Linux Up in Servers, Down in Netbooks; Android to the Rescue?

According to a Novel-sponsored IDC survey, Linux seems to be gaining popularity among businesses implementing servers, and it has a bright outlook for both server and desktop installations in the coming future. On the other hand, netbooks have seen less and less default OEM installations of Linux. Windows now has over 90 percent of netbook sales, quashing any hopes of an open source revolution in the form of netbooks. Android, however, may be able to change things.

Linux Up in Servers

In the survey, IDC interviewed more than 300 IT professionals with experience in Linux usage and Linux adoption, employed in organizations with more than 100 workers in government, financial institutions, and retail industries across the world. Of those polled, 55 percent had Linux server systems in use, 36 percent had Unix server operating systems, and 97 percent had Windows server systems.

More and more businesses are seeking to reduce costs and increase profit, and many of them are turning to Linux to help with this monetary plight. The survey reported that 72 percent of the IT professionals said that they were evaluating the process or had already decided to increase the adoption of Linux for the server in 2009 as well as 68 percent of them planning the same for Linux on the desktop. A good 49 percent of the total respondents said that Linux would be their sole server operating system within the next five years.

One of the biggest hindrances to Linux adoption seems to be the lack of compatibility between Linux and Windows with 67 percent of those polled answering that interoperability between the two platforms was one of the most important factors in a successful operating system. In the words of Markus Rex, general manager and senior VP for Open Platform Solutions at Novell:

Companies… told us that strengthening Linux application support, interoperability, virtualization capabilities and technical support will all fuel adoption even more.

Despite compatibility and support issues, the upcoming Linux encompassment is going to be apparently significant at least in the business segment. The retail industry showed a surprising 63 and 69 percent of respondents planning to increase their Linux desktop and server deployments, respectively, and a hefty chunk are going to accelerate the adoption of Linux in both public and higher education.

Summed up by Al Gillen, program vice president in system software at IDC:

Economic downturns have the tendency to accelerate emerging technologies, boost the adoption of effective solutions and punish solutions that are not cost competitive. This survey confirms that Linux users view it favorably, and this view places Linux in a competitive position to emerge from this downturn as a stronger solution.

Linux Down in Netbooks

According to a study, Windows now dominates the netbook market, taking the crown with 90 percent of netbooks sold with Windows installed, leaving ten percent for Linux and whatever else OEMs might want to install, if anything. In retrospect, Linux had a good grip on the market with about 30 percent of netbook sales back in November of 2008. It seems that further into the recession, Linux’s hold on netbooks has slipped considerably even though the sales of netbooks have risen, the opposite of the server side of things.

The reasoning behind this is probably derived of several key factors. For one, the majority of computer users know Windows and prefer Windows, though there are those who wouldn’t be able to sense the difference when presented with a different system. For two, Microsoft is, of course, practically giving away Windows XP licenses to manufacturers, making the cost difference between a netbook with Linux installed and a netbook with Windows installed a small margin, and Windows netbooks generally seem to have better specifications. For three, though there are several netbook-optimized Linux systems, there’s still much work to bring them up to par to most people’s standards of a full-fledged operating system. Most don’t want to have to do much tinkering or customizing, if any at all, and quite bluntly, most don’t know how regardless of whether it’s Linux, Windows, or Mac. Of course, if OEMs optimized more installs of Linux as they do Windows, that could be a different story. The current vibe from the consumer market, regardless of any and all of Linux’s good marks for netbooks, is that what little Linux being offered by default just doesn’t make the cut.

Will Android Change All of This?

Perhaps what is needed on a netbook isn’t a fully-fledged operating system after all. Perhaps what is needed is a specialized device, designed for one or a few specific purposes instead of a wide, general range. A special-purpose device would need less power and ultimately be less expensive, especially when installed with a copy of an open-source system. They could be highly successful with an OS tweaked and optimized to fit the specialized needs.

Android could be that system. Google has already hinted that Android netbooks are on the way, but perhaps instead of being somewhat less-powered general-purpose tools, they’ll be more suited to specific purposes– fulfilling what the term ‘netbook’ seems to lean towards: Internet use, and not loaded down with very much else, keeping it lean and ultimately faster. Laurent Lachal, Ovum’s Open Source Research Director believes exactly that:

Linux vendors should focus on the netbook as an appliance and on specialised distributions, especially Android (which is currently focused on smartphones). These are more likely than generic distributions like Ubuntu to make it in the netbook appliance/MID space.

Looking at it this way, Intel’s Moblin could also easily fulfill such a niche. However, no exact news has been released stating that future generations of Moblin will remain in the netbook segment, only that it will be optimized to suit Intel’s upcoming MIDs.


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