If you told me two years ago that Linux would have 10% of the hottest new PC category, over Windows, I might have called you crazy.
If you had added that in order to keep Linux at 10% Microsoft was practically giving its Windows XP away, hoping only for upgrades that will likely never happen, I would say you had too much penguin juice.
Yet that's the news which is now being spun as a Linux defeat. After a year spent putting atrocious Linux distros on their $400 hardware, Taiwanese OEMs have now settled on Windows XP for netbook shipments, an operating system Microsoft was calling obsolete in 2007.
As Matt Asay notes, Microsoft may be in for a surprise when it tries to up-sell its netbook user base. Ubuntu has also signed OEM deals with serious brand names like Hewlett-Packard, now shipping it on a sleek new Mini 1000 (shown, from its CNet review).
And then there's Android. which some analysts are now touting as a grand unified field theory of mobility, since it will work on both netbooks and handhelds. I think that's Taiwanese spin myself. We shall see.
The question is whether the netbook is a lap-held device like your phone or a portable desktop. I'm inclined to think the latter, although that may just be my western bias for keyboards talking.
The netbook is, in some ways, a "throwaway" desktop, even though its no-moving-parts design makes it more rugged than a laptop. Laptops are becoming desktops, and netbooks what you work on at the airport.
What's needed in this scenario is simple file compatibility. I want to be able to load my files, either from the Internet or a stick, and sync them back at some point.
Thus the key is not the operating system, but the office suite. I am not loading a $200 software package on $400 worth of hardware. Even if Microsoft Office is still on the desktop, I'm going with OpenOffice.org on the netbook. And I'm going to make sure we support that format back at the office.
Thus the open source glass with netbooks is at least half-full. And when we start pouring again, I think, Linux is going to get an even bigger share.