What is the state of Ubuntu on laptops? Two bright spots come to mind: Dell’s support of Ubuntu, and the rise of ultra-portables at the sub $500 price point. Many folks argue ultra-portables are the future of laptops and mobile computing. I am referring to the Asus eee PC, the Everex CloudBook, and the OLPC. Here’s a look at the rapidly changing Linux Laptop landscape.
First, let’s look at Dell’s decision to offer a number of their entry and middle-level Inspiron line of laptops and the higher-end XPS line of laptops with Ubuntu 7.10 pre-installed. This shows an industry leader is recognizing the value of Ubuntu and the consumer’s desire for an alternative to Windows (XP and Vista).
Perhaps more important (and often overlooked), these machines will come with wireless cards that work out of the box; displays with resolutions equaling that of their desktop counterparts; video cards that function at the highest speeds; DVD playback, etc. Just like a Windows machine, the consumer’s new laptop with Ubuntu will be fully functional out of the box.
Fact is, Linux no longer is hard to set-up nor is it hard to use. The consumer now sees a fully functional Linux distribution working on a familiar piece of hardware from a familiar company.
Here Come the Ultra Portables
The second bright spot is the ultra-portable market at the sub $500 price point. I am referring to the Asus eee PC, the Everex CloudBook, and the OLPC. These machines, small and relatively inexpensive, all run Linux.
The eee PC runs a custom Xandros distribution, the CloudBook runs on the gOS (which has ties to Ubuntu), and the OLPC runs on a modified Fedora distribution. These three examples show that Linux is starting to dominate this very important market niche. The Asus eee PC is (arguably) the market leader in the field, having sold 300,000 units in 2007 despite its late-year launch. A simple search and reading of eee PC fan websites, including the eee user site shows a huge number of people shoehorning all types of operating systems onto their eee, replacing the default Xandros.
A cursory reading and glance at the message boards and some google searches reveals that the most popular distribution to install on the eee is Ubuntu, both 7.06 and now 7.10. In fact, intrepid Ubuntu fans who purchased eee’s created eeebuntu, a modified Ubuntu specifically created for the eee PC. This exploding market is being taken over by Linux, with consumers showing their desire for Ubuntu by quickly discarding their device’s default OS and opting instead for their favorite distribution: Ubuntu.
While this is where we are now, where are we going? Will Dell continue their current track and continue with Ubuntu offerings and support? Will other manufacturers follow suit? How will Ubuntu adapt to the ever-changing laptop market and its unique properties? Will truly mobile devices (like cell phones) find Ubuntu as a possible OS? To be continued….
Contributing blogger Jason Kichen has been experimenting with Linux distributions over the last 10 years. He currently is a technology contractor to the federal government.