, in some ways, dance to the tune of the carriers. There is no free market for phone tech -- just a carrier oligopoly.

In mobile devices carriers control the channel.

We can cry about that if we want, but that's the reality. And this gives Linux its opportunity. Because carriers don't want the headaches of Microsoft any more than we do. Since they create the demand, they get to decide.

By handing the design job off to variations on a Linux distro -- LiMo, QT, Android -- carriers get flexibility with no loss of control. It's still true that nothing gets on their network without approval, but in their world Microsoft becomes just another OEM, like Apple for AT&T.

So is Bill right? Will the Linux laptop fit within the palm of your hand?

Maybe. But so long as carriers control the channel it won't be Linux as you know it. It will be Linux as they want it.