Back in May I wrote an article titled Linux To Regain 50% Netbook Market Share after such predictions were made by Stephen Lim of Linpus Technologies and ABI Research. Mr. Lim saw Linux pulling even with Windows on netbooks by next year while ABI Research saw it happening by 2013. Both saw netbooks powered by ARM processors as the main reason that Linux would rebound.
Most of the comments I received ranged from skeptical to incredulous. Even those who support and advocate for Linux on the desktop largely believed that Microsoft would retain market dominance. Here we are six months later and the promised ARM powered netbooks have not arrived in any quantity as of yet. The Intel Atom processor is currently used in 90% of netbooks according to ABI Research while ARM processors only account for 4% of the market at present.
Despite this ABI Research published some new data last month and the results may surprise you. They place the 2009 market share for Linux on netbooks at 32% with 11 million units preloaded with Linux shipping this year. In an interview with DesktopLinux.com, Jeffrey Orr of ABI makes clear that dual boot machines (i.e.: the Acer Aspire One AOD250-1613) and machines that are purchased with Windows but later have Linux loaded do not count in the 32% number. That number is pure Linux sales. This data confirms comments made first by Jay Pinkert and later by Todd Finch of Dell that one third of their netbooks sales are Linux machines and that there is no higher return rate for Linux systems than there is for ones sold with Windows preloaded.
At present ABI Research is still holding to their prediction that Linux will pull even with Windows on netbooks in 2013. However, ARM powered netbooks and smartbooks should begin appearing on the market in quantity in early 2010 according to Orr:
...next year there will be a lot of netbooks shipping on ARM Cortex-A8-based processors, and by that we're including the nVidia Tegra and Qualcomm Snapdragon, which are essentially Cortex-A8 architectures. You've got Texas Instruments and Freescale already out there, and you also have Ericsson, Marvell, and Broadcom getting involved. I believe we're going to see them all on netbooks. They're not all going to have same level of success, but they will be there, with faster boot times and better battery life than the Atom, and unless Microsoft does something about it, they will almost all be running Linux."Considering the surprising growth during the past year and the fact that ARM powered netbooks and smartbooks, which cannot and will not run any Windows version other than Windows CE, are just around the corner, so to speak, I have to wonder if Stephen Lim had it right all along. His prediction certainly now seems to be within the range of what is possible. One thing is certain: those proclaiming Linux dead on netbooks and in the larger desktop market (desktops, laptops and netbooks combined) have missed the mark by a wide margin.