Nonetheless, at least one open-source expert believes Linux is poised to make a serious comeback on netbooks. Stephen Lim, general manager of Linpus Technologies, a Taiwanese firm that develops the Linpus Linux distribution, recently predicted that Linux-based netbooks will reach 50 percent market share by next year, the Taipei Times reported earlier this month.
Lim offered little in the way of support for this claim other than the fact that more chip makers and PC makers are moving to support Linux. As a result, it's likely that his prediction has elicited guffaws of disbelief at Microsoft, which in April cited recent NPD Retail Tracking Service data that shows sales of Windows netbooks had gone from less than 10 percent of unit sales in the first half of 2008 to 96 percent in February.
Microsoft's by-now-well-established stance is that high return rates for Linux-based netbooks are an indication that users prefer Windows. And the company has been going to great lengths to depict Windows 7 as an operating system that runs quite well on netbooks despite their hardware limitations.
However, as competition in the netbook space heats up, vendors are looking for ways to slash the cost of making netbooks even further, and Linux offers gleaming promise in this regard. Hewlett-Packard last month said it's considering using Google's Android operating system in its netbooks, and that would go a long way toward getting consumers to view Linux as a viable alternative to Windows.
Hot sales of XP Home netbooks have contributed to a shortfall in Microsoft's Windows Client revenue over the past couple of quarters, and Microsoft will have to price Windows 7 for netbooks at a level that enables it to make money without driving cost-conscious customers to Linux.
Software vendors are also moving to combat the dominance of Windows on netbooks with Linux-based offerings developed specifically for the netbook market. Canonical, which oversees the Ubuntu Linux distribution, is working on a netbook-specific version of the operating system, and this week Intel released a public beta of Moblin 2.0, its Linux distro for Atom-powered devices such as netbooks.
While it's difficult to imagine Linux adding 40 points to its current netbook market share of 10 percent within a year, Lim's prediction shows that Linux providers have only just begun to fight.
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