Back in February I wrote about how Linux had gone mainstream as netbooks became ubiquitous. Nobody doubts that Windows has captured the overwhelming majority of the netbook market. Even so, Dell claimed around that time that one third of their Inspiron netbooks were selling with Ubuntu preloaded rather than Windows XP.
When my Sylvania netbook died last month and the manufacturer took their sweet time responding to me I was offered a refund by the dealer. Suddenly I was surveying the market again for a good buy on a netbook preloaded with Linux. I found a wide variety of systems with Linux available from mainstream outlets and factory direct, at least here in the United States where I live. While I don't have updated market share figures it's clear, despite claims by Microsoft and their supporters, that Linux remains entrenched in the netbook market and is spreading out from there.
For example, Dell has expanded their offerings, with desktop and laptop offerings in addition to their Inspiron Mini 10v. The smaller (8.9" screen) Dell Vostro A90 (formerly the Inspiron Mini 9v) remains available starting at $219 factory direct.HP offering a competitively priced Mini 110 netbook preloaded with Ubuntu and their custom HP Mi desktop that I chose it. I'll be reviewing the little HP once I've had a bit more time working with it. I will say that so far I've been pretty pleased with my choice. Ladislav Bodnar of DistroWatch reviewed his new Mini 110 a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, in retail outlets, at least in my area, HP only offers this system with Windows.
Acer briefly offered only Windows on their netbooks after some half-hearted support of Linux last year and early this year. That changed last week with the announcement of the Aspire One AOD250 which is being sold in a dual boot configuration with both Windows 7 and Google Android. The system is now available from Amazon.com for $349. It will be interesting to see if this Acer model shows up in retailers like Wal-Mart, CompUSA and Best Buy, which currently sell Acer Aspire One models with Windows only. It will also be interesting to see if any stores display the system running Android rather than Windows 7.
Asus, which started the netbook revolution two years ago, not only all but dropped Linux from it's product line but some of the company's management saw fit to throw the Open Source operating system under the proverbial bus, proclaiming that Windows is the only OS suitable for daily work. Linux, BSD and MacOS users would dispute such claims and generally reacted with disgust. Asus has quietly continued selling some netbooks with Linux, though. Toys 'R' Us continues to offer older Asus models, including the original EeePC 701, preloaded with Linux, both online and in their retail stores. For those who want the smaller 7" screens and smaller footprint of the early netbooks Asus seems to be the only choice still available new. In addition, refurbished older EeePC models with Linux are offered by a number of online retailers. I've also seen other older netbooks, particularly the HP 2133, offered refurbished, but prices were as high or sometimes higher than current models purchased new.
Specialty Linux retailers remain another excellent option. Zareason continues to offer a full line of Linux systems including their Terra A20 netbook, which starts are $349. System76 also offers a full Linux line including their Starling Netbook, with a base price of $359. Both companies offer their netbooks preloaded with Ubuntu. I elected not to go with the smaller Linux retailers for two reasons: first, I held myself to a $300 budget and neither offered a system in that range and, second, after three failed Sylvania netbooks I wanted a major brand name.low cost netbooks powered by MIPS processors appearing on the scene. While the very low end sub-$150 models have disappeared, the far more capable Emtec Gdium Liberty 1000, featuring a 900MHz 64-bit Loongson 2F processor and a 10" screen, is now available from Amazon.com for $240.21. It boots from 16GB removable SSD storage preloaded with a customized version of Mandriva.
For those who read FBI Director Robert Mueller or an Australian police Detective Inspector specializing in computer crimes or Bruce Krebs in The Washington Post all recommending against using Windows for online banking or internet transactions due to security vulnerabilities, and instead recommending Linux, I would suggest that a system preloaded with Linux is the best solution to migrate away from Windows. For those of us who already use Linux for our daily computing needs, purchasing a preloaded system rather than a reloading a system which came with Windows will reduce Microsoft's inflated market share and avoid paying for an operating system we will never use. Besides, we need to maintain the demand for Linux so that OEMs and retailers continue to offer our favorite OS as an option. If you want a netbook which comes with Linux already installed, well, they're still out there and there are probably more choices than ever.
UPDATE: Yesterday, on the day Windows 7 was released, HP stopped offering their netbooks with the HP Mi interface built on Ubuntu. In a piece published this afternoon I raise an interesting question: Is this an amazing coincidence or something more sinister?