Remember when, a few years back, the explosive popularity of netbooks was going to put Linux in the households of millions of end-users? That never quite happened, but it's not stopping Asus from introducing new netbooks with Ubuntu preinstalled. Read on for details.

On June 2, 2011, Canonical announced a deal with Asus to ship three of its popular Eee PC models -- the 1001PXD, 1011PX and 1015PX -- with Ubuntu 10.10 preloaded. These are classic netbook systems targeted at a broad range of consumers, from the business and education markets to personal users.

Why It Matters

At first glance, this Canonical-Asus partnership may not seem like a big deal. After all, Asus shipped Eee PCs -- hardware that in many senses represented the first real netbooks and popularized the idea of a small, inexpensive laptop focused on cloud-based resources -- with Linux preinstalled from the beginning. Nothing new there.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of important points to note about the current arrangement:
  1. This is the first time the Eee PC is officially available with Ubuntu. Previously Asus offered Linux-based Eee PCs only with Xandros, a distribution lacking the mindshare or influence of Ubuntu.
  2. Canonical and Asus decided to go with Ubuntu 10.10, an interesting choice because it is neither an longterm support (LTS) release, nor subject to the major innovations that took place in Ubuntu 11.04 regarding the Unity interface. Perhaps 11.04 was just too new to ship out to end users, but this decision seems notable all the same.

Linux, Netbooks and the Future

The netbook revolution of 2008-2009 undoubtedly did not hurt Linux's marketshare. Ultimately, however, it failed to live up to the early hype that promised a serious challenge to Microsoft. Most netbooks today ship with Windows.

One of the primary reasons that things turned out the way they did was the fragmentation of the Linux channel at the point where it converged with the nascent netbook market. Different netbook OEMs were shipping too many different Linux distributions -- many with strange, customized interfaces -- for consumers to handle.

The move to ship Eee PCs with Ubuntu 10.10 is therefore important not only because it demonstrates that the future of Linux on the netbook is far from totally stagnant, but also because it officially combines the world's most popular Linux distribution with one of the best-selling netbook lineups. A Linux-based Eee PC will arguably be more attractive when it ships with Ubuntu, a mainstream distribution that enjoys a huge amount of corporate and community support and name recognition, than with Xandros, for which software and documentation is more difficult to find, and which almost no one outside geekdom has heard of.

This isn't to say Linux remains poised to depose Windows as the dominant operating system netbook channel -- it won't, at least not anytime in the foreseeable future. But it does indicate that Linux -- and, specifically, Ubuntu -- retains a viable presence in the netbook world, and even if it's not the dominant player, it should not be written off.

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