Why the Linux netbook crashed and burned

I say the Linux netbook was rubbed out by Microsoft with an Intel chip in the CFO's office.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

A friend of mine, Tom Henderson, asked recently, Who killed the netbook? His well-thought out answer blames a combination of smartphones; expensive, but lightweight computers like the MacBook Air; and the rise of tablets. I think all those played a role, but I put more of the blame on Microsoft and Intel.

While I'd say netbook are dying rather than dead, I have to agree they certainly aren't as popular as they once were. As Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, recently said in a statement. "Mini-notebook [Netbook] shipments have noticeably contracted over the last several quarters.” More to the point, the vendors are agreeing with the analysts. Lenovo president and COO Rory Read recently said “Netbooks are pretty much over.

I think netbooks—small, inexpensive notebooks--are declining because Microsoft and Intel have finally succeed in weaning original equipment manufacturers (OEM)s away from Linux and low-end—with corresponding low profit margins –hardware.

This was always Microsoft's plan since they first were cold-cocked by the sudden explosion of customer interest in netbooks. When netbooks first came along, they almost all ran Linux. Microsoft, which was then stuck with the resource pig known as Windows Vista, simply couldn't compete. So, reluctantly, Microsoft gave Windows XP Home a new lease on life and sold it below cost to OEMs to kill the Linux desktop on netbooks.

They were successful. Mind you, the last thing Microsoft wanted was for people to keep using XP. They wanted, oh how they wanted, users to turn to Vista. But, they also didn't want to turn over the low-end to Linux. So, instead they dumped XP Home to OEMs at below cost to chase Linux off netboooks. It worked.

The way things were going to go was clear in June 2009 when, I kid you not, Asus’ chairman, Jonney Shih, after sharing a news conference stage with Microsoft corporate VP, OEM Division, Steven Guggenheimer, apologized for showing an Androd-Linux Eee netbook the previous day.

Mission accomplished, Microsoft finally shut down the XP production line on netbooks on October 22nd, 2010. Today, you can still get XP via the downgrade route from some versions of Windows 7, but you can't do it for netbooks.

Today's netbooks almost all run Windows 7 Starter Edition. Or, as I like to call Windows 7 SE: Crippleware. Seriously, if you want Windows, more power to you, but get at least Windows 7 Home Premium.

As for Intel, even though their Atom processors powered the netbooks into popularity, they were never crazy about it. After all, every Atom-powered netbook sold was one less Pentium Dual Core laptop that could have been sold at a higher price and higher margin. From the very start, Intel wasn't crazy about netbooks. Back in 2008, Stu Pann, then Intel's VP in the sales and marketing group said, "If you've ever used a Netbook and used a 10-inch screen size--it's fine for an hour. It's not something you're going to use day in and day out..

So, if you ever wondered why it is you can't find a $200 Linux-powered netbook from a brand name OEM these days, now you know. It really was Microsoft with an Intel chip in the CFO's office.

Oh, and Chromebooks? They're playing a different game. Google doesn't want them to be the low-price laptop replacement. Google wants Chromebooks to be the relatively low-cost replacement for your day-in/day-out business desktop/laptop needs.

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