The Wall Street Journal today (May 28, 2009) published a review of multiple Linux netbooks running Ubuntu, Mi and Moblin Linux. Overall, I think the review offers fair, balanced coverage of what's right -- and wrong -- with the Linux netbook market today. But there was one line in the review that I found completely misleading and shortsighted.

First, let's start with the positive. The Journal spent a week "using several flavors of Linux running on netbooks -- Ubuntu, Hewlett-Packard's Mi (which is based on Ubuntu) and Moblin, created largely by Intel and not yet available commercially."

The devices were:
  • H-P's Mini 110 Mi Edition running Mi
  • An Acer netbook running Moblin
  • Dell Mini 10 running Ubuntu 8.04 (plus a manual install of the new Ubuntu Netbook Remix Edition)
The Journal made some fair points, noting that the Linux netbooks had compatibility problems with external devices:
"The netbooks couldn't load the software drivers to let me print to my Canon and Dell printers. I couldn't load pictures over a USB cable from my Canon PowerShot SD750 digital camera. I was able to get my pictures on the machines by plugging a storage card from my camera directly into the netbooks."
Translation: Linux netbooks may not be ready for many consumers and businesses, especially users who want their PCs and notebooks to discover and work seamlessly with the vast majority of peripherals.

The XP Factor

Now, my concern. This line from The Wall Street Journal article upset me:
"Since a Windows XP version of the Dell Mini 10 sells for the same price as the Ubuntu, I can't see a compelling reason to choose the Ubuntu option."
What a shortsighted comment. Forget about initial costs. Let's focus on total cost of ownership, and software productivity. A Dell Mini 10 with Ubuntu will never suffer from the security and virus issues that a Dell Mini 10 with Windows XP will surely experience.

Running mounds of security software on a netbook can suck up processing power, slow down the system, hit your wallet ... and the list goes on.

No doubt, Linux netbooks have their shortcomings. But The Journal should have noted that Microsoft's own mainstream operating system -- Windows Vista -- has had so many compatibility and resource issues, that Microsoft was forced to downgrade Netbook customers to XP. And those XP customers will live forever with Microsoft's security headaches, plus incremental costs for Microsoft Office and other Microsoft applications.

In stark contrast, I've run Ubuntu on desktops, notebooks and netbooks with OpenOffice (bundled free) for two years. And I can't recall experiencing a security headache or paying for security software. (That's not an invitiation to hack me.)

Too bad the Journal overlooked this TCO issue.

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