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Will Linux overtake Windows on netbooks?

Apr 13, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

ABI Research predicts that Linux and “alternative operating systems” (OSes) will overtake Windows XP in netbook sales by 2012. Reasons cited by ABI include the arrival of low-end ARM-based netbooks, as well as mobile stacks such as the Linux-based Android that are suited for these platforms.

ABI's prognostication adds a new twist to the debate about the reliability of Microsoft's claim of 96 percent domination of the netbook market. Canonical, for one, believes the claim is exaggerated. Still, according to recent surveys from NPD and Ovum, there has been a marked shift away from Linux to Windows XP netbooks in recent months.

According to ABI, Windows XP ran on 75 percent of netbooks sold last year. Although it did not list percentages for other OSes, considering that Apple has yet to jump into the netbook game, and since very few devices that might be called netbooks offer Windows Vista, it is likely that about 20 to 25 percent of netbooks were sold with Linux.

ABI did not mention whether Windows XP has surged in early 2009, but it sees Linux and other platforms eventually combining to outnumber XP. With cost-cutting pressures expected to continue into the post-recessionary phase, Linux will benefit from the entry into the market of lower-cost netbooks that run ARM-based processors, suggests ABI.

Android ARMing for netbook wars

In a related development, ABI sees the development of Linux-based mobile stacks such as the Google-sponsored Android as encouraging more consumers to make the jump to ARM-based Linux netbooks. While ABI sees Android as leading the charge among alternative stacks, it also sees a role for Nokia's Linux-based Maemo stack, which currently runs on Nokia's MID-like N810 Internet Tablet.

ABI does not mention today's leading Linux-based MID (mobile Internet device) stack, the Intel-backed Moblin, which is coming out in an upgraded netbook version. Perhaps this is because it will take time for the Intel Atom-oriented stack to be ported to an ARM platform. While Intel has formally “freed” Moblin to be sponsored by the Linux Foundation (LF), it remains to be seen how supportive it might be of such a port, or whether there will be sufficient demand for an ARM-ready Moblin stack.

While ABI projects that XP will finally start to fade in the coming years, the research firm says nothing about the upcoming Windows 7, which Microsoft said is better suited for netbooks than was Vista. ABI does, however, suggest that Windows Mobile may play a role in low-end ARM-based netbooks, as well.

ARM netbooks ready to roll

Several ARM-based netbooks are expected this year, starting with the Touch Book (pictured at top) from Always Innovating. Equipped with a detachable touchscreen unit, the Touch Book should ship this Spring with a modified version of the Texas Instruments (TI) BeagleBoard, which incorporates TI's ARM Cortex-A8-based OMAP3530 system-on-chip (SoC).

Pegatron reference design
for the Freescale i.MX515

(Click for details)

Meanwhile, Freescale Semiconductor has begun sampling an ARM Cortex-A8-based i.MX515 SoC, which is targeted at the netbook market. Freescale recently announced a reference design for the SoC developed by Pegatron Technology (pictured). The design is said to offer Android and Xandros Linux ports, as well as support from Phoenix Technogies's HyperSpace fast-boot technology, and support for 3G modules from Wavecom and Option.

Xandros has also ported its desktop Linux distro to Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon SoC. The first versions of the Snapdragon are based on a 1GHz “Scorpion” microprocessor with 128-bit SIMD (single instruction multiple data) capability, plus a 600MHz low-power, “low-leakage” DSP. Finally, Canonical is hard at work on an ARM port for Ubuntu.

Stated ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis, “ABI Research believes that 2012 will see the tipping-point at which netbooks running Linux-based and mobile operating systems outnumber those running Windows XP. Device vendors, chip-makers, and mobile operators can take some comfort from the fact that this trend should help expand the market even in a down economy.”


More information on the netbook study from ABI Research may be found here.

A eWEEK story on the report may be found here.

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