We’re almost at 2010 and so I thought I’d revisit my 2010: The year of the Linux Desktop post. But rather than start with Linux, I want to start with Apple…
I noticed a story “2010: The year of the Mac?” which derisively began “It’s almost a pathetic assertion: This year, the Mac will break out of its ghetto and become a mainstream computer for individuals and businesses alike.” The author doesn’t understand what Apple wants to be (that is to say, what Steve Jobs wants Apple to be ;) I wrote back in late 2007 that “Apple will tend to restrict itself to the mid-to-high-end market”. And you know what? Apple won it; they now get 90+% of sales of $1K+ systems; this is where the largest profits are made and Microsoft has effectively been banished from this segment. Apple also has done well with its iPhone and of course its iPods; these are tech products with significant market share that do not run a Microsoft OS and do not necessarily need one to interface either; as Microsoft absolutely requires monopoly conditions to maintain its business, anything that reduces dependence on Microsoft will cause its empire to shrink. There are now persistent rumors that Apple is going to release some sort of Tablet Machine that will likely sell below $1K; this will further pressure OEMs that currently preload Windows to compete on price…
Which still doesn’t bring me to Linux yet ;) In the refs to the 2010 article I included a letter that I wrote to ESR regarding his predictions about RAM in computers: by 2008, he wrote, we should see 4GB of RAM in “low end” desktop machines and 16 GB in “high end” ones. However, this did not foresee the transition from majority desktop to majority notebook form factor, the current emergence of netbooks, which have begun to displace some notebook sales (see also here) and which tend to have Windows XP preloaded… at least for now; it uses MUCH less RAM than Vista did! ;) Notebooks tend to use less RAM than desktop machines and netbooks less than notebooks; it is still possible to buy a notebook (albeit refurbished) from FutureShop here in Canada with 512 MB of RAM! Even the average netbook only has 1GB of RAM and low end notebooks typically come with 2, 3 or 4 GB of RAM. All this has helped drop the price of off-the-shelf notebooks considerably. Netbooks still tend to be in the $300 range (the same as last year, but with a larger screen and other ‘improvements’; Microsoft has been pushing for this to keep prices artificially high: “What’s the industry’s advantage in saying lets drive this thing to rock bottom…What we are enabling with Windows 7 [is the ability] to try to maintain higher average selling prices…This doesn’t have to be about who can get to $199 first.”)
And this brings us, finally, to Linux. Currently about a third of netbooks are being shipped with Linux globally and this should rise to a majority by 2013. This is the beginning of Linux taking over the low-end of ‘desktop’ (that is, ‘not server’) computing. What I think will happen this coming year is going to be a convergence of technologies that are going to result in that sub-$200 machine, and it won’t have Windows XP or 7 on it. But unlike the current generation of netbooks that are Intel Atom-based, these will run on ARM processors. Predictions include that 20% of 2010’s netbooks will have ARM processors and the amount will be over half by 2012. And while Google’s Android will be on some of them, Ubuntu stands to grab a large amount of the market with its 10.04 LTS release.
So, will 2010 be the year of ‘desktop’ Linux? I think yes, but in a way that I didn’t quite imagine in 2007. The “major commerical apps designed to run on Linux” aren’t “designed to run on Linux” per se; they’re designed to run in standards-compliant web browsers (e.g. Firefox) and are ‘free’ (gratis) ala Google (mail, maps, news, etc.) The low-end of computing will be amazingly inexpensive, almost disposable in the new and uncharted sub-$200 range (the “race to the bottom“). We probably will see lots of Asian OEMs that most in the west have never heard of before cranking these out (perhaps even toy manufacturers; look at this one that uses rechargable AA batteries! :-), while the bigger ones attempt to maintain their Windows-based notebook sales.
An example of what I hope to see for specs on a 2010 Linux netbook:
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
Pixel Qi Monitor (10″) [read more]
ARM Processor (2 GHz Dual Core)
1 GB RAM (DDR2 or 3)
Fast SSD (8 or 16 GB)
a backlit keyboard, lots of USB ports and wireless n would be nice too, but those would probably cost extra ;)
Update Jan. 7, 2010: An article mentioning ‘smartbooks’, an intermediate between smartphones and netbooks, and predicting ARM/Linux ones to do well in 2010. But THIS ARTICLE has the real deal; a gorgeous and incredibly thin 12″ ARM “smartbook” which “runs full Ubuntu plenty well”. Look at the pics and watch the video…